Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bookshelf: Network North by Steve Murdoch

This is the first in an occasional series wherein I discuss books relating to the Scottish diaspora. These are not meant to be formal reviews, just a discussion of what I liked and what might be useful. Truth be told, the idea for this series has been in my mind for AGES; but I always found something else to post about. And if I'm being entirely truthful, I must relate that this book sat on my bookshelf for four weeks before I even cracked the cover. 
Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe 1603-1746 (The Northern World, 18)
Murdoch, Steve. 2006. Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe 1603-1746. Brill: London & Leiden. Volume 18 in The Northern World, North Europe and the Baltic c400-1700 AD: Peoples, Economies and Cultures.
The delay in starting the book was because my World History classes demanded attention. The book sat on the shelf beckoning to me: "Amanda, I can teach you about Scottish emigration in the 17th century and about Scandinavia; subjects that have more appeal than the empires of the Classical Period."  Finally, I gave into this siren's call and finished the book in a about a week. "Why so fast," I can hear you thinking, "aren't academic books dry, dense and dull?" Many really are; I know because I have read them. However, many are not, especially if you are interested in the subject (which I was) and if the author writes, that is communicates their ideas, well (which Murdoch does). In the the case of Network North there is an added bonus: the book is not as long as it looks: there is a plethora of footnotes -sometimes over half the page, a handful of color illustrations at the back, a lengthy appendix which includes transcripts of letters, an extensive bibliography and an index.

Steve Murdoch is a lecturer at the University of St. Andrew's and I don't remember our paths crossing while I was at Glasgow. His purpose in writing this book was to investigate social networks among Scottish emigrants in Northern Europe, primarily in Sweden, Denmark-Norway, Poland-Lithuania, and Russia. He discusses three types of social networks: those based on family, place of origin, or religion; those based on employment; and looser ones which involved spying or supporting the Jacobite cause. 

My favorite section was the first because understanding these familial or confessional networks and how they assist in directing migration patterns is my particular area of interest. The second section on employment was good for showing how Scots assisted each other in facilitating trade and revealed that Scots controlled several customs ports for several Northern European countries as well as becoming influential businessmen in Sweden. I must admit, I found the third section hard to get through; it just seemed like long lists of names and who they passed letters to. However, I would imagine if you are interested in covert operations, this might be your favorite part.

If would like to know more about the the seventeenth-century generally or Northern Europe more specifically this book would not be a bad place to start. The focus of the book is personal connections so there are no lengthy discussions of the Thirty Years War or of politics; and this may be a benefit or a drawback depending upon your interests. Luckily, Murdoch explains just enough about current events so that you will not feel as though you have walked into the middle of a movie. If you are lucky enough to have traced your family back to a Scottish emigrant in Northern Europe this book would help you understand the world in which they lived.

A good research tip in this book was a mention of the Great Seal of Scotland for which there is a printed register at the National Archives in Scotland. Honestly, I don't know if it is anywhere else. The Register includes petitions of Scots born abroad for Scottish citizenship. Why they might do this is discussed in the first section of the book. The indexes are in Latin, but are probably easily deciphered with Latin for Local History: An Introduction (A Longman paperback)or a similar book. If you have a Scottish ancestor in Poland, Sweden, Finland or wherever, they might be found in the Register.

For the student of social networks the entire book would be instructive. It is well-written and full of excellent case-studies. For the genealogist, I think the first section on family, regional, and religious networks would be good background reading. Murdoch discusses many traditions of Scottish family connections, the importance of fosterage (especially in the Highlands), loose interpretations of familial connection (we're both called Gordon, so we must be related), usage of familial titles (father might imply natural father or step-father), the reliance Scots placed on other Scots simply because they were from the same country or of the same confession and more. While his examples all stem from the 17th century, many aspects of these types of social networks would likely still be valid in later centuries.

I recommend Network North, but for heaven's sake, don't buy it - it's $239. I'm all for supporting authors, but $239 is a bit steep. See if you can't get it through inter-library loan, like I did.

1 comment:

Chris Paton said...

Registers of the Great Seal and Privy Seal are now available on - a great resource for medieval Scotland!



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