Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Bookshelf: Scottish Communities Abroad edited by Alexia Grosjean and Steve Murdoch

Unbeknowst to you, languishing next to Network North on my bookshelf was a second book, Scottish Communities Abroad In The Early Modern Period (Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, V. 107).  In retrospect, requesting them both from the library at the same time was not very bright.  I think I was really excited to have time to read them (or at least to imagine I did), especially having learnt earlier in the summer that they were available to borrow. As regular readers of this blog might remember, Network North sat on my shelf - unread - for over four weeks before I started it.  And of course, Scottish Communities Abroad sat there as well, mocking me with its presence.

Last month, after finishing Network North, I quickly started Scottish Communities Abroad.  It took longer to read as it is as long as it looks: there are fewer footnotes, no bibliography, and no appendices to speak of.  And even though I was probably more interested in learning about Scots emigrant communities during the 17th century than I was in giving and marking exams, I really had no choice but to turn my attention to the latter rather than the former

Scottish Communities Abroad In The Early Modern Period (Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, V. 107)
Murdoch, Steve and Alexia Grosjean, eds. 2005. Scottish Communities Abroad in the Early Modern Period.  Brill: Leiden & Boston.  Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions: History, Culture, Religion and Ideas.  Andrew Colin Gow, ed. Volume CVII.

This volume is co-edited by Alexia Grosjean and Steve Murdoch both of whom are currently on the staff of the School of History at the University of St. Andrews. According to the acknowledgments section, the idea for this volume came to the editors when visiting family in Indonesia and seeing first hand a Scottish community abroad. This idea then became a workshop held at Aberdeen University, then, in due course, it became the current volume. Given the editors own research interests, it is not surprising that this collection focuses on Scottish Communities in Northern Europe between 1500 and 1700.

The collected essays are divided into three sections. The first contains three essays about destinations and colonies, namely, Northern Ireland (by Patrick Fitzgerald), Poland (by Waldemar Kowalski) and the Americas (by David Dobson). Section two contains articles about “located” communities: Bergen (by Nina Ostby Pedersen), Rotterdam (by Douglas Catterall), Gothenberg (by Grosjean and Murdoch), Kedainiai (by Rimantas Zirgulis), and Hamburg (by Kathrin Zickerman).  The final section includes three essays on different aspects of the Scots community in the Netherlands: exiles (by Ginny Gardner), students (by Esther Mijers) and sailors (by Andrew Little). Rounding out the collection are an introduction written by the editors and a conclusion by Lex Heerma von Voss, Solvi Sogner, and Thomas O’Conner.

Overall, I preferred the first two sections, but this is likely because they more closely relate to my own interests. While I am largely familiar with movement from Scotland to Ireland and North America, I was pleased to learn more about migration patterns to Poland. Apparently, Poland-Lithuania was known as “Scotland’s America” – that’s how attractive Poland was for Scots. If you have already done some research on Scottish emigration you will no doubt be familiar with David Dobson’s work, which is always solid, and this essay is no exception. The essays on the individual communities in various northern European cities each, generally speaking, examined the establishment of these communities, their decline, and the networks that created them. The essay on Rotterdam provided a bit of serendipity as it briefly mentions the Scottish district in Bruges and I had just seen the movie In Bruges a few days before, so I could really picture what it might have looked like.  

As for the third section, I’m not sure if I liked it least because I’m not so keen on the Netherlands or if because I’m not so keen on exiles (and this chapter is really about the role these exiles played in the events of 1688); or if because I’m not convinced the student communities were so important or influential (I’ve lived abroad as an international student, so maybe I need more convincing than most.) 

Overall, I really liked this book. And I think that students or researchers interested in the North Atlantic or migration networks during the early modern period generally, or from Scotland specifically will really benefit from reading it. Each contribution is well-written and sourced and the collection provides myriad examples and yet shows common themes in the emigrant experience. If you fall into this group, you might (I say might) consider purchasing the book. At $154 it is still expensive, but just at the top of the range for many academic books. Those researching specific regions (say Sweden or Ireland) for academic or family history, should probably do I what I did, and request it from your local library.

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