Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Bookshelf: The Scottish Diaspora by Tanja Bueltmann, Andrew Hinson and Graeme Norton

The Scottish Diaspora, by Tanja Bueltmann, Andrew Hinson, and Graeme Morton was written to serve as a textbook for Scottish emigration courses. The authors set themselves a huge task - summarizing three centuries of migration to all corners of the globe in under 300 pages. The book is divided into three sections: the first includes the introduction and discussion of the term diaspora, the second part is arranged thematically, and the third part arranged geographically.

The "Diaspora: Defining a Concept" chapter goes to great lengths to explain the historic use of the word diaspora and its use as a concept in organizing historical research. My overriding thought while reading this section was that “academics don’t own words” and “meanings constantly change.” If you are not reading this for school or other historical research, you might want to skip or skim this chapter. If you are just trying to understand why some of your ancestors left Scotland in 1750 and others in 1921, you probably don’t care about this sort of academic hair splitting. But be sure to look at the last few pages of this chapter as the authors included a useful description of different types of migration and terms used in the book.

The first thematic chapter, "Scotland: The Twa Lands," explores the Scotland left behind and four reasons why so many people left: demographic pressures, standard of living, occupational change, and urbanization. These are primarily structural reasons for emigration and the chapter overlooks social and familial reasons for emigration. The authors did do an admirable job of summarizing 250 years of Scottish history in 20 pages.

The next thematic chapter, "Scottish Migrants: Numbers and Demographics," opens with Ravenstein’s ‘laws’ of migration which are listed on pages 59 and 60. The inclusion of Ravenstein’s laws highlights a difference between British and American scholars, as the latter rarely reference his work. The authors explore how the reality of emigration from Scotland squares with Raventstien’s theories. They relate that emigration slowed Scottish population growth in addition to exploring the gender of migrants and the health and diet of Scots.

A discussion of the expectations of emigration versus the reality is discussed in "The Emigration Experience." Overall the journey, whether to North America or to New Zealand, was “nae sae bad” as most people arrived safely. Over all the authors have found that most emigrants, once they were over the initial hardships, had a positive experience in their new home.

"Encounters with Indigenous People" explores the shared feeling of dispossession between native peoples and Scots particularly in Australia and New Zealand. The chapter includes a discussion of how emigrants learned about native life before departure. There is also an introduction to Scots attitudes and encounters with natives and it seems that Scots were not so very different from other colonials in their attitudes towards natives.

My favorite thematic chapter was Associational Culture which appears to rely on previous work of Beultmann. The themes of this chapter include why these groups formed; differences between them the different types of groups (e.g. Caledonian Societies and St. Andrew’s Societies); where and when they were established; the establishment of Highland Games; annual dinners; and the elite nature of many of these groups.

The final thematic chapter, "Return Migration," discusses the different ways emigrants returned to their homeland. First were Sojourning Scots, those who only planned to be away for a little while. These migrants were usually from the upper classes and had connections to East India Company or similar institutions. The plan of these individuals was usually to make a ton of money and then return to Scotland. Other sojourning migrants would include members of the military. Other emigrants returned temporarily for visits home or as roots tourists. Although the authors note that both types of return were hardest from Antipodes, the only two examples from were from this region.

The geographical section of the book includes chapters on Scottish emigrants in the British Isles, North America, Africa, Asia, and the Antipodes. Each is a summary of the Scottish migrant relationship which each destination. The chapter on the British Isles highlights the importance of London, higher wages, and industrial work in the North of England. The chapter on the United States focuses on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The experience of Scots Loyalists and Scots who joined the Hudson’s Bay Company are two key components of the chapter on Canada. Scots who migrated to Africa seem to have been members of the military, missionaries, or miners.  Due to the apparent sparse settlement of Scots in Asia this chapter focuses on the experience of a few “super-wealthy” Scots and the importance of networks to migrants. The Antipodies, as you would expect, details the experience of convicts and the fact that Scots were surprising influential in Australia and New Zealand despite their comparatively small numbers.

The book closes with an epilogue which appears to be the transcript of a Burns night toast given in Chicago ca. 1910. I skimmed the text and it does speak to many of the themes in the book, but its inclusion without any references or context seemed odd to me.

Overall the book is very readable and is suitable for students and a lay audience. Each section incorporates recent research on the Scottish Diaspora, although it seems that most of the examples reflect the specific research interests of the authors. Since there can’t be that many college courses dedicated to the Scottish Diaspora, I think this book would also be useful those who teach comparative diaspora studies.

nb. Many thanks to Kate at Oxford University Press for sending me a review copy of this book..


petecorr said...

As usual this book ignores the Scots who came to Portugal, Our branch of the clan (Rollo, Loiwlands) came to live here during yhe Napoleonic Wars, and stood here. There's also mention of another fellow in the 17th century.
Someone should tell the authors about it.
Pedro Rolo

Amanda E. Epperson said...

To be fair the authors started their examination of the Scottish Diaspora in 1750, so everything before was left out. They also covered migration to the whole planet in about 275 pages; no easy feat. It is impossible to write a general work of this kind and still be all inclusive.


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