World History Connected Home    
Home List journal issues Table of contents
Printer-friendly format          

Book Review


Grosjean, Alexia and Steve Murdoch, eds. Scottish Communities Abroad in the Early Modern Period (Leiden: Brill, 2005). 417 pp, $199.00.

      From the inception of world history as a discrete field of historical study, the issue of migration has been a central topic that has attracted a great deal of research. Scottish Communities Abroad in the Early Modern Period, edited by Alexia Grosjean and Steve Murdoch, is a recent addition to migration literature that seeks to break free from a national lens and instead recognize and describe the numerous complexities and sometimes contradictions hidden in the story of Scottish migration. The editors chose to focus on the early modern period and most of the contributions concern the 17th century, a period that saw massive amounts of both internal and external European migration. Issues surrounding community building are paramount and, according to the editors, the selections in the text "confirm the dependency of the communities on other institutions in order that they could flourish." (24) 1
     The book contains contributions from sixteen authors who in some cases worked together to create eleven discrete chapters. The editors chose to divide these contributions into three sections. The first, "Migrant Destinations, Colonies, and Plantations," is comprised of three articles that examine Scottish migration to what the editors describe as the "near-abroad," the "middle-abroad," and the "far-abroad." In each situation, types of migration, community development, and identity formation are different. For instance, an examination of Scottish migration to Ireland written by Patrick Fitzgerald represents an attack on widely held conceptions of the migration and notes that settlers were not exclusively Lowland Scottish Protestants, nor did they limit themselves to settling in escheated areas of Ulster. Instead, Fitzgerald sees a pattern of migration that integrated western Scotland with northern Ireland and was conceptualized not so much as a purely Scottish but instead a "British" enterprise. Likewise, in Waldemar Kowalski's piece exploring Scottish settlement in Poland, the local population did not always consider migrating Scots as a discrete group; instead, the status and wealth of the migrants often influenced the view of the Polish population. Particular characteristics of Polish religious tolerance meant that Scots could become citizens, further weakening the degree of community formation. Indeed, the "brotherhoods" that did form within the Scottish community were largely created by the Scottish elite who wished to maintain some control over the relatively larger numbers of itinerant Scots traders. Finally, David Dobson, contributing the only article concerned with events outside of Europe, challenges the notion that Scots were unwanted interlopers in English colonial expansion to the Americas. On the contrary, American colonial ventures often created a sense of "Britishness" that predated the official Act of Union in 1707. 2
     The selections in the next section, "Located Communities," are concerned with how Scottish expatriate communities formed in various regions of northern and eastern Europe. In an article examining the Scottish community in Bergen, Nina Østby Pedersen notes that good relations between the Stuarts and the Oldenburgs encouraged Scottish settlement. Additionally, the presence of a threatened and hostile Hansa trading community led to an increased sense of Scottish identity. This contrasts with Gothenburg, where Scots counted among positions on the town council, had deep ties to both the business and military community, and, as evidenced through marriage records, had a somewhat easier time assimilating. Religious issues were often crucial in determining patterns of settlement and expatriate/local relations. Rimantas éirgulis contributed an article that explores how the desire of local magnates in Lithuania to support the Reformation led to a large influx of Scottish settlers, drawn not only by religious toleration but by the opportunity to trade free from Polish harassment. As the political situation in Kėdainiai changed, so too did the ability of the Scots to maintain their community. Migration also led to changes in identity formation, as Kathrin Zickerman makes clear in her article regarding settlement in Hamburg. Removed from the particularist environment of Great Britain, the English and the Scots often worked together in Hamburg and created one of the first instances of a British identity. 3
     The final section, titled "Communities of Mind and Interest" aims to explore the intellectual impact of expatriate communities. In one of the more intriguing contributions, Ginny Gardner argues that Scottish exiles fleeing from the Restoration formed a discreet community in the Netherlands. They actively resisted assimilation and were instrumental in not only generating local support for an invasion of Britain by William of Orange, but were also key in preparing friends and families back home for just such an event. Indeed, after the Glorious Revolution, the community continued to function back at home in Scotland. In the realm of education, Esther Mijers illustrates how the Scottish student community, while dependant on the Scottish trading community, remained quite separate from them. They were not in any way cohesive and religious and class differences determined the choice of school far more than their identity as Scots. Finally, Andrew Little contributed an article that discusses the integration of Scottish men into foreign navies. His general conclusion is that a sense of British identity was dependant on social class, with officers of both English and Scottish descent much more willing to identify themselves as British compared with common sailors of both groups. 4
     This book represents the combined efforts of over a dozen authors well versed in their fields. As such, it is a work of careful and meticulous scholarship. Both primary and secondary sources amply support all the articles and many of the authors spent a great deal of time collating large amounts of quantitative data in order to prove their hypotheses. Still, it is perhaps the overwhelming amount of detail that limits the text. Many of the authors spend a great deal of time simply proving the existence of a Scottish community and describing its composition. There is often little in the way of analysis until the last pages of a selection. It appears that the editors struggled with this as well, as the introduction and final chapter that try to summarize and interpret the work seem slightly forced. The use of this text in teaching appears to be limited, as the selections, focused on specific places and times, are filled with so much supporting data that their utilization in a world history course would be counterproductive. The one exception would be a course on migration, where this text could serve as an example of the complexities surrounding the topic. It would also have been beneficial, particularly in the world history context, for a deeper examination of Scottish communities outside of Europe, especially as the stated intent is to consider migration more broadly. 
     This said, Scottish Communities Abroad in the Early Modern Period does contribute to the field. It reminds historians not to treat migrations as a monolithic structure. Instead, there are various reasons, even among members of the same ethnicity or nation, why individuals migrate, and these reasons are often more pragmatic than historians would like to acknowledge. We should not consider national origin as the only, or even the primary, source of identity for migrants. In just the few examples covered in the text, it seems clear that confessional differences as well as variations in class often had just as an important effect, if not more important, than the fact that migrants shared a Scottish origin. We must also recognize that reasons for migration can affect community development. In the case of Scottish students, there was an active desire to separate from other Scots and thus no community formed. However, in the case of the exiles, community cohesion was unusually strong, allowing for its maintenance even back in Scotland. Conditions in the communities that the migrants settled in also determined cohesion. Generally, the contributors find that when conditions allowed it, many Scottish migrants had no problems integrating into the wider community, especially when this gained them privileges that would be beneficial. The conclusions of the book are quite useful in the world historical context and thus, despite its limited geographic coverage, the text does add to the wider field of migration studies. In summation, the most important contribution of this book is its plea to recognize the complexity and contingency of migration. 
Aaron Whelchel
Washington State University

Home | List Journal Issues | Table of Contents
© 2008 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Content in World History Connected is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the World History Connected database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Terms and Conditions of Use