Diasporas, Migrations and the Public Domain in Scotland

Submitting Institution

University of Edinburgh

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

The collective research of Breitenbach, Delaney, Devine, MacKenzie, and Ugolini at the University of Edinburgh since 2006 has had impact in terms of public understanding, policy and museum practice in relation to the Scottish diaspora. Specifically it has: (i) enabled the transformation of public understanding of the emigration history of the Scots (a central part of the history of the nation) as global in territorial spread rather than simply confined to the settlement colonies and the USA; (ii) shaped the development of new Scottish Government policies of engagement with the global diaspora; and (iii) influenced the intellectual underpinning of new and revised national museum displays in Scotland especially in relation to empire and emigration.

Underpinning research

The key researchers associated with these impact activities, conducted under the auspices of the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies (SCDS) are:

Dr Esther Breitenbach, ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow (2007-08), Teaching Fellow (2008-09), ESRC Research Fellow (2009-2012).

Dr Enda Delaney, Associate Director of SCDS (since 2008), Reader in Modern History.

Prof T. M. Devine, Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History (2006-2011), Director of SCDS (2008- ), Personal Senior Research Professor in History (since 2012).

Prof John M. MacKenzie, Visiting Professor SCDS (since 2008).

Dr Wendy Ugolini, Associate Director of SCDS (since 2010), Lecturer in British History.

The work of Devine (2011a, 2011b) has for the first time mapped the global rather than simply imperial and US parameters of Scottish emigration since the sixteenth century, set the Scottish diaspora in international comparative context, and examined the varied interactions of hostlands and homelands. It has developed the thesis that Scottish connections with transatlantic slave economies were basic to Scottish modernisation in the eighteenth century, explored the terra incognita of Scots emigration since 1945, and charted the links between diaspora, overseas investment and industrialism in the nineteenth century. As well as presenting original personal research, the work draws on and references scholarship conducted by others in the SCDS (eg. Delaney, Breitenbach, MacKenzie). In 2011 MacKenzie and Devine also published the first ever scholarly analysis of Scotland and the empire from the seventeenth century, which inter alia revised existing knowledge on Scots and India, the economic connections between Scotland and empire and provided a pioneering systematic/statistical analysis of the Scottish imperial role in relation to English, Welsh and Irish ethnicities.

Breitenbach's research (2009, drawing on her UoE PhD of 2005) demonstrated for the first time the key role of women in the Scottish overseas missionary dynamic and the impact of their activities on gender history at home. Subsequent ESRC-funded research has examined the continued interest in empire shared by the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Council during the neglected period of imperial decline c. 1918-1970. Ugolini's interest in migration history, which emerged initially in her exploration of the Italian community in Scotland (UoE PhD of 2005), has since developed into a new research project on Scottish diasporic military identities in collaboration with the National Museums Scotland (NMS). Funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) enabled the hosting of an international workshop and research colloquium (2012), bringing together leading historians and curators from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, S. Africa and the UK to examine the adoption of military Scottishness within Commonwealth countries since 1880 (and profiling the work of staff at Edinburgh). Delaney's work on the migration patterns of the Irish following the famine (2012) has enabled productive discussion with SCDS colleagues on the comparative migratory patterns of the Scots and the Irish. His recent ESRC fellowship draws on social theory, historical sociology and systematic historical research to explore Ireland's complex encounter with modernity after 1750 (including through migration).

References to the research


Esther Breitenbach, Empire and Scottish Society: The Impact of the Foreign Missions at Home, 1790-1914 (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2009); to be supplied on request.


E. .Delaney, The Curse of Reason: The Great Irish Famine (Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 2012); listed in REF2.

T. M. Devine, To The Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora (London, Penguin, 2011a); listed in REF2.

T.M.Devine,` Did Slavery make Scotia Great?' Britain and the World, iv.1, (2011 b), 40-65. DOI: 10.3366/brw.2011.0004


J. M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine (eds.), Scotland and the British Empire (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011); listed in REF2.


W. Ugolini, 'Scottish Commonwealth Regiments' in J. Crang, E. Spiers and M. Strickland eds, A Military History of Scotland (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 485-505 [This edited collection was chosen as Scottish History Book of the Year by the Saltire Society in 2012]; to be supplied on request.


Private benefaction to establish the Centre from Mr Alan Macfarlane (then managing partner of Walter Scott and Co), 2008- (PI: T. M. Devine) £1,023,000.

ESRC Standard Grant, 2009-12 (PI: E. Breitenbach) £357,430. Empire and civil society in 20th century Scotland: imperial decline and national identity c.1918-c.1970; Ref No: RES-062-23-1790.

ESRC Mid-Career Fellowship, 2010-12 (PI: Delaney) £252,367. Ireland and Modernity; Ref No: RES070-27-0017.

Scottish Government Research Capacity Development Grant, 2011-14 (PI: T.M. Devine:) £200,000 to support three Postdoctoral Fellows (2 years) and one PhD student (3 years).

Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2010-2012, (PI: Ugolini in collaboration with NMS) £7,500. Scottish diasporic military identities.

Details of the impact

The research activities of the SCDS have:

(i) Shaped new public understanding of the history of Scottish emigration since the sixteenth-century, leading to wide recognition of the phenomenon as global in scope.
Since its foundation in 2008 the SCDS has hosted 12 major public events - mostly in the form of public lectures or multi-contributor debates (linked to research outlined above) - which have attracted average audiences of 200-300 people. Questionnaires completed afterwards demonstrated that fresh ideas and new perspectives had been communicated effectively (an average of 70 per cent of returned responses) on such themes as: effect of diaspora on the homeland; Scots and slavery; imperial role of Scots; and global reach of the Scottish diaspora. Invitation lectures on the Scottish diaspora have been given at public events hosted by other institutions such as the NMS (Dec 2011), the RSE Christmas Lecture (Dec 2011), webcast by the BBC, the Fife Lectures organised and chaired by former PM Gordon Brown MP (Dec 2012), the two Edinburgh Festivals of History (Nov 2011 & 2012) and the Edinburgh International Book Festival (August, 2009, 2010, & 2011). Since 2008 research findings by the above members of SCDS have generated 144 examples of detailed coverage in the national or international media.

To The Ends of the Earth (Devine, 2011) has sold over 8,000 copies in the UK (5,000 in the first four months after publication), was discussed on Radio 4's Start the Week (Dec 2012), serialised over 5 days in the Scotsman (Aug 2011), reviewed in the Independent, TLS, Guardian, London Review of Books, THE, Spectator, New Statesman, Scotland on Sunday, The Times and Observer, and chosen as a Book of the Year for 2011 by the Spectator, New Statesman, Scottish Review of Books, Herald, History Scotland Magazine and Scotsman. First Minister Alex Salmond selected it as his book of the year, highlighting its ability to `look beneath the myth' and enable `greater understanding' of the Scottish diaspora (Herald, 27/11/2011). Extensive media interest in To the Ends of the Earth disseminated widely the research findings of Devine and colleagues on the global reach of Scottish migrations, comparisons with the diasporic experience of other ethnicities, the impact of large-scale emigration on the homeland and the hitherto neglected and controversial role of Scots in Atlantic slave economies. The 2012 award to Devine of both the RSE's Beltane Senior Prize for Public Engagement (across all disciplines) and the RSE's Inaugural Sir Walter Scott Senior Prize for Excellence in the Humanities and Creative Arts, in which `impact' was one criterion in the competition, confirms the public benefit of his work. On 8 Aug 2012 the Scottish Parliament passed a motion congratulating him on the Scott Prize and added that it `believes this recognises Professor Devine's ability to communicate the fruits of his recent research to a broad public audience' (Scottish Parliament, Business Bulletin S4M-03805).

ii) Influenced the development of new Scottish Government policies on engagement with the global diaspora
In April 2008 the Scottish Government published its International Framework identifying the Scottish diaspora as a `new priority' for `strategic development and profile-raising' (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/04/23150847/2). Researchers in the SCDS have been extremely well-placed to provide significant knowledge and expertise to enable both the development and delivery of this policy aim. Devine and Delaney drew on their research on Scottish and Irish mobility respectively when they were invited to advise the International Networks & Diaspora Unit of the Government on the key differences between Irish and Scottish diasporic histories; this consultation was part of the process that led to the first-ever Scottish Government Diaspora Engagement Plan. Devine was the keynote speaker at the debates that took place at the Scottish Diaspora Forum held at the Scottish Parliament in July 2009, during the first `Year of Homecoming `, which helped to flesh out the details of the Plan. His speech highlighted SCDS findings on the global reach of emigration, comparisons with other diasporas, effects on both hostlands and homeland, return migration and the importance of so-called `affinity Scots'. The support of the Centre was noted in the acknowledgments in the Plan (see 5.1; 5.2).

A further indication of the impact of research findings on public policy was the award of over £200k in 2011 by the Scottish Government to SCDS to build further research capacity, including funds for a doctoral studentship and three postdoctoral fellowships to work on post-1945 migration history. It is noteworthy that the Scottish Government decided to fund advanced contemporary historical research, reflecting the advice of SCDS that this was the area most in need of urgent attention from scholars. Another endorsement and recognition of the SCDS's existing track-record of achieving high impact was the award of a grant (in 2012) of £37k for the organisation of a major international conference, `The Global Migrations of the Scottish People: Issues, Controversies, Challenges', in partnership with NMS, for Scottish and international public audiences during the second `Year of Homecoming' in 2014. The Diaspora Policy Advisor of the Homecoming & Themed Years Team, Scottish Government, has commented on the SCDS's ability to underpin public policy: `The Scottish Government believes the SCDS is a world-leading centre of excellence in diaspora studies and has continued to support the work of the Centre to ensure the necessary evidence base is available to help inform the development and delivery of Scottish Government diaspora policy' (email correspondence with Delaney, 16/8/2013; 5.3).

iii) Influenced new and revised museum exhibitions and displays on empire and emigration by advising and reporting on` state of the art' knowledge and research advances in these fields.
Three workshops aimed at curatorial staff were held in 2009 and 2010; these were jointly hosted with the NMS and involved over 50 academic and curatorial staff. These events informed the thinking of curators preparing the two new displays on Empire and Emigration in the refurbished Royal Museum, which was reopened to the public in 2011, so ensuring that knowledge of current scholarship on Scotland and its diaspora was represented (5.4). Moreover Devine acted as the academic `champion' in the fundraising campaign, `Scotland and the World', to support the NMS during its recent re-launch following refurbishment. This included giving a series of presentations to potential donors in the UK and the USA on how new SCDS research findings were refreshing the planning of displays. The former NMS Director of Development, has confirmed that considerable financial donations were accrued: `The effect of Professor Devine's speaking at our events has been remarkable, both in terms of the quality of response and the degree to which supporters, through gaining a new perspective and special insights, have gone on to provide substantial financial support' (email correspondence with Devine, 27/9/2011; 5.5). SCDS was also a joint-applicant (Ugolini) with the NMS for a successful bid to the RSE on Scottish diasporic military identities, the fruits of which will ultimately be reflected in the collections of the Scottish National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle, part of NMS.

Thus by working so closely with professional curatorial staff at the NMS, the Centre's findings are now represented in exhibitions such as Industry and Empire and Scotland: A Changing Nation, whilst academic advice and review provided by colleagues assisted the creation of the new Twentieth Century Gallery. The Director of Collections has commented that `The relationship with the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies has brought internal and external benefits to National Museums Scotland ... [It] provides a model as to how the Museum and Edinburgh University can work together, extending working methods through collaboration and linking outcomes to public benefit' (email correspondence with Delaney, 13/4/2012; 5.6).

Sources to corroborate the impact

Web sources

5.1 Diaspora Engagement Plan of the Scottish Government
(http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/09/14081131/0) or http://tinyurl.com/opjtdyp


5.2 Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Scottish Government: to corroborate contribution to the Scottish Diaspora Forum debate and Scottish Government Diaspora Engagement Plan.

5.3 Diaspora Policy Advisor, Homecoming & Themed Years Team, Scottish Government: to corroborate SCDS's ability to underpin public policy.

5.4 Director, National Museums Scotland: to corroborate refurbishment of the Royal Museum and impact on two new displays on Empire and Emigration.

5.5 Director of Development at the V&A at Dundee, formerly Director of Development, National Museums Scotland: to corroborate Devine's contribution to the fund-raising campaign for the NMS refurbishment.

5.6 Director of Collections, National Museums Scotland: to corroborate collaboration between NMS and SCDS.