3.3 Diasporas

There is an archaeology of the Scottish diaspora beyond Scotland’s borders which extends back from the present day to the early modern and, indeed, medieval periods, when Scottish merchant communities came to be established in port towns like Helsingør (‘Elsinore’) in Denmark (Appel forthcoming). 

But diaspora is also a research issue within Scotland and archaeologists of the modern past can add to our understanding of the experience of immigration to and (short-lived or permanent) settlement in this country from England, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Poland, India, Pakistan, Canada, China and the many other places around the world which have contributed to Scotland’s population.  How did people interact with things, places and landscapes to become Scottish or to remain something else?  How were new, hybrid ways of being, living and thinking created through interactions with and through the material world?  How has Scottish society and life changed through the arrival of others and how can material histories deepen our understanding of this change? 

Relevant examples of immigration are to be found throughout the period.  The 16th, 17th and 18th centuries saw the arrival of French Protestants or Huguenots, who were involved in the development of the textile industry in Scotland, introducing new techniques of production.  Picardy Place, off Leith Walk in Edinburgh, commemorates in its name the early 18th century colony of French weavers who settled there, in purpose-built accommodation.  They named the area Little or New Picardy, in memory of their place of origin.  The evidence of the National Museums of Scotland collections also reveals that Huguenots were involved in the production of high quality silverware like some of their London counterparts (see Easson 1950; Hallen 1888; Springall 1998).


This stone at Kirk Yetholm is a memorial to the gypsy community there © A Spicer

The first recorded reference to gypsies (for extracts from historical sources, see http://www.scottishgypsies.co.uk/)  was in 1505 when they received £7 on the orders of the Scottish king, James IV; it is unclear whether they received this for being entertainers or for being ‘pilgrims’.  From the late 16th century onwards gypsies were persecuted as vagrants (Fraser 1995). As with other itinerant elements of society, identifying the material remains of their presence can be difficult, but there is much scope for this in studies of material culture and of places such as Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, where a significant gypsy community developed in the course of the 18th century (Tokely 1996).

In the 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants arrived from numerous countries, their journeys occasioned by diverse circumstances, coming to take up work in Scotland’s growing industries; to seek refuge from persecution or conflict;  to live for a time as prisoners-of-war.  Some immigrants had a fleeting connection with Scotland, some left but maintained connections of one kind or another, and others put down permanent roots.  Archaeologically, knowledge and understanding of the experiences and circumstances of Soctland’s many and diverse immigrant communities can be built up through studies of the material culture that people lived with, the places that they settled in, the communities they formed or joined, and the material changes they wrought on the culture and environment of Scotland and its localities.  The  Italian Chapel, built by prisoners interned in the P.O.W. camp on Lamb Holm in Orkney (Burgher 1991, 61; Gifford 1992, 340); the camps and workplaces of the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit in Scotland’s war-time forests (Sneddon 2007); the ‘English Buildings’ (workers’ houses) recently excavated on the route of the M74 motorway extension in Glasgow South Side ; the Caledonian Canal, constructed by Irish, English and other workers, employed alongside local labour: these are all examples of the material environments which bear witness to diasporic lives within Scotland and which can be researched archaeologically.  The archaeology of such places provides opportunities for the exploration of the dynamic processes and circumstances through which Scottish society was formed and re-formed, communities and identities were constructed and re-constructed, relationships contested and negotiated and life was experienced in its many and varied ways.


See also the ScARF Case Study: An archaeology of the Newfoundland diaspora