Locating the Hidden Diaspora: The English in North America in Transatlantic Perspective, 1760-1950

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Sch of English, History and Politics


The English were the largest group of emigrants in the British World and one of the largest European groups in the US. Yet while they settled alongside the Scots, Irish and other migrant groups who powerfully exerted ethnic awareness, the English are not ascribed the attributes of ethnicity associated with other immigrant groups. The idea that the English may have been 'ethnic' in the way the Irish or Scots were, is overlooked, ignored or imagined to be false. In short, there is little acknowledgement of an 'English diaspora'. This research, therefore, will uncover the hidden English Diaspora in North America between 1760 and 1950, when expatriate culture was strong and vibrant and the written record is rich.

Drawing upon hitherto un-used historical archives, and by employing a transnational perspective that connects the US, Canada and England, the project will explore English immigrant community life, particularly English associational culture, and the wider political and cultural impact of English identity in North America. A select number of case study locations in Canada and the US have been chosen for this comparative exercise, namely New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Toronto and Ottawa. This new comparative focus is particularly crucial to advance knowledge on how English ethnicity and culture interacted with and between republican and imperial contexts.

The proposed project's overall aim is to offer an original reading of English ethnicity in North America within a transnational perspective. The objectives are to analyse the emergence, development and anatomy of English associationalism; to investigate English literary, folk and political cultures; and to explore how the formation of ethnic identities in North America contributed to a shared transatlantic identity, and influenced concomitant developments in England. The latter component of the proposed project, together with the PhD student's UK-centred research into the post-1900 period, will also throw light on current debates in UK identity politics and Englishness. At a deeper level, our questioning of the neglect of the English permits consideration of what might be learned from studying ethnic communities generally, and how ethnic groups, through the expression of their identity and culture, contributed to the making of their respective new worlds.

A wide group of academics and non-academics will benefit from the research, which offers a knowledge-shaping new approach to the transnational study of English immigrant community life and ethnicity. The core monograph and articles will make a major and original contribution to knowledge. The edited collection on ethnic culture and politics will present a wide-ranging series of multidisciplinary accounts which we hope will tap audiences beyond the historical community. The conference will bring together presenters from a wider geographical range than our project covers. The mapping of English associational life and activities is of great significance, offering new insights into the English immigrant community to those working in migration and diaspora history, but also social, cultural and economic history, opening new avenues for wider comparative research. The data mined will also be of great interest to genealogists, expatriate communities and folk groups as it relates to their immediate life experience. In view of the study's second strand, politics and identities, the findings will benefit policymakers, informing contemporary debates on Englishness in the UK. Several public events will extend considerably beyond the academy. The material gathered throughout the project, some of which will be showcased online, and the various published outputs, will become standards for courses/modules on English migration, American immigration, ethnicity in North America, and English ethnic culture.

Planned Impact

The project is carefully designed to ensure that a diverse group of non-academics will benefit from the research.

First, the proposed programme of community engagement will ensure the dissemination of findings among the immediate groups to whom our research is of interest. This chiefly includes members of English expatriate communities and folk groups. The details on associations collected from our sources will also be of great interest to genealogists and current association members, offering a new perspective on their immediate life experiences. The designated project website, though not interactive, will showcase primary sources relating to St George's (and other) associations, hence benefit students, academics and the general public.

Secondly, research findings will be relevant for those involved in the heritage industry. Associations are a key channel through which the interest in the ancestral homeland of third and fourth generation descendants of English emigrants, as well as more recent emigrants, is promoted. It is hoped that research findings will aid the development of heritage programmes for English abroad in search of their roots in England. As a result, the research also holds potential to inform, and contribute directly, to educational and cultural initiatives in the heritage industry and the wider culture sector.

Finally, the focus of the research programme on English expatriate communties and folk groups is also of direct interest for policymakers as the proposed research constitutes a timely contribution to the wider debates concerning English identity within a devolved United Kingdom. We recognize that English ethnicity is a somewhat controversial topic within British politics; however, we believe that rational engagement with the wider implications of the existence of an apparent, but hidden, English diaspora will provide evidence-based thinking to enter debates about the future of Britain and the realities of the wider Anglo-world.

To ensure that the non-academic users concerned have ample opportunities to benefit from the research, dissemination activities will take place in the UK and a select number of the case study locations in North America. In view of the diverse group of beneficiaries, we have identified a range of different dissemination strategies to suit each respective group, thereby ensuring that they will benefit from the research as fully as possible. We will design an exhibition in Charleston and deliver public lectures in case study locations to ensure that expatriate community groups and folk groups will learn about our findings. We will also develop, together with Folkworks at the Sage, Gateshead, a programme of concerts and lectures to disseminate findings widely in the North East. Drawing on the expertise of Northumbria University's Centre for Public Policy, research findings will be prepared in a suitable way for dissemination among policymakers.

Media liaison will be integral to disseminating the results of this project. This, in turn, will give us the best possible chance of making the strongest impact for the project. The local press will be contacted in advance of research visits in the chosen locations to ensure wide dissemination, and also to publicise the public lectures and the exhibition. Ideally, there will also be opportunities for research findings to feed into press reports and local radio programmes. The media will be approached in England with findings and news on events. Communication channels within English expatriate communities will also be utilised to ensure effective and wide circulation of information in the communities involved.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/I001042/1 04/10/2011 30/06/2013 £240,940
AH/I001042/2 Transfer AH/I001042/1 01/07/2013 30/09/2014 £111,529
Title English Migrants and their Legacies in Charleston, South Carolina 
Description short video on the English immigrations to Charleston, South Carolina 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact It mainly strengthened our website presence, with growing hits and likes. 
URL http://www.englishdiaspora.co.uk/charlestontour.html
Description That the English, far from being an invisible ethnic group in the United States and Canada, were similar in key respects to other ethnics. This has implications for our understanding of English identity in the world, but also the definitions of ethnicity that we use and our tendency to define all ethnics agains, rather than with, the English.

The findings clearly complicate simple and linear notions of identity and social integration.
Exploitation Route Primarily, they may be used by museums, authors of curricula, teachers, and others, to offer a different view of America and Canada's immigrants histories.

They may also be used by museums to add crucial sub-narratives to exhibitions on immigration which otherwise exclude the English.

It may be possible to develop TV and radio programmes. Also, popular written histories will need to take account of our work.
Sectors Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.englishdiaspora.co.uk
Description They have been by associations, such as the Royal St George's Society (RSStG), universities overseas, and in conferences, radio, and public events. They have been used by the Newcastle Lit and Phil, and have attracted varying audiences, here and abroad. There is ongoing discussion with the RSStG about underpinning their 125th anniversary celebrations in 2019, but these are at an early stage.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Don MacRaild was funded contributor at the AHRC Network: 'Anglo-Scottish Migration and the Making of Great Britain', University of Manchester, 5-6 June 2014. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact rapporteur work, general commenting, and discussant for papers; my role was bring English and colonial dimensions into a discussion focusing on the Scots.

There was an offer to develop further collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Don MacRaild: Funded Keynote address: 'Diaspora of the Discontented: Class, Ethnicity and the English in America, 1840-1914', Annual national conference of the Society for the Study of Labour History, Huddersfield University, 21 July 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 40+ scholars from across the world gathered at a major, annual national conference. The English sparked considerable debate afterwards, and sustained conversation took the focus from north America to the wider world.

An offer support to apply for a fellowship at the ANU's Humanities Research Centre.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014