Migration, Adaptation, Innovation 1500-1800

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Arts, Design and Social Sciences


Today, when mass migration coincides with a high skill economy's ever-growing need for constant technological innovation, the project's central question is burning: what makes for successful immigration, technological innovation, and knowledge transfer? The effective management of these three permitted Europe to first industrialise. Global knowledge transfers and the migration of skilled practitioners have been crucial for innovation and technological improvement in general and in particular for the 'Great Divergence', the process by which Europe overtook Asia as the world's manufacturing centre. This project focusses on this vital period of shifting balances.

Case studies have shown both that skilled migration can strengthen or even birth new industries (think of the Huguenots bringing silk weaving to England and Prussia, or immigrant and first-generation Jews founding and running Hollywood) and that, to establish new technologies and manufactures, entrepreneurs and governments need to involve experts, often from abroad. This could be voluntary: in the eighteenth century Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore attracted French and Ottoman experts in weapons technology and instrument making, while, as Gottmann's research has shown, French officials invited groups of Indian and Levantine cotton weavers to develop the French cotton industry. But it wasn't always a matter of choice. Many artisans came as refugees and some were expressly kidnapped: Japan's porcelain industry in and around Arita only took off after the enslaving of skilled ceramics craftsmen during the invasions of Korea in the 1590s, sometimes referred to as 'the Pottery Wars'.

Such case studies however remain local and situation specific. To come to broad conclusions about which factors influenced the success or failure both of the integration of expert migrants and of the diffusion of their skills and products, we need systematic globally-comparative and interdisciplinary studies.

This is what this project offers. Building on Gottmann's interdisciplinary work in global history, notably her internationally-recognised monograph that features the project's pilot study, it combines economic history, migration studies, science and technology studies, and material culture. It sets out to investigate the conditions for, and obstacles to, the successful application and diffusion of the knowledge and skills brought by immigrant experts in the early modern world, specifically including non-elite, non-European, and female migrants. In order to evaluate the relative importance of technical, material, institutional, economic, socio-cultural, and personal or locational factors, it will concentrate on the most inventive manufacturing industries of the time which had close ties both to formal scientific enquiry and to state-support schemes in an age when nascent industrialisation coincided with interstate rivalries: textiles, ceramics, instrument making, and weapons technology. Comparative across time and space it will contrast case-studies from Europe and its colonies (PI), the Middle East, South and East Asia (two postdocs) in the period before Western hegemony: 1500 to 1800.

Next producing co-authored papers, articles, a monograph, and an edited volume of essays based on the international project conference ('Migration and Expertise: 1500 to the present day'), the team will work with its museum and community organisation partners to foster a broader debate about the value of immigrant skills. We will run a series of outreach, policy, and knowledge exchange events with current migrants and we will work with our partner museums to run teacher training events, develop resources for visitors, families and educators, and both contribute to their galleries and curate our own virtual exhibition on the project website.

Planned Impact

Anxieties about rapid technological change and fears about the negative impact of migration have damaged social cohesion, democratic governance and the economy not only in the UK but globally. They have also significantly worsened the psychological and social situation of immigrants exposed to a newly 'hostile environment'. This project sets out to change perceptions of immigration. Longer-term perspectives that demonstrate the historic prevalence of migration and its positive impacts can help ease anxieties and concrete case studies can bring this overall abstract narrative to life and demonstrate its relevance to individual lives. From its inception the project will thus engage with the wider public not only through media interventions and its own website, but through more concrete targeted dissemination and engagement via its ongoing collaborations with third sector organisations, all the while contributing to an active knowledge exchange with, and capacity building of, these organisations themselves.

MUSEUM AND HERITAGE SECTOR. The project relies on its close partnership with TWAM, the German Museum of Technology (DTM), the Durham Oriental Museum and the Bowes Museum which are central to our research. In regular meetings with our collaborating curators we will develop a series of 'object stories' that will feature in targeted guides for visitors, in the virtual exhibition we will develop out of our conference, and in the Oriental Museum's 'Silk Road' and TWAM's Discovery Museum 'Destination Tyneside' galleries which we will help redesign in collaboration with our community partners. Our collaboration with the DTM will engage an international public with our research and offer them new insights into our partners' collections.

COMMUNITY ORGANISATIONS. We are partnering with TOP, The Other Perspective, a community interest organisation working to foster the economic inclusion of migrants. Together we will develop case studies that highlight current migrants' economic and social contributions. These stories will then feature on our website and in our partner museums' guides and exhibitions. Knowledge exchange will culminate in a workshop at the Discovery Museum, highlighting migrants' (historic) contribution to British and global society. In collaboration with TOP we will devise a policy paper and media interventions to highlight our findings about which factors have historically contributed success and failure both of the integration of the migrant and the adaptation and diffusion of his or her skills and outputs.

EDUCATORS: Young people are key to changing narratives and perceptions. Targeting families, primary and secondary teachers we aim to engage pupils with the positive role of migrants in the past through interacting with the objects they created. In collaboration with our partner museums we will run a one-day teacher training workshop at the Oriental Museum and develop guided tours and trails, family and educator packs with teaching materials and holiday activities that can be downloaded from our website or used to run activities and onsite. Our Discovery Museum workshop will bring teachers in conversation with migrant.

WIDER PUBLIC: The public interest in establishing what makes for successful immigration, technological innovation, and knowledge transfer is beyond doubt. Through our engagement with teachers, museum visitors, and workshop and conference participants we will address a broad cross-section of the population. We intend to widen this by disseminating our findings, again in collaboration with our partner organisations, through the publication of a policy paper, our website, and media interventions, notably on world refugee day.


10 25 50
Description Our overall aim as a research project is to change the current narrative around migration. As our research has shown, migration is not a new phenomenon, nor a harmful one, but over the past millennia, has instead generated cultural, economic, and technological progress. We have are working in partnership with museums to use material evidence of cross-cultural connections in the past to highlight these findings. By understanding which factors contributed to the successful integration of migrants and their skills in the past, we also aim to facilitate this in the present, working with partners inside and outside our own institution. The North East of England is one of the poorest and most economically-deprived regions of the country and yet also the one with by far with the highest proportion of resettled refugees and asylum seekers (https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/where-do-migrants-live-in-the-uk/). By allowing them to make a genuine contribution, economically, culturally, and socially, we can make a real difference to "levelling up" our region. IMPACT ON OUR OWN INSTITUTION Our research has demonstrated the overwhelming importance of access and institutional support for the economic and social success of migrants historically. This was echoed by our partner organisation, TOP, The Other Perspective, a community interest organisation based in the North East of England that works to integrate refugees and migrants into the economy by using the many skills that they bring with them. They emphasised how much access to universities for instance, was crucial to their clients. As a consequence, the PI convinced her faculty to set up a working group with the aim of joining the University of Sanctuary scheme. The scheme is a network that originally developed through a partnership between City of Sanctuary, Article 26, Student Action for Refugees with the aim of creating a culture and a practice of welcome, offering dedicated support and scholarships for refugees, and working with communities and the public. The working group, joined by the PI, then developed a gap analysis and submitted a proposal to the University Executive. The proposal was accepted and Northumbria University is now in the process of applying to become a University of Sanctuary. To become accredited, universities need to learn about what it means to be seeking sanctuary, both in general (for the community in which the university is situated), and specifically (in the context of HE and the campus environment). They then need to embed this learning by taking positive action to implant concepts of welcome, safety and inclusion all across the institution. And they finally need to share their vision and achievements more broadly. I am very proud of this and hope our application will be successful. Since so much of our impact, outreach and partnership work is built on collaborating with museums, and other heritage organisations, the PI is also setting up a cross-faculty interdisciplinary group of scholars working on heritage. While we're awaiting news of whether this initiative will receive financial support from the institution, this has been an exciting learning process, which has allowed me to bring together scholars from Applied Science, Architecture, Arts, Business, English, History, Social Sciences and Music. By thus bundling our impact and knowledge exchange work, particularly with a focus on diversity and inclusion, I hope that as a group we will make a real impact though unearthing, preserving, and showcasing the heritage of minoritized groups such as migrants, women, and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. WORKING WITH PARTNERS Our collaboration with TOP has already led to a University of Sanctuary application and we are currently exploring working with the Newcastle Business School to develop a more inclusive culture of entrepreneurship in the North East of England. We had very promising beginnings holding several meetings with our heritage partners in the region. Amongst other things, we hosted a round table with our partner organisations, the Bowes Museum, the Durham Oriental Museum, and the Discovery Museum and Tyne and Weir Archives (TWAM) on the topic of Diversity and Inclusion in Museums, comparing and sharing best practice. Unfortunately, because of a double change of leadership, both at the Discovery Museum, who are still without a director, and at the Bowes Museum, who are currently in the process of completely redesigning the Museum's leadership, aim, and strategy, there has been a greater element of uncertainty when it comes to our collaboration, particularly with the Bowes. However, our work with the Durham Oriental Museum has been exciting and very fruitful. In collaboration with the Museum and their Learning and Engagement team we have been able to redesign their teacher training offer. Together we devised and delivered a bespoke training day for all PGCE students and first-year BA students at the Durham University School for Education exploring how to engage primary-school-aged children with questions around migration, cultural diversity, and inclusion via material culture and object-centred learning. We expect this to be an ongoing project that will become a central part of the trainee-teachers experience, while also offering continuing professional development opportunities for the Learning and Engagement team themselves. With another day planned for May, we have so far delivered the first of these training days, for their cohort of PGCE students, on 14 March. We received fantastic feedback from both the Museum's Learning and Engagement Team, the School of Education, and of course the students themselves. All participants who responded to our survey questions agreed that the day had made them feel more confident about taking their students to museums in the future and stated that they indeed now planned to incorporate museum-based learning in their teaching. All those who responded also found that museum collections could help them address issues of migration, globalisation, and cross-cultural connections with their students. Fifteen out of seventeen respondents stated that the session made them feel more confident about addressing issues of migration, globalisation, and cross-cultural connections through and in history in their teaching, and the remaining two stated that it "sort of" or "partly" did, but that they wanted to do more research first, which itself is a fantastic outcome. We are particularly excited that the feedback included clear indications that students felt that the day had given them concrete and helpful examples on how to create an inclusive classroom and to explore issues of migration and cross-cultural exchange by engaging their pupils with museums and material heritage. This was confirmed by David Wallace, of the Durham University School of Education, who stated that the training would enable these future teachers "to be more capable and confident in planning meaningful learning episodes ensuring access for all ethnicities, faiths and cultures allowing today's trainees to deliver positive messages in tomorrow's classrooms."
First Year Of Impact 2023
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description Durham Oriental Museum 
Organisation Durham University
Department Oriental Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In collaboration with the Museum and their Learning and Engagement team we have been able to redesign the teacher training offer of Durham University's School of Education. So far we have held the training for all PGCE students. That for BA students is scheduled for May.
Collaborator Contribution The redesign and delivery were a collaboration between us and the Museum's / Durham's Library and Collection's Learning and Engagement team.
Impact See above and the narrative impact section for full details.
Start Year 2021
Description Tyne and Weir Archives and Museums 
Organisation Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We will research the collections and archives and contribute to the redesign of the Discovery Museum's galleries.
Collaborator Contribution The Archives and Museum have provided guided access and will host public outreach events.
Impact We are still in the planning stages and research is ongoing.
Start Year 2021