Saturday 28 April 2012

Something for the Weekend 7

Most weekends BI-Gen will take a break from the world of family history news and wander into other areas. This ‘Something for the Weekend’ feature will give myself and others the chance to vent their spleens with an opinion-piece, to recommend a product or research technique, or to simply show-off their expertise! Who knows what will find its way onto the blog?

If you’ve an idea, run it past me - I'd really like to hear from you. There is no need to be an expert, a published author, or qualified in any way. If you've got something interesting to say, get in touch with me at .

This week we examine a minority area of interest ...

The English Diaspora

Now there’s a phrase you don’t hear very often. “The English Diaspora”. Irish, Scottish, African and, of course, Jewish – yes. But English?

Last weekend I made one of my rare visits to a genealogy seminar purely on the strength of the lead talk, teasingly entitled ‘Why do we not talk about an English Diaspora?’ It was part of an afternoon’s get-together at Northumbria University on the subject of ‘The Search for the Missing England’.

The one hour talk was given by Professor Don MacRaild, Principal Investigator with the team recently assembled to look into this very subject (see Professor MacRaild specialises in the social histories of migrations and has held several appropriate posts around the world rendering him especially useful for this curious project.

I cannot hope to do the talk nor the topic justice in this short piece, and would urge you to visit the website (and perhaps even join their mailing list). However, consider some of these points:

  • Do genealogists deliberately look for Celtic ancestors at the expense of their English forebears?
  • English culture, tradition and practices have spread at least as widely across the globe as those of the Celts (and probably much more so).
  • English colonists vastly outnumbered those of Celtic origin almost everywhere.
  • In pretty much all migrations to foreign shores, it was the English who got there first – to be followed later by the Scots, Irish and Welsh.

So why, then, is there no concept of an English Diaspora?

The question fascinated me. And the answer, it seems, is simply that the English, in spreading the British way of life throughout the Empire, simply got there first (in general, anyway). On arrival, they imposed their ‘ways’, then along came the Celts – who then found themselves in a minority under overseas ‘English’ rule. They then became and/or considered themselves ‘different’ to the existing English colonists (and may even have been treated as such), and thence determined to maintain a sort of ‘independence’ from the ruling English.

Result: English = imperialistic, Celts = diasporic.

And that is how it stayed, forever. Despite half-baked attempts at ‘St.George’s’ societies, ‘Sons of England’ organisations, and ‘Anglo-Saxon lodges’ – as well as the successful introduction of many organised English sports – the idea of an ‘English Diaspora’ just never took off abroad.

If, as seems likely, the English are soon to find themselves on their own as a country, will this lead to a resurgence of interest in what it means to be English – both at home and, er, abroad?

Oh, and BTW, the audience for the talk totalled a measly ten – a fact not lost on the speaker, who must wonder if he’s fighting a losing battle.

Interesting, though.

Mick Southwick

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