Tanja Bueltmann

What do you know about the reasons for emigration from Scotland?

A fair bit, I suppose, given my profession. What always stands out for me though is a common popular misconception: yes, a good number of Scots from the Highlands emigrated to destinations overseas. And yes, a significant portion of them were evicted or otherwise forced to leave their native land. However, the vast majority of Scottish migrants who emigrated were from the Lowlands, and many of them were, as Marjory Harper has aptly noted, adventurers seeking opportunities overseas. Of the Scots who arrived in New Zealand, for example, the majority came from the Lowlands, and the Highland migration that did exist tended to be sporadic and was usually the result of specific, short-lived migration schemes. This is not to suggest that Highland migration was unimportant – quite the contrary. But I think it is crucial to understand that popular images such as Thomas Faed’s The Last of the Clan tend to distort the reasons many people have in mind when thinking about emigration from Scotland.

If you live overseas yourself, where do you live and can you say a few words about your personal Scottish diaspora story?

Well, my personal Scottish diaspora story – given that I’m not actually Scottish – has to be my experience of doing my PhD in New Zealand on the history of the Scots there (here’s the product). It all started, however, at the University of Edinburgh when I studied there as an Erasmus exchange student and got to do four absolutely brilliant Scottish history classes. So there you go: New Zealand via Scotland. Surely that qualifies me as an honorary Scot!

Have any of your ancestors or members of your family emigrated? If so, where to? And do you know anything about their story overseas?

No. I think Germans are quite a settled people. Of course many have emigrated, but in my family all but me seem to be sticking to their roots.

What do you think is the legacy of the Scots abroad?

It is a very fundamental one — there’s a reason why my book on the Scots in New Zealand is called Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand Society. I certainly have no intention of overstating the case, but it is clear that the Scots have left a very visible legacy indeed. It was two Scots who set up Hong Kong’s first department store in a little bamboo shed (see history of Lane Crawford). It was a woman with Scottish roots who vehemently fought for women’s rights in New Zealand. And just think about the legacy that Andrew Carnegie left. Quite marvellous, really.

Ending with something light-hearted: what did you think when first looking at the image called ‘Piper Kerr and Emperor penguin’?

I had to smile. And then, I suppose in true style of the historian, I had to find out the story behind the image – which revealed that the poor little penguins was not there voluntarily, having been tethered to a large cooking-pot packed full of snow. Heigh ho. Despite that caveat: the image exemplifies well the global reach of the Scots. The full story is available on the website of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (click link in question).

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