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Ruiz, Marie (ed.), Bridging Boundaries in British Migration History. In Memoriam Eric Richards

London, Anthem Press, 2020
Géraldine Vaughan
Bibliographical reference

Ruiz, Marie (ed.), Bridging Boundaries in British Migration History. In Memoriam Eric Richards, London, Anthem Press, 2020

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1‘Humanity seems always to have been a mobile species,’ wrote the historian Eric Richards in his last 2018 opus. Bridging Boundaries in British Migration History is an edited collection which stems from an Amiens conference organized in September 2018 by Dr Marie Ruiz, and whose focus was on migration history and historian Eric Richards’ major life-long contribution to the theme. He sadly passed away unexpectedly a week after the symposium, ‘too quickly and too soon… but in the thick of things’ as his wife and scholar Ngaire Naffine writes in a moving eulogy (p. XVIII). The foreword to the book was penned by his then dying dear friend historian David Fitzpatrick, who provides a human and moving portrait of the kind of man and scholar Eric Richards was. In truth, his life story was a history of migrations – born in Wales in 1940, he emigrated to Australia as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ in 1963, then returned to Scotland where he taught for a while before travelling back to settle in Adelaide in 1971.

2Marie Ruiz’s well-planned and carefully bound-together edited collection adopts both the micro and macro perspective on the history of British migrations. As Ruiz explains in the opening chapter, ‘Eric was fascinated by the interplay between macro- and micro-history, and how structural forces affected personal experiences of migration, and this was the Eric Richards methodology’ (p. 11). Hence, the combination of macro-analyses and individual life stories lay at the heart of this book. No Dominion of the British Empire is left uncharted – South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are explored. Additionally, Bernard Porter’s chapter offers a perspective on an under-researched subject, namely late modern British migration to Continental Europe, while Andrekos Varnava offers a counterpoint view with his study of Cypriot emigration.

3Richards’ Amiens contribution “Emigration at extremes” is a chapter which starts off with the examination of “mass” migration at the level of two small Scottish Hebridean islands, St Kilda and Handa. What strikes the reader is his insistence on the individual and structural factors underlying the decision to emigrate, and his combination of micro-insights along with general trends. Richards especially highlights two points: the crucial decade of the 1820s for mass scale emigration; and the fact that rural exodus always preceded massive emigration.

4Several chapters examine the issue of migrations and national identity – as regards Scottishness, John MacKenzie (chapter 3) and Marjorie Harper (chapter 7) explore the connections between Scottish identities and emigrational trends in South Africa and New Zealand. In their respective contributions, they both argue that Scottish identity was strongly related to Presbyterianism in the colonies, and this indirectly touches on Richards’ seemingly rejection of religion as a migration factor. In fact, Richards’ ‘secularised’ vision of religion, as Hilary Carey suggests (chapter 4), excluded big narratives of the ‘promised land’ and ‘suggested that religion could work as a “coagulant,” binding together communities rightly anxious about the prospects of travel’ (p. 78). In her chapter on convicts to the Australian colonies, Carey provides a ground-breaking analysis of Protestant and Catholic clergy recruited to support Lord Stanley’s ‘probation system’ in mid-nineteenth century Australia.

5State-supported migration schemes is the subject of Kent Federowich’s contribution on the 1928 Harvesters’ Scheme to Canada. Again, issues of Britishness are central to his line of argument, as supporters of British identity were keen to import a British workforce to the Prairies. Working class migrants are not the sole focus of the edited collection: two chapters are concerned with middle-class travelers. Jim McAloon looks at the Irish expatriates who travelled to New Zealand (chapter 9) in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He makes use of the classic ‘Richards methodology’ by bringing together large-scale quantitative evidence and individual voices. The originality of his chapter is its focus on the farming class. As regards the issue of Irishness, he writes: ‘Being Irish mattered, but it mattered in subtle ways’ (p. 193). Additionally, James Hammerton’s chapter (chapter 8) is devoted to English lower middle-class emigrants during the 1860-1930 time period.

6In the end, Bridging Boundaries provides both a vibrant tribute to the ‘Eric Richards methodology,’ as well as serious academic exploration of new paths in this vibrant historical field.

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Electronic reference

Géraldine Vaughan, Ruiz, Marie (ed.), Bridging Boundaries in British Migration History. In Memoriam Eric RichardsRevue Française de Civilisation Britannique [Online], XXVIII-2 | 2023, Online since 02 November 2023, connection on 30 November 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Géraldine Vaughan

Université de Rouen

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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