SINCE THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY, an estimated 3.6 million Scots have left their homeland. This mobility was built on movement since the Middle Ages. During the past two decades, historians have increasingly sought to map the volume, chronology and profile of this migration, conceptualised by some as Scotland's diaspora. The rate of migration (including that to the rest of the United Kingdom) was surpassed in some periods only by Ireland, Norway and Italy and, most strikingly, net out migration continued until the 1990s. Faced with this notable phenomenon, early studies concentrated on motives for migration and the Scottish influence and contributions – particularly economic and cultural – in new lands. More recent work has endeavoured to explore the experiences of migrants including key themes of retention of ethnic characteristics and identities.
Several broad outlines emerge from these studies. First, Scottish mobility can be seen as global, not simply imperial, with the destinations to which Scots gravitated changing over time. Early mobility, for instance, was centred on Europe (especially Scandinavia, the Baltic and Poland), with Scots moving there as soldiers, pedlars and traders. From the seventeenth century, however, Scots began to colonise Ireland in considerable numbers and from the 1650s could be found in the Caribbean and the thirteen eastern colonies of North America. Only after the 1750s, however, did Scottish sojourners and settlers really begin to penetrate North America, the West Indies, Asia, Australasia and Africa. Second, the size of the outflow differed over time. Emigration in the seventeenth century was more voluminous than the eighteenth. But with improved communications, transport and vast new opportunities in the host lands in the nineteenth century, population outflows increased exponentially. The era of mass migration between 1815 and 1930 resulted in at least 50 million people (but more likely 60 million) leaving Europe. Britain and Ireland's portion of this mobility comprised around 18.7 million, which was approximately 36 per cent of all European migrants (at a time when Britain and Ireland constituted between 10 and 11 per cent of Europe's total population). Scotland's share was around 2 million. Third, the motives for migration from Scotland changed in very broad terms, when judged at the macro level, from deprivation to aspiration. Fourth, Scottish distinctiveness in contributions to new lands is visible in such areas as economic enterprise, environmental transformation and missionary activity.