Introduction: Macro-and Micro-Histories, Diasporas and the Influence of Eric Richards
Eric Richards was a master of blending broad conceptual insights with meticulously researched details about the particular experiences of individuals, families and communities. He had an enviable ability to comprehend and articulate complex themes cogently, straightforwardly and convincingly. His skill in juxtaposing impersonal economic forces with their personal consequences was demonstrated from his earliest publications on agricultural development, industrialization and demographic upheaval on the Sutherland estate in the Scottish Highlands, and executed with particular originality in his courageous and controversial biography of Patrick Sellar, probably the most notorious agent of clearance policies on that vast northern property. But Eric, an emigrant himself, was also a pre-eminent historian of the British diaspora, whose skill in undertaking both macro-history and intimate micro-studies was clearly evident in two seminal publications: Britannia's Children and particularly his final monograph, The Genesis of Modern Migration. In that magisterial book, which builds on and amplifies Britannia's Children, we find a seamless blend of theory and empirical data, as well as a well-proportioned balance of local, national and international perspectives. Theoretical and historiographical chapters are interspersed with practical illustrations of the outworking of theory, drawing on Eric's lifetime of research into migration and diaspora. The chronological and geographical sweep is wide, and his examples –from locations that include the Isle of Man, Swaledale in Yorkshire, Sussex, Shropshire, Kent, London and Cornwall, as well as London, Highland Scotland and the west of Wales and Ireland – provide the reader with a taste of the motives and experiences of migrants from many different backgrounds.
James Macandrew, whose life story is at the heart of this study, is – like the emigrants who populate the pages of Eric's books – representative of wider trends in the saga of diaspora, not least through the ups and downs of his transnational career, and his political and economic involvements after his arrival in New Zealand. I am indebted to Eric, who was my mentor and model for many years, for showing me the strengths, as well as the pitfalls, of biography as a lens through which to view the philosophy, process and practice of intercontinental migration over long timeframes and in multiple locations.
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