Skip Navigation or Skip to Content

Trading Places

This workshop sought to expand academic knowledge and improve museum interpretation of Scotland’s commercial diaspora, focusing on the material culture of short-term economic migration.

Last updated: 27 January 2022

About the project

Migration is one of the defining phenomena of the 21st century, high on the news agenda, prominent in political discourse and perceived as a uniquely modern global challenge. In Scottish life, migration has been a critical and multifaceted feature for centuries. Yet the diverse nature of Scottish migration is not fully explored in existing scholarship or public representation of the past, with much of the available work focused on the traditional settler destinations of the “New World”.

Taking a case-study approach, the Trading Places workshop explores the Scottish commercial presence in Northern Europe and East Asia, from the 17th to the 21st century.

Project details

Project title

Trading Places: Exploring Scotland’s commercial diaspora, past and present

Project active


Research theme

Identities and Cultural Contacts

Dr Stuart Allan - Principal Investigator
National Museums Scotland

Professor Tanja Bueltmann - Co-investigator
Northumbria University

  • PB medallion.jpg

    Badge of the Conservator of the Scottish Privileges in the Netherlands, silver, ca. 1750. The badge was the insignia of the Conservator of the Scottish Privileges in the Netherlands who had his residence in the Scots House in Veere. (Zeeuws Archief, Veere 2007.07.01 / Scots House Veere, on loan from John Dermot Turing)

  • PB Saint Andrews, 1651 painting by Philip van Macheren, Town Hall Veere.jpg

    Detail of the painting Ships calling at the port of Veere in 1651 by Philip van Macheren. The detail of this 17the century painting is showing the Ship of war Saint Andrews wearing a Scottish maritime flag next to it a Dutch whaling ship. (Zeeuws Archief, GV150)

  • PB Scottish Penny James III.jpg

    Scots penny minted during the reign of James III (1460-1488) found in Zeeland. Scots pennies from the 15th century are found in most trading places in Zeeland. (Private collection).

  • PB Scots House.png

    House ‘The Little Lamb” and house ‘The Ostrich’ in Veere (Zeeuws Archief, Veere). House ‘The Little Lamb” and house ‘The Ostrich’ were build by Scottish merchants during the 16the century. Between 1764 and 1799 house ‘The Ostrich’ was the residence of the Conservator of the Scottish Privileges in the Netherlands.

  • NMS Porcelain plate A.1924.485.jpg

    Soup plate for export to South East Asia, by J. &M.P Bell, Glasgow, c.1889. J. & M. P. Bell were the biggest producers of pottery in Scotland. They exported vast amounts of transfer printed plates to South East Asia, adapting the designs and even the pattern names to appeal to local people. The name of this particular pattern 'Buah Nanas,' meaning pineapple, is written on the back of the plate in Malay script. The design is framed by the Islamic motif of a crescent moon. NMS A.1924.485.

  • NMS Plate.jpg

    Dish of porcelain, with armorial motto of the Earl of Wemyss. China: Jingdezhen kilns, 1830-45. NMS A.1890.840.

  • NMS bowl.jpg

    Famille rose punchbowl. China: Jingdezhen kilns, 1783-1785. NMS A.1992.166.

  • NMS chair.jpg

    Chair of huanghuali wood, with two inset marble panels on back. China, Qing Dynasty, 19th century. NMS A.1996.99.

  • NMS A Polish Soldier nativity scene.png

    A Polish Soldier in the uniform of the Second World War, from a hand-cut card and hand-painted nativity scene that made in Scotland around 1943 by Polish soldier Stanislaw Przespolewski. NMS M.2016.2.

View full screen

In June 2017, historians and curators met to discuss existing and current research in the field and identify new areas for collaborative investigation. They discussed a range of different ways of looking at the topic of short-term migration with particular attention to objects that survive as evidence of a past Scottish presence in the Netherlands, Poland and Hong Kong, and to uncovering traces of a cultural memory of that presence today.

A panel of participants at a table watches a speaker nearby on stage

The panel at Trading Places event, October 2017.

A public engagement event in October 2017 compared and contrasted the historical evidence of Scottish people moving to work and trade with short-term economic migration into Scotland today. By bringing historians who specialise in the movement of people together with individuals who have experience of both sojourning and settling in the areas under study, the event opened up new ways of looking at migration across time and place.

Trading Places is actively engaged with young people in schools. Two pupils – one from Poland and one from Japan – spent time with museum curators examining objects relating to these countries in the National Collections. They then gave presentations to their peers at the National Museum of Scotland, drawing links between historical objects and personal experience. After a day of gallery visits and workshops, a team of around thirty pupils joined with curatorial teams to discuss their views on how migration is currently represented in the Museum and ideas for the future development of displays and interpretative material.

A student stand at a lectern on stage presenting slides on a screen behind and to her right.

Mhairi from Drummond High School, Edinburgh, presenting on objects linking her life in Japan and Scotland.

A piece of paper with names of objects written on it including diary, fiddle, special hat, kindle/books, grandparents jewlery, phone, irn bru(life supply), photo album, my cat, baby clothes (yours), money (things to sell)

School pupils’ ideas on objects they would take with them if emigrating from Scotland, October 2017.

Through its multifaceted engagement with a range of groups, this project is uncovering rich and previously unacknowledged insights into Scotland’s commercial diaspora, past and present. Ongoing research in this area will lead to further events.


Header image: H.MEK 666, earthenware soup plate with a centre design showing a circular scene of a stretch of water, by J. and M.P. Bell and Co. Ltd of Glasgow about 1850 - 1900 for export to south-east Asia.

Email icon Dr Stuart Allan

Supported by

You may be interested in

Back to top