Change and Transition in a Professional Scots Family 1650-1900

  • Diana Helen Cook

    Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy


    This study examined the evolution of a family from their foundations as well-placed and successful burgesses and merchants-skippers in seventeenth century coastal Fife to professionals in Scotland and the British Empire. Whilst the necessary generalisations around much of the writing of Scottish history usually refer to the particular as a source of illustration, the methodology of this study reversed that focus and linked the family experience to the high level narrative.
    The research examined what factors drove the significant changes in family occupations and found that whilst family decisions were influenced by the prevailing economic, social, and political environment, personal choice and intangible benefits could be the deciding factors. Many professional family members migrated within Scotland or as temporary ‘sojourners’ in the British Empire, driven by the ‘push’ from the lack of appropriate opportunities at home balanced by the ‘pull’ of better earnings elsewhere. The family was generally successful in accessing the patronage that was essential to obtaining appropriate employment in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
    In the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the women of the family were agents of change. Girls from merchant backgrounds began to marry professional men, making it easier for their menfolk to enter new occupations by creating contacts and role models. Whilst by the mid-nineteenth century, some of the women were fully engaged with the British Empire through their husbands’ employment, for others the empire was of minor significance as they pursued their goals of higher education for women.
    Although the families enjoyed a relatively comfortable lifestyle, they suffered, like their contemporaries, significant early mortality amongst both adults and children and used family networks and re-marriage to look after under-age children. As the families increasingly became involved in the British Empire, they, like many Scots, managed a dual identity as both Scots and citizens of the British Empire. Their strong religious beliefs reflected the norms of Scottish society and sat quite comfortably with the value they placed on establishing social status, respectability, and achieving upward social mobility. Overall they were broadly representative of contemporary Scots families of similar occupation and social background and thus provide a more personal insight into Scottish history.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBilly Kenefick (Supervisor)


    • Professional Scots Families
    • Scots and British Empire
    • History of the Family
    • Fife
    • Women and families

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