How will these resources help you?

Most resources on the history of emigration focus on those who left and on the impact they had on their destination. Less well known are the stories of those who were left behind in Britain, often enduring great social and economic hardship. These resources offer teachers an opportunity to look at an established topic from a different angle, uncovering histories that have remained largely hidden until recently. Students could also consider the modern-day impact that Brexit has had on migration and how it may alter migration opportunities in the future. The topic also provides a great opportunity for students to carry out research into their families’ migration histories. 

Background on emigration from Britain

Departures: 400 Years of Emigration from Britain, Episode 9: Brits Abroad Today

podcast series by the Migration Museum, produced by Mukti Jain Campion

Britain’s emigration rate remains one of the highest in the world. This episode of the Departure series offers useful information on current estimated emigration rates and popular destinations for British migrants. It notes the reasons that former colonies often remain popular destinations and explores the ways in which migration from Britain has changed over time, with a distinction made between colonialism-linked movement in the past and migration in the present day. Useful themes are drawn out, including the social and economic push and pull factors, as well as the impact that Brexit may have on the reasons for migration from Britain in the future. The idea that, because of Brexit, subsequent opportunities for migrants from Britain may become more limited is also covered.

What happened to those who were left behind?

Departures: 400 Years of Emigration from Britain, Episode 7: The Left Behind Wives of Cornwall

podcast series by the Migration Museum, produced by Mukti Jain Campion

This episode offers an interesting approach to the topic of emigration with a focus on what happened to those who stayed behind in Britain, which can often be overlooked by textbooks. Focusing on nineteenth-century Cornwall, it explains the impact of emigration on those ‘left behind’, providing remarkable examples of how women and their communities survived both socially and economically in Cornwall, often enduring great hardship. It includes interesting original sources, including newspaper articles and rare personal letters, which give an insight into the full story of migration. More detailed information on this particular theme can be found in the book by Dr Lesley Trotter author of The Married Widows of Cornwall: see Further materials.

Why the English emigrated to the New World

Emigrants: Why the English Sailed to the New World

by James Evans, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, (2018), ‎9781780221038

This engaging book gives a comprehensive summary of the many motivations for early emigration from England to America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Personal stories are used to explore the context for migration and some of the motivations that are often less recognised, including the role of the fishing industry, the impact of the English Civil War and the roles played by indentured servants. 

Links to individual research and family history

National Archives Research Guide: Emigration and emigrants

This website forms a very useful reference point for students who are interested in carrying out their own research on the topic of emigration. It includes how to access records at the national archives in the UK, and archives abroad, along with links to passenger lists, useful websites and further reading.

Audiovisual clip

A House Through Time - British emigration to America

published by BBC, (2018)

Visual insights into what emigrating from Britain to America looked like and the businesses built around it.

Further materials

The Married Widows of Cornwall by Dr Lesley Trotter, published by Humble History Press, (2018), 9781999610401 Find this book
 Rebecca Jarvis is an experienced secondary school history teacher who has taught in her current school for 16 years. She is also a GCSE senior examiner.

Text © Rebecca Jarvis, 2021-2023.