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Immigration in Britain

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

A survey of immigration in Britain, from the distant past to the present day. We will assess the experience of immigrants, as well as seeking to explain their reception over time. Via the lens of immigration, students will discuss a wide range of issues, including national identity and attitudes towards religion and race.

Course Details

Content of Course

The course will be essentially chronological in scope – although given the extensive timeframe involved, coverage of the topic will be necessarily selective. When students reach the seventeenth century, for example, there will be a focus on the Huguenots (French refugees who were escaping religious persecution); when students reach the post-war period, there will be a special emphasis on Commonwealth immigration. Whilst a degree of simplification is perhaps inevitable, the more specific historical context of key events (e.g. the Alien Act of 1905) will not be entirely neglected. There will also be a determined attempt to avoid an Anglo-centric, or London-centric approach, and Scottish examples will often be included (such as Italian immigration to nineteenth-century Glasgow).

The course will be bookended by two classes which will be focused on more general issues. The first class will provide an overview of the content, as well as inviting students to consider some of the sources and methodologies that are available to historians of immigration. It will also set out clear ground rules for respectful discussion, as the subject is likely to inspire some lively debates. The final class will provide an opportunity for further reflection, allowing students to make broader sense of what they have learned.

Teaching method(s)

As this will be a wide-ranging course, with clear contemporary relevance, it should appeal to a diverse group of students. Teaching will be via lectures and more interactive activities. There will be a strong emphasis on the use of primary sources, ranging from ancient archaeological evidence to recent oral testimony on film; those taking the course will therefore be able to develop transferable critical skills. It is also hoped that studying immigration will encourage participants to think more deeply about the value of history to society.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Assess the motivations and experiences of immigrants to Britain in the past;

  • Describe and explain historical responses to immigration (both on the part of the authorities and the wider population);

  • Consider aspects of change and continuity in the above areas.


Core Readings


  • Ormrod, W.M., Lambert, B., and Mackman, J., 2018. Immigrant England, 1300-1550. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

  • Winder, R., 2013. Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain. Revised Edition. London: Abacus.

  • Kaufmann, M., 2018. Black Tudors: The Untold Story. Reprint Edition. London: Oneworld.

  • Wills, C., 2018. Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain. Reprint Edition. London: Penguin.

  • Devine, T.M., and McCarthy, A., 2018. New Scots: Scotland’s Immigrant Communities since 1945. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.  

Web Sources

Our Migration Story:

England’s Immigrants, 1330-1550:

The John Blanke Project:

Migration and Empire (BBC Bitesize):

The Migration Observatory:


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.