About this course

Everyone has heard of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’, but by the seventeenth century an average of 38,000 people a year were leaving England for the American colonies, driven by a mixture of religious, economic, and political motives. What has been called ‘The Swarming of the English’ was twice as large as contemporary emigration from France and Spain, and was joined by increasing numbers from Scotland and Ireland as poverty, war and religious conflict drove thousands across the Atlantic.

Using a mix of contemporary historical documents and secondary comment, this course examines the world the emigrants came from and what they brought with them to the Americas. It will explore the motives behind the maritime expansion and the search for colonies in the Elizabethan era, and go on to examine the role of the Reformation and the English Civil Wars in the mass emigrations of the seventeenth century. Who were the Puritans and how typical were they of the emigrants? What attitudes did they bring with them about non-European peoples, about hierarchy and gender relations, about education and witchcraft, about religious toleration, constitutions and the rule of law. Were the resulting colonies ‘little Britains’ or ‘early Americas’?


Subject Areas

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