I. Introduction: What is a Diaspora?

A migration is not a diaspora if the movement is not forced, if there is no yearning to return to a lost homeland, and if there is no discrimination. The “Great Migration” of English colonists into New England, between 1629 and 1642, was therefore not a diaspora. First, although most left their homes in order to preserve their religion, the colonists were still able to return, and as many as one quarter of them did so. Second, the colonists’ image of New England is characterized by John Smith’s foundational map of the region from 1616 [1], which depicts the region stripped of all Indian presence and overlain with English place names.

New England The most remarqueable parts thus named


Capt. John Smith (English, 15801631)
New England The most remarqueable parts thus named
Copper engraving, 30.0 x 35.2cm
From Historia Mundi, or Mercator's Atlas
Smith Collection

Nieuw engeland in Twee scheeptogten

Two conditions would need to pertain for the Great Migration to have become a diaspora. First, they have to have been exiled from England, which might have been the case had the Puritans not won the English Civil War. Second, had their attempts to settle in New England been successfully rebuffed by the Native Americans, the English Puritans would have had to move still elsewhere. They would then have become a rootless community, unwelcome or barely tolerated wherever they went. In such a situation, the political map of the region might have looked more like an historical reconstruction of New England before colonization [2].


Pieter van der Aa (Dutch, 1659-1733)
Nieuw engeland in Twee scheeptogten
Door kapitein johan smith inde Iaren 1614
Copper engraving, 9.3 x 23.7cm
Leiden, 1707
Osher Collection

Middle British Colonies in America

On the other hand, our definition of diaspora may be readily applied to the experiences of many Native American nations. We can trace the manner in which some mid-Atlantic and Northern tribes were squeezed out by European colonists in a unique map from 1755 [3]. This map identified different categories of Native Americans: open lettering represented “Nations extinct” (e.g., the Pequots in eastern Connecticut); shaded lettering represented either the original locations of Indian nations or those nations which were “almost extinct” (e.g., the Nanticokes in Maryland); and, completely black lettering represented “Nations still considerable” (e.g., the several Iroquois nations in New York). Diaspora is in fact a pervasive theme in human history. While this exhibition focuses on the Jewish and African migration experiences, it attempts to illustrate diaspora broadly by exploring population movements and areas of contention resulting from these mass migrations. We hope the exhibition will provide insight on the impact of diasporas on world history.


Lewis Evans (Welsh, ca. 1700-1756)
Middle British Colonies in America
Copper engraving, 49.1 x 66.5cm
Philadelphia, 1755
Osher Collection