Joseph Wagner

MSc History (with Distinction) University of Edinburgh, 2017
BA History University of Minnesota, 2011

Contact Details


Thesis Title: Into the Oceans: Scottish Long-Distance Trade and Colonisation in the Seventeenth Century
Supervisor: Steve Murdoch


Research Interests:

My research interests fall into two distinct categories. The first is early modern European expansion into the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Arctic. I am primarily interested in the early periods of this expansion in England and Scotland, but am also interested in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and Couronian expansion from the late fifteenth century to c. 1700. My undergraduate dissertation dealt with the early years of the English and Dutch East India Companies (1600-1625) and my master’s dissertation dealt with the Scottish East India Company of 1617.

The second is the philosophy of history and especially the epistemology historiography. In particular, I am interested in questions relating to what constitutes knowledge of the past, the nature of historical facts, objectivity in the study of the past, and how (or if) we can truly ‘know’ anything about the past. My approach to historical research is informed by the philosophical concepts of justified belief, the risk minimisation conception of justification, reliabilism, evidentialism, and fallibilism.


My thesis research focuses on the extension of Scottish trade, colonisation, fishing, and whaling into the Atlantic, Arctic, and Indian Oceans in the seventeenth century. Though Scottish involvement in these areas was relatively late and minor, there are legitimate questions to be asked about whether Scotland could have established an overseas empire in line with England, the Netherlands, and Denmark (if not Spain and Portugal). Critical to these questions is whether the fact that Scotland was a smaller and poorer kingdom under the rule of a single monarch after the union of crowns in 1603 made the idea of a Scottish overseas empire impossible. While examining overseas ventures ranging from whaling in the arctic and the colonisation of Nova Scotia to trade in West Africa, the West Indies, and colonisation in Carolina, my thesis analyses how Scots pursued and conceived of expansion into these new distant regions.