This article focuses on the physician James Johnson to examine the role Irishness played in the process of identity formation in London during the long eighteenth century. Using biographies, medical journals, and travel literature to chart the development of Johnson’s identity, this analysis suggests that the idea of assimilation is too simplistic to capture the experiences of middle-class Irish migrants in London. Unpacking the histories of Johnson’s thoughts about himself, and of the ways other writers represented him, demonstrates that Johnson could not reject his Irish past in order to satisfy his ambitions in the metropolis. Johnson’s identity formation did not progress in a linear fashion that mirrored his physical movement from Ireland to London, but was rather a struggle that moved back and forth, depending on time, place, and circumstance. By exposing the ways that Irish identity shaped Johnson’s choices, and, in turn, how those choices shaped his identity, this study raises questions about how we approach and understand the meanings of Irish identity for middle-class migrants more generally.

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