Archive for June, 2009

History’s bright young things?

30 June 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

History's bright young thingsI have always known there was a certain smugness radiating from The Observer but this fact was driven home at the weekend by a an article called  ‘They’re too cool for school: meet the new history girls and boys’ that claimed six Oxford and Cambridge graduates were finally making history cool (included in the piece are 6 pictures of these ‘young historians’ looking ‘trendy’). Their literary agent said of them: “They have brilliant new ideas, excellent writing and they’re exceptionally clever”- Well of course she would say that- she is trying to sell their books! Ok- I know what you are thinking: Yes- I grumbled that we were actually just jealous of Simon Schama and that we should be grateful because he is selling our industry for us BUT there was something especially irritating about the lot that greeted me when I opened The Observer at the weekend. So, with mixed feelings and reluctant to feel like a hypocrite, I asked around to see what others thought. Read More

Tackling the eighteenth-century novel

29 June 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

hogg canongateLast July when I finaly submitted my PhD I found myself with a long list of ‘to do’s. Things that I had put off over the previous four years with the iron clad excuse ‘I’d really like to but I’m writing a PhD- I will do it when I finish’ now piled up in front of my eyes. Last summer while attending the annual Eighteenth-Century Ireland Conference I was inspiried by some of the papers given by scholars of English to become more familiar with the cannon of eighteenth-century novels and added this to my ‘to do’ list. I will have to admit that when I started this I was a bit unsure of how far I would get but I knew that I was certain to progress further on this then my ‘start jogging’. I decided to try moving alphabetically through and I have reached ‘h’. Ok- I haven’t quite completed the task at hand while writing this, and I have to admit my head has been turned by other books, I am currently reading Joe Queenan’s Closing Time, but half way through my task one book in particularly, James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, I was prompted to write this post. Read More

Michael Jackson

26 June 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Michael Jackson - HistorySo in the midst of all of the talk, what can we say about Michael Jackson? Well, how about asking how future generations will remember a man who, we should not forget, among his all-too-apparent faults, had a keen sense of how to model his own legacy before it slipped away through his fingers – career retrospective called HIStory: Past, Present and Future coupled with a giant statue of yourself floating down the Thames through central London or planned fifty-night run at London’s O2 arena anyone?

Which Michael Jackson will we remember? A man held up as a symptom of an age of celebrity excess, the victim of the spread of global media, remembered more for the accusations and scandal that haunted him throughout his life? How about an example of a new age of media corruption and the destruction of a childhood played and re-played in front of a worldwide audience? Or will he – the inane posturing of ‘It don’t matter if you’re black or white’ aside – be viewed as someone who transcended racial boundaries on his way to becoming a superstar, a case study of changing cultural stereotypes, as one of the first true embracers and torch-carriers of the MTV generation and at the cutting edge of a new cultural movement, one of the last icons of an industry that died along with him? 

Anything, I’m willing to bet, but the simple fact that among all the posturing, all the hubris, all the overblown nonsense (I’m pointing in your direction, ‘Earth Song’) and all of the mistakes, the man (heavily aided by Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton, it has to be said) did make some of the best pop music of his generation.

History in the Bust to Boom and Boom to Bust

25 June 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Scrooge McDuckA friend from the further left of the political spectrum once dismissed all academic conferences, seminars, symposia and any other gathering you might care to name, as ‘a bunch of people sitting around a room talking, but doing nothing’. And, playing devil’s advocate, maybe he had a point. Is it really worth paying fees for a bunch of academics to sit around researching and writing papers and books that only they will ever read, while (begrudgingly) doing a bit of teaching on the side?

The short answer is yes, yes it is; but let me rewind a bit first, to what got me started on this discussion. Towards the end of Olivia O’Leary’s recent BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘Ireland: From Boom to Bust’ – an interesting if slightly less than satisfactory piece put together with the help of an odd selection of talking heads (Frank McDonald, Claire Kilroy, Richard Corrigan, some suburban house-owners and a Drogheda taxi-driver) – we are introduced to James Mooney, a 23-year-old quantity surveyor who recently emigrated to London for work. In the midst of recounting his thoroughly modern tale of returning home every five weeks or so, Mooney offered a recollection of his college years: ‘We had lecturers telling us that if we stuck out the course … we’d be well on our way to being millionaires by the time we were 30, 35. You know? As a lecturer he’s probably on a hundred grand, you know what I mean? For doing fifteen hours of work, lecturing a week.  Read More

Some facts are bigger than others

25 June 2009

By Juliana Adelman


I’ve been on my holidays in the US (don’t be jealous, we’ve had 8 straight days of drizzle) and so in addition to novels I’ve been reading random things I find on the shelf of the cabin. One such random thing was a collection of essays by Gore Vidal (The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000). Highly recommended: lots of food for thought on the purpose of scholarship, of academia, of literature. At the end of an essay/review from 1997 on the appearance of a new collection of letters written by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) Vidal commented: ‘American scholarship is now a sort of huge make-work program for the conventionally educated. In a case like this, scholar squirrels gather up every scrap of writing they can find and stuff these bits into volume after volume, with metastisizing footnotes.’ Vidal continues: ‘To them, one “fact” is equal to any other’ (p.86). Although these remarks are now more than ten years old, they would hardly be considered less controversial (I imagine) if made today. Being myself ‘conventionally educated’ and essentially a participant in the system which Vidal was condemning, his dismissal of what was surely painstaking labour by ‘scholar squirrels’ stung a bit. But he has a point. Scholarship must be something more than simply gathering up facts without deciding which facts are bigger than others. Read More

New Archive Report: The Irish Queer Archive

24 June 2009

Contributed by Ciarán Wallace

IQA - ProtestWhen a person dies it is like a library burning down. The US author Edmund White spoke for many historians and archivists when he described the loss of personal and communal memory that happens every day. Happily, a significant new collection of Irish social, political and social memory will shortly be available to researchers. The Irish Queer Archive (IQA) is a fascinating, and surprisingly rich, body of material relating to the campaign for equality by Irish lesbians and gays. As a by-product it also records the official and unofficial opposition which they faced. Indeed much of the history of late-twentieth century Ireland can be traced through this archive.

The archive contains around 250,000 press-clippings from as far back as the 1950s and copies of the many community publications produced since the 1970s. Provincial newsletters, short-run ‘zines’ and colour magazines (37 titles in all) give a lively picture of life both north and south of the border. One photo of half a dozen gay men with placards outside the Department of Justice in 1974 reminds you how grey Ireland was – in all senses of the word.  Read More

Poll: Digital Humanities

21 June 2009

Ballot BoxPue’s poll will be a monthly feature of the blog.  This month’s poll asks your opinion on the role of digital humanities.  Voting is completely anonymous, and we’ll publish the results in about 4 weeks.  So please go to our poll page and vote!  It’s just a bit of fun.

We’d welcome suggestions for future polls on any questions you think are pressing in the field of history.

Brian Lacey, Terrible queer creatures: Homosexuality in Irish history (Dublin, 2009)

19 June 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

Terrible Queer CreaturesSaturday 27 June the twenty-sixth Gay Pride Parade will be held in Dublin. The parade, is part of 10 days of Gay Pride events that take place between the 19 and 28 of June and that act as a reminder that gay people in Ireland still do not have equal rights to the straight people. The gay community in Ireland is a topic that has suffered from a complete lack of interest by historians and so Brian Lacey’s Terrible Queer Creatures is a welcome addition to Irish historiography. Lacey raises this very important point in his introduction and shows how history, particularly social history, can be used to include! Lacey says ‘[W]hen growing up as an isolated young gay person in the Ireland of the 1960s, I would have loved to have had such a book to read’ [p.6] The gap in research and writing in this area is linked by Lacey to the general negative views of twentieth century Ireland to sexuality in general. While Lacey admittedly draws from secondary sources to cover such a vast period in Irish history he sheds important light on the history of same sex relationships, platonic and sexual, in Ireland. This book should become a staple for those looking at the social history of Ireland and will hopeful be the foundation of more research in this area. Applied to social history as a whole, Lacey shows how history as a discipline can reflect all of those who actually made our past.


I would also like to say well done to Wordwell Press for such a reasonably priced hardback history book which also has an eye catching jacket! You can own a copy of Brian Lacey’s book for just €25! They have launched some fantastic, reasonably priced books within the last few months (including Darkest Dublin and Shipwreck inventory of Ireland). 

Facebook for (eh…) books

18 June 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Book ArmyFirst, a confession: I hate Facebook. Yeah, I know, I must be one of the only ones on earth left without a profile, but you know what? I couldn’t care less, nor will I ever, ever give in. Bebo? I’d rather send a text, e-mail or, shockingly, actually meet people for a pint and a chat, thanks. And Twitter? I’m a follower but not a tweeter (twitterer?). Nobody out there wants to know (in 140 characters) that I watched Egypt beat Italy 1-0 in the utterly pointless Confederations Cup before writing this post. (Well, did you find that interesting?)

So why am I bothering you about Book Army, which is, ostensibly, just another social networking site? Well, there’s you, our readers, for a start. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably got more books than you can ever read piled in perilous towers about your house, and have on at least one occasion faced down the frankly crazy suggestions of a significant other that you should bring some of them to a second-hand book store; or, if you’re lucky, stopped them from throwing them in the recycling bin themselves. Read More

Let me spell it out for you

17 June 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Iran Protests Irish TimesOk, so this isn’t really history, but it’s in the news and might be some sort of history in the making. Looking at the photograph from Iran (left) that adorned the Irish Times website this morning, it struck me that for every recent large-scale protest that has drawn worldwide media attention, whether it be in Thailand, Iran or elsewhere, more and more protesters (preferably, as is the case here, an attractive young woman) are wearing t-shirts and brandishing signs with slogans in English.

Now, we know all about English becoming the language of commerce, notably for the central European states, and the concerns of a variety of governments – not least in France – about its growing influence in Europe, but is this widespread use of English as a medium of protest a new phenomenon in the age of globalised news? Are we witnessing the birth of a new form of democracy in which protesters have happened on a very clever way of transforming the concerns of the world (not simply governments) – in this case the obvious difficulties with the outgoing administration – into pressure on local administrators for change? Or, perish the thought, perhaps protesters believe that we in the West are incapable of digesting the issues without them being presented in the plainest black and white, in a language we cannot misunderstand.