Archive for July, 2009

History-making Historians

31 July 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Velvet Revolution 1989What happens when the historians are part of the history? Timothy Garton Ash, the Oxford-educated, self-styled writer of the ‘history of the present’, has just re-published his book, The File: A Personal History, the story of coming to terms with the Stasi informers and secret police who kept his file from the time he arrived in Berlin in the late 1970s. His story is an interesting one. Drawn to Berlin initially to work on Hitler for a postgraduate degree, he rubbed shoulders with some of Eastern Europe’s most prominent dissidents, writing and commenting on the processes leading up to the velvet revolutions of 1989 and beyond.

He also makes for a fascinating interviewee, as his recent conversation with Philip Dodd on the BBC Radio 3’s Night Waves shows – in 45 minutes they manage to get through 1970s Berlin, Orwell, Iran, Obama and American foreign policy, the velvet revolutions, historical psychology and much more. Here on Pue’s Occurrences we are fans of interviewing those who work in the Irish history industry, with plenty more great interviews lined up for the coming months (had to get the plug in), but I thought on this occasion, you might like to hear from someone farther afield. You can listen to the programme below, or click here to download the mp3 to bring it with you.

Hat tip (again) to Speechification for archiving this show and bringing it to my attention.

Coco Avant Chanel

29 July 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

Last night I went to an early screening of Anne Fontaine’s Coco Avant Chanel at the IFI. I have to admit I have been waiting eagerly for this film, which included a Q&A with the director after the screening.I have had my tickets for this screening for three weeks, probably a good thing as the screening was sold out. Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances, the reason cited, Anne Fontaine could not attend. The cynic in me would like to believe this had more to do with how successful it seems the film will be when it goes on general release rather then personal reasons, but thankfully this did not take from the screening. Read More

We choose to go to the Moon

28 July 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Apollo 11 Lunar ModuleIn all the fuss over the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission last week, it might have been easy to overlook some of the great material produced for the celebrations. The best is ‘We Choose Moon’, created (at no small expense judging by the quality) by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, which uses a clever combination of archival photos, video and audio and modern animation to recreate the mission in real time across a series of eleven stages, from pre-launch to landing.

If that sounds a little stretched, in reality it’s the opposite. There is so much interesting material here, it’s possible to trawl for hours listening to the exchanges between Houston and the astronauts, watching the reaction from the ground, and skimming through photographs from the ground and the inside and outside of the lunar module (material is online up to stage three as I write). Read More

Poll: Best film on the Easter Rising and its Aftermath

27 July 2009

Thomas McDonaghPue’s poll is one of the monthly features on the blog. This month’s poll is, as usual, entirely subjective and the result of our collective (and biased, of course) list-making: what’s the best film on the Easter Rising and its aftermath? Well, what are you waiting for? Go to our poll page and vote! Voting is completely anonymous, and we’ll publish the results in about 4 weeks.

Any ideas for future polls? Leave us a comment below.

Which anniversaries are worth celebrating?

24 July 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

DARTAnd on a lighter, Friday afternoon note, hasn’t it been quite a month for anniversaries? The GAA celebrated 125 years with a good Leinster football final and a dull Munster hurling final (in spite of my predictions to the contrary); the Moon landing’s fortieth bash was on Monday (I know we didn’t mention it, but everyone else did, so you’re hardly short on material); and yesterday the DART reached the grand old quarter-century.

Which, because I’m supposed to be doing something else – i.e. finishing an article – got me wondering: since everything and anything appears to be worth celebrating these days, how do we know which anniversaries are the most important and which ones we should pay attention to? Sixtieth anniversary of Ireland leaving the Commonwealth or fifteenth anniversary of Ray Houghton chipping Italy’s Gianluca Pagliuca from outside the box in the Giants Stadium, New York? Two hundred and fifty years of Guinness or a century of Persil? Who or what decides?

Fear not, for I have come up with a plan™ Read More

History in the Blood?

23 July 2009

Contributed by Ciarán Wallace

DNARecently RTÉ broadcast ‘The Blood of The Irish’, an interesting TV documentary on the ancestral DNA of the earliest inhabitants of Ireland. The programme supported the idea that the island was settled from the west thousands of years ago, in a sea-borne migration by a population from the present-day Basque region. A more extensive BBC series, ‘The Human Journey’, dealt with the global spread of humans from eastern Africa to the rest of the planet.

Intrigued by the possibilities of this scientific archaeology I tracked down a company that analyses DNA taken from saliva, to identify which prehistoric population movement led to my sitting in this particular office typing this article. (You can see that, despite the statement on the company website explaining what DNA testing could and could not reveal, I may have harboured unrealistic expectations.) I paid my €169, the small saliva sampling kit arrived (empty) and was duly returned (half-full). Within the promised 8–12 weeks I received an e-mail outlining my results. There was an attachment which, when printed off on a colour printer at A3 size, would give me a certificate to hang on my wall. To be honest, I was not impressed.  Read More

Dublin pub landmark brought back to life

21 July 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

The Irish HouseWhile nosily peering through the Dublin Civic Trust window on Dublin’s Castle Street on Monday I noticed a collection of beautiful stucco figures in eighteenth-century dress and much to my amazement a poster in the window informed me that they were the motifs from the Irish House pub. I was already running late so only returned to the building with my fellow Dublin historian Ciaran Wallace today to discover the treasure trove inside. Formerly located on the corner of Winetavern Street and Wood Quay, ‘the Irish House’ O’Meara’s pub, was home to an unusual exterior stucco exhibition of Ireland’s patriot figures and symbols.

Read more

Not quite Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

20 July 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

Gulliver's Travels promotional posterIf you have been reading this blog in any regular fashion you will have noticed that I tend to try and sell the eighteenth century. As a period I have studied for years I find it fascinating and one of the Irish figures that intrigues me most, like most people who study this period, is Jonathan Swift. I was pleasantly surprised to come across Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels (1939) on Sunday afternoon (thank you Film 4). I have never heard of this classic before and thoroughly enjoyed it. The film was released by Fleischer studios to compete with the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and was nominated for a an Academy Award. It bears all the traits of a late 1930’s cartoon and the influences of Snow White can are clear but it is enjoyable nonetheless. Considering how often Gulliver’s Travels gets adapted this is an enjoyable children’s version and a really good introduction to a classic. Ok- it’s not quite Swift’s version and it deals only with the Lilliputians but for most children the idea of Swift’s little people is the most enchanting part of his tale. The copy right on Gulliver’s Travels has lapsed, it is in the public domain and can be watched online.

PhD Diary: Tomás Irish

20 July 2009

Contributed by Tomás Irish

booksDo you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation?

It’s a vocation  which I try to treat like a job.

In 20 words or less, tell us why you decided to do a PhD:

I’ll try to do so in one hyphenated word: self-indulgence.

Tomás’s Diary:

A PhD is a bit like a chugger; it’s always there, and it is occasionally very annoying. There is no escape. You can put in your eight or nine hours a day and still find it tugging at your sleeve when you go to bed. There are – amazingly – times when I do not want to think about history or anything even tangentially linked to it. Unlike in many jobs (I suspect), there is no real ‘off’ switch when it comes to academic work; not in the evenings, not at the weekends. This was – for me – probably the single most difficult thing to get to grips with. If you spend all of your day thinking about a very specific period and aspect of history, it tends to get stuck in your brain. This can be an irritant when all you want to do is watch Masterchef. Read More

Animal attractions

15 July 2009

By Juliana Adelman

Sealioncub3(1)The Dublin Zoo has recently announced the arrival of a sealion cub, the latest of many births the zoo has had this year.  This announcement made me think of the very different fate of a harbour seal which the institution acquired in 1835.  The unfortunate creature was only expected to live a week.  An advertisement in Saunder’s Newsletter noted that ‘As the life of such an animal in confinement is precarious, persons desirous of seeing it should avail themselves of an early opportunity.’  In the early years of the zoo, preventing animals from dying was an accomplishment in and of itself.  Now, of course, breeding programmes are an important component of most zoos and part of their claims to conservation and thus environmentalism.  Dublin Zoo is historically important in this regard: it began successfully breeding and selling lions in the 1860s.  In 1881 the sale of animals bred in the gardens amounted to almost £500, a substantial portion of the zoo’s income for the year.  The importance of breeding animals in the zoo wasn’t just financial, it also represents a shift in how people thought about exhibited animals.  Read more