Archive for August, 2009

Everywhere there was song and celebration

31 August 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan
Woodstock_redmond_hairIt’s forty years since Joni Mitchell went on down to Yasgur’s farm to join in a rock’n’roll band, camp out on the land and try and get her soul free. The same has passed since Abbey Road, Let It Bleed, The Band, Liege and Lief, Tommy, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Dusty in Memphis, Songs from a Room, Five Leaves Left and Led Zeppelin II first hit our shelves. It’s been fifty years since the first Newport Folk Festival. Next month the Beatles release the digital remasters of all their studio albums. Neil Young calls his re-release programme ‘The Archives’. The record industry is dead? Long live the music.

It’s everywhere now: on the train, in the shops, in the bath, on your television, on your phone, in the lift, in the swimming pool (I kid you not). Everyone’s a collector, everyone’s got their favourites on shuffle. Everyone, it seems, has released their own version of ‘Hallelujah’.

But amidst the saturation, it is easy to lose sight of the important role played by popular music in the social and cultural history of Western and, increasingly, global society over the past fifty or so years. There are plenty of treatises out there on music, culture and history, from journal articles to broader texts like Arthur Marwick’s The Sixties: Cultural Transformation in Britain, France, Italy and the United States, 1958-74 (1998), Mark Kurlansky’s 1968: The Year that Rocked the World (2005) and Eric Harvey’s interesting recent social history of the mp3 for the online magazine, Pitchfork. But by its very nature, the medium itself – the music – demands an altogether different approach. Read More

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Tales of the Irish cowboy

29 August 2009

By Juliana Adelman

cowboy I happened to catch RTE radio 1’s ‘Farm Week’ this morning as I was up at the usual toddler waking time on Saturday.  For those of you lucky enough to be in bed or simply not tuned in, it’s definitely worth downloading as a podcast.  Donna O’Sullivan interviewed men and women from a few Cork families who all ended up in a remote part of Oregon as cattle and sheep herders during the 1950s.  The interviewees recalled the glory of the scenery, the freedom of sleeping under the stars and, of course, being saddle sore.  It was  fascinating and sounded more like a story from the nineteenth century than only fifty years ago.  Truly the Wild West: one of the interviewees revealed that she got a chance at a job only because two local men got into a fight at a dance, and one of them was taken out to the desert and never seen again.  A pretty amazing emigration story and well worth a listen.

Picture credit: Cowboy herding cattle along Oregon State Highway 31, west of Silver Lake, Oregon. December 18, 2004.

© 2004 Matthew Trump source

Václav Havel, To the Castle and Back (London, 2007)

27 August 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Vaclav Havel - To the Castle and BackBefore a rash of publications appears in the coming months to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the revolutions of 1989, there is one book that you shouldn’t let pass you by: Václav Havel’s excellent personal history, To the Castle and Back. Havel, as you might expect from a playwright turned activist turned political prisoner turned president of democratic Czechoslovakia and its successor the Czech Republic, has written no ordinary memoir. The book’s raw materials – his vast personal experience and undiminished abilities as a writer – provide rich pickings for an extraordinary life story, but it is the structure he imposes that makes this an autobiography unlike any other. Here Havel the artist runs free, his life from 1989 to his retirement from politics in 2003 presented in three subtly intertwined narratives: notes from the author during the period spent writing ‘this strange little book of mine’; extracts from his instructions to the presidential secretariat; and a revealing (and lengthy) interview with Czech journalist Karel Hvížd’ala.

The interplay between them, not least the book’s out-of-sync chronology, has no right to work  smoothly, but it does. One short memo, written to his staff on 21 August 1999 and repeated in three or four different chapters, captures its eccentric brilliance: ‘In the closet where the vacuum cleaner is kept, there also lives a bat. How to get rid of it? The lightbulb has been unscrewed so as not to wake it up and upset it.’

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The Good Life at the Dáil

25 August 2009

Contributed by John Johnston-Kehoe

Dail library

“Historians have a good life because you never really retire. You just switch workplaces.” So commented Richard A. Baker following his retirement last week after thirty-four years at the United States Senate Historical Office. Baker served as one of a team of historians that function as “the institutional memory of the assembly”, fielding queries and generating publications.

This autumn in Dublin some historian will switch workplace to the elegant Library of Leinster House, as the inaugural Oireachtas Parliamentary Fellow. The Fellowship was announced earlier this year as part of the programme to mark the 90th anniversary of the first sitting of Dáil Éireann, and appointments will be made annually up to the 100th anniversary in 2019. A Board chaired by Ceann Comhairle, John O’Donoghue TD, that also includes includes Dr Garret Fitzgerald and Prof John Horgan will oversee the Fellowship. 

How good a life can a Dáil historian look forward to? Read more

Pue’s Poll: How should we treat human remains?

24 August 2009

Our new poll is up and asks your opinion on the use of human remains in history exhibits.  We put this one up because it seems to have been a topic of conversation recently.  The Bodies Exhibition just closed in Dublin and it generated a little (but less than expected) controversy over the source of its displays.  Have a look at this thorough review.  In addition, efforts by Aboriginal groups to repatriate remains of Aborigines currently housed in British museums has attracted media attention.  So should humans be treated differently in life and death?  Have your say!

Pue needs YOU!

21 August 2009

pueJust a quick post to say that if you don’t hate Facebook as much as Kevin (see his Facebook for (eh…) books post), then please go on and check out our new Facebook page, join us and perhaps even recommend us to your friends. It’s a great way to keep up with our posts, regular features and other stuff Pue is getting up to. 

I don’t want to beg but PLEASE join us… you know you want to!

The Cult of Collins

21 August 2009

Contributed by Justin Dolan Stover

JDS and Collins

You have seen him around.  His portraits line the walls of the Military Archives at Cathal Brugha Barracks; his imposing civilian bust barks at you from Archbishop Ryan Park; his disciplined torso overlooks your pint at The Bank on College Green.  He is remembered and celebrated (and commercialised) to an extent unequivocal of modern Irish historical figures.  His death mask resides within the Museum Barracks which bares his name; fresh flowers line his grave at Glasnevin year-round, accompanied occasionally by elderly women praying the rosary; idols bearing his likeness are peddled at nearly every heraldic shop in town; and the annual pilgrimage to the place of his death that will take place this Saturday to Béal na mBláth in Cork, draws thousands. He has transcended the traditional form of historical conveyance to grace both screen and stage.  The musical portrayal of his life c.1916-1922, initiated in 2005 by the Cork Opera House, has launched in Cork, Waterford and Dublin.  The film, in which Liam Neeson portrays him as the tragic hero opposite Alan Rickman’s sinister interpretation of Eamon de Valera, is currently on the four for €22 shelf at HMV.

On the anniversary of this death it seems like a good time to ask why are we as historians, and to a larger extent as a nation, so interested in Michael Collins? Read More

Is this city fit for purpose?

20 August 2009

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

Culture and the city DebateLast night Exchange Dublin and Temple Bar Cultural Trust hosted their open access culture and the city debate ‘Is this city fit for purpose?’ in Meeting House Square. Considering how wet the evening was I was very impressed with the turn out. The other noteworthy point about the turnout was that 90% of the audience consisted of 16-25 year olds. Surely this proves how eager Dublin’s young population are to have their say in the culture and activities going on in their city. The event, like most hosted in Temple Bar also had a novelty factor; each of the participants was asked to wear a white mask covering their face. The idea behind this, explained by Dylan Haskins of Exchange Dublin and the Debate Curator, was to provide an ‘opportunity for people to say what they really feel as users of the city without worry of who it might offend’. At several points, speakers both objected to the use of masks and offered support to the initiative. Some felt that if the debate was to be an honest one the participants should come together in an open manner that allowed them to get to know each other. Others felt that the masks allowed them to express their opinions uninhibited. I felt mine was made me far too sweaty and uncomfortable so I lost mine half way through. It was an interesting idea and while highlighting that as citizens of Ireland’s largest urban dwelling we can often feel marginalized and anonymous, without a say in how our city is run, it can also be accused of having sidelined the main discussion; Is Dublin fit for it’s purpose?

The question prompted many interpretations from the guest speakers and many answers, the most interesting were from the audience. Like any open access debate there were many rather eccentric, forceful and unpractical suggestions aired, but there were a lot of very interesting opinions aired about youth, culture and the times we live it. Read more

Share and share alike

18 August 2009

By Juliana Adelman

pizza_sharing_slice-723637 I’ve been meaning to post on the subject of sharing research results for some time.  It’s been on my mind as I try to finish up publications from my PhD.  I’ll state my prejudices from the outset: I think Irish historians are bad at sharing.  Everyone involved in Irish history academic circles probably knows the story about how Irish Historical Studies (supposedly) had to change its policy of allowing postgrads to self-report on their PhD topics.  Apparently, students took it upon themselves to grab land in a way not seen since the settlement of the American west.  The website is still up, I can’t tell if this story is true.  However, it is indicative of a general attitude towards research work as your own private territory.  This often continues long after the PhD is finished and the result is, I think, damaging to history in general and a big waste of effort.  Of course people give conference and seminar papers and they also look to publish.  For those students who plan a book of their research, many are concerned about someone else ‘stealing’ their work or publishing on the same sources before they do.  If this is you, then I say have some more confidence in your originality!  But the fact is that not every PhD is going to end up in a publication and even for those that do, there is often material which is left out.  If you DO publish, there are some interested parties who your research will not reach.  So the following list suggests some ways to circulate your research.  In the interest of sharing, I’ve taken some excellent ideas from Joe Cain‘s recent article in Viewpoint, a newsletter of the British Society for the History of Science.  I hope to be able to make his article available here soon.  I think it’s a great reference for all PhDs, recent or otherwise. Read more

R.B. Sheridan’s The Rivals at the Abbey

18 August 2009

Contributed By Christina Morin

the rivals at the abbeyWhen I was a student in Dublin, one of my favourite evening outings was to the Abbey, especially when the Access All Abbey pass made it possible to see pretty much everything for about a tenner. So impressed was I with the deal, that when my family visited from the States I proudly trotted them in for a new reworking of Synge’s Playboy of the Western World by Roddy Doyle and Bisi Adigun. Then a seasoned veteran of Dublin humour myself, I never thought how incomprehensible this might be for American natives on one of their first visits to Ireland, and my hurriedly whispered explanations only seemed to confuse rather than enlighten. Nevertheless, I like to think they enjoyed the experience, despite the evident disadvantage of losing much of the subtler points of comedy ‘in translation’, as it were.

This episode came to mind last Tuesday evening, when I found myself back at the Abbey to attend a welcome revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s fantastic 1775 play, The Rivals. Like the recent performance of Playboy, this production of The Rivals has involved some updating, and an evident concern for cast and crew alike has been how to ‘translate’ Sheridan’s rollicking eighteenth-century comedy for a twenty-first century audience seemingly far removed from the interests, concerns, and intrigues of Sheridan’s society misses and misfits. Read more