By Lisa-Marie Griffith
I have to admit I was a little surprised to see Diarmaid Ferriter listed as one of the speakers at the Literary Tent at the Electric Picnic festival this weekend. Ferriter, there to promote his new book, Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Irelandspoke alongside a weekend line-up that included Roddy Doyle, John Banville and Florence (of Florence and the Machine). My curiosity got the better of me and so I took some time out from the music to go along.
I posted a blog about the historian Simon Schama speaking with world renowned literary giants at the Dublin Writers Festival so why was I surprised? Well it’s a music festival- a place where people convene to see bands and engage in more popular pursuits like music. There is something about the Irish literary figures, stereotypically drunk, broke (or both) and with destructive personalities, that seems to fit with the idea of a rock stars and their lifestyle so I suppose I have always seen the addition of such a popular subject area as literature to a Music and Arts festival like Electric Picnic as natural. But does a historian really belong at a boutique arts and music festival like ‘The Picnic’?
Pue’s has in a number of posts raised the issue in one guise or another: ‘how popular is it acceptable for a historian and history to be while remaining academically true?’I must admit that seeing Ferriter reminded me of this. His tent was full and the crowd sat on pews (not the church of rock I suppose but the church of the literary canons) or on the ground. Feeling like a bit of groupie, I caught a quick word with Ferriter after his session and asked him how he felt on being asked to speak at a music festival (it is after all primarily about the music). He answered quite simply that as historians ‘we are here to communicate’ and what a better place to do so. I will have to add this makes a lot of sense to me.
I was a little disappointed that his talk was not followed questions from the crowd who all seemed to have enjoyed him thoroughly. Not as openly charming as Schama, or as all knowing as Starkey, Ferriter is a indeed a good communicator, frank and articulate; he deals with issues that Irish people have shied away from like sex with a careful seriousness.
The audience at festivals like Electric Picnic are usually looking for a little more than rain and music so literature and political debate were added to the lineup. I am not sure if Ferriter’s appearance marks the further incorporation of historians into the literary genre or indicates the inclusion of a wider range of subjects at a festival like Electric Picnic; the Science Gallery had a tent of their own and had demonstrations all weekend. I am all on for supporting the increasing demand for history. It fuels jobs and lets face it they can be hard to come by! Ferriter and his cohort are ensuring that History as a subject is constantly in the public eye, being consumed, discussed and purchsed and that has to be a good thing. Thats why Pues is here after all.
I thought that this would be a good opportunity to open a post up to our readers for a general discussion. Increasingly it would seem that history has expanded to meet popular demands and that I suppose is the concern. Does this compromise what we do? I would be really interested to here any thoughts other people have on this…