History in times gone by

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I’m not really one for an old adage, but sometimes you have to admit when coincidence throws one your way. An example from this week: in my spare time I’ve been reading Michael Kennedy and Deirdre McMahon’s Reconstructing Ireland’s Past: A History of the Irish Manuscripts Commission (2009); while doing some research on famine memory I came across Cormac Ó Gráda’s brilliant article (published here and later reprinted here) on the commissioning of Robert Dudley Edwards and T. D. Williams (eds), The Great Famine (1956); and, in the midst of all the talk about the end of the National University structure and Batt O’Keeffe’s continuing hints about rationalisation in the university sector, into my path fell a copy of the University College Galway calendar from the middle of the 1970s. All a reminder that what we do, as historians, has changed so much in the last one hundred years. Things come in threes, etc.

As historians, we spend a large amount of time procrastinating about institutional memory – or lack thereof in the financial institution that’s now literally your local bank – so no harm for us to know a little about our own profession, where we come from and the spirits that guide us. In that vein, I’ve reproduced below a list of instructions and history courses from UCG in 1974-75. There is a lot that is familiar, some surprisingly so (the emphasis on local history, for example), some courses that are intriguing, and quite a few that hint openly at their convenors. To over-use a phrase, plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.


First Year

Pass and Honours

(1)  The history of Ireland from the twelfth to the end of the nineteenth century.

(2)  The history of Europe from the twelfth to the end of the nineteenth century.

Lists of textbooks which are recommended for study will be distributed to students at the commencement of the year. Wide reading is essential for the proper understanding of the subjects discussed in the lectures, and for adequate performance at examinations.

Students are required periodically to submit written work on set subjects. This work will be discussed with the students.

Attendance at Tutorial Classes is required. Arrangements regarding these classes will be announced early in the Michaelmas Term.

Honours candidates will be expected to show a wider and more detailed knowledge of the subject matter of the courses than Pass candidates.

Second and Third Years

The courses provided are as follows:-

(A) 1. Early medieval Ireland, to the twelfth century.
2. Late medieval Ireland, twelfth to fifteenth century.
3. Ireland, late fifteenth century to 1641.
4. Ireland, 1641 to 1801.
5. Ireland, 1801 to the present.
6. Early medieval Europe, to the twelfth century.
7. Late medieval Europe, twelfth to fifteenth century.
8. Europe, 1450 to 1648.
9. Europe, 1648 to 1815.
10. Europe, 1815 to the present

(B)  1. Comparative colonisation: Ireland and America in the seventeenth century.
2. The economic history of Ireland from the early eighteenth century
3. The Anglo-Irish Union and its undoing
4. The history of warfare in Ireland
5. Local history, sources and methods
6. The Irish abroad.
7. European economy and society from the twelfth to the fifteenth century.
8. Late medieval political thought.
9. The Atlantic economy, 1550-1750.
10. The industrialisation of Europe.
11. Revolutionary movements in history.
12. Party and power in nineteenth and twentieth century British politics.
13. The constitutional history of England and Ireland to the seventeenth century.
14. The constitutional history of Britain and Ireland from the seventeenth century.

Normally, lectures are given each year on the course of Section A. The courses listed in Section B may not all be available each year; notice will be given of those which are.

Students presenting History as a Subsidiary subject in the Second Year will follow three courses chosen from Section A.

Students presenting History as a subject for the B.A. General examination will follow six courses chosen from Section A. At least two, but not more than four, of these courses will be in European history. B.A. General students will attend lectures on three of these courses in their Second Year and in the other three in their Third Year.

Students presenting History as a subject for the B.A. Honours examination will follow four courses chosen from Section A – for two of which they will attend lectures in their Second Year and the other two in their Third Year – and four courses chosen from Section B, for two of which they will attend lectures in their Second Year and the other two in their Third Year.

Students who do not fulfill all the requirements of the Second Year courses will not be allowed to proceed to the Third Year.

The choice of courses for all students of the Second and Third Years is subject to the approval of the Head of Department.

Lists of textbooks which are recommended for study will be distributed to students at the commencement of each year. Particular attention is drawn to the fact that wide reading is more than ever necessary for students in the Second and Third Years. Students are urged to make every effort to attain proficiency in written composition; their adequate performance at examinations will depend on their ability to make reasoned, literate statements. The periodic production of written work on set subjects is required.

(From: University College Galway, Calendar for 1974-1975 (Dublin: Iona Print Ltd, 1974), pp. 103-105.)

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2 Responses to “History in times gone by”

  1. patrick maume Says:

    The emphasis on local history possibly reflects the presence of T.P. O’Neill, who had a strong interest in it (both because of his work on administrative sources and because he thought local historians often unearthed material which might otherwise escape the knowledge of mainstream academics). I have more on this in my DIB article on him, thoughthat is generally drawn from his newspaper obituaries- I met him a few times around the National Library in the late 80s/early 90s but I didn’t know him that well. One o fthe sadder aspects of doing obits for contemporaries is realising how much you could ahve learned from them but didn’t.

  2. Margaret O hOgartaigh Says:

    Re. Tom O’Neill and local history, his papers are in the NLI MS. Dept. Acc 5040 (5 boxes). They include some of his unpublished lectures, some of his observations are quoted in the recently-published ‘Business Archival Sources for the Local Historian’. Tom O’Neill taught me in 1986 and 1987 (he retired from UCG in 1987 after 20 years teaching) we all learned from him. Patrick Maume’s entry in the ‘DIB’ captured his personality perfectly.

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