Archive for February, 2010

Review: Saving the Future

11 February 2010

Contributed by Kevin Hora

A rising tide of unemployment, unions and employers at loggerheads, and a government on the brink of bankruptcy: for Celtic tiger cubs, coming to terms with the end of the only economic model they have known, it may be scarcely conceivable that the current economic crisis has an earlier, more scarring antecedent. The Irish economy of the 1980s was typified by high taxes, industrial unrest and a lack of belief, even privately among themselves, that politicians could find solutions to transform the economy.

Saving the Future draws on interviews with over 40 prominent political, business, and union leaders who, over two decades, helped shape public policy through wage agreements and broader social commitments.  The authors, respected industrial relations correspondents, bring a strong editorial sense of how to distil this combined wisdom into a deceptively light, but effective narrative.  Eschewing a preponderance of economic and statistical data, they allow the interviewees to progress the story of partnership in a more fluid, balanced fashion.  The path from job losses to full employment, and the development of an economy that was the envy of other EU states, is well charted and is a salutary reminder of how far Ireland travelled in the last two decades. Read More

Now That’s What I Call a Tribunal

10 February 2010

Contributed by Myles Dungan

The Moriarty Tribunal can’t quite seem to make up its mind whether or not it has dialled the last number in its mobile phone contacts book. The Mahon Tribunal started as the Flood Tribunal and may well be called something entirely different by the time we get to read its report.

Lets hope when the distinguished jurists who have been listening to some of the most excruciatingly detailed evidence ever laid before four wigless judges is of more consequence than a Commission report laid before the Houses of Parliament in Westminster 120 years ago this month. Because the Report of the Special Commission into Parnellism and Crime – better known as the Times Commission in honour of the village idiot who paid the bill – set the bar for the anti-climax. It was as if Apple had promised the iPad but Steve Jobs had, instead, launched a new, but ground-breaking, electric toothbrush.

It began with a whimper on 7 March, 1887 with an anonymous piece in the Times promising startling revelations about the connection of the Irish party leadership to violent agrarian crime. Three articles later the series was fizzling out altogether in a welter of sheer tedium when the Times played its trump card on 18 April by publishing a facsimile of what purported to be a highly embarrassing letter from Charles Stewart Parnell. This signed and dated note seemed to offer succour to the Invincibles for the Phoenix Park murders. Read More

‘A History of the World, not the History of the World.’ A History of the World in 100 objects

9 February 2010

Contributed by Léan Ní Chléirigh

BBC Radio 4 and the British Museum have launched a new series of programmes in which they will attempt to tell the History of the World through 100 artefacts found in the collections of the British Museum. Each artefact will form the basis for one programme lasting 15 minutes. Being a huge fan of Museums, Radio 4 and the 15-minute programme, this was easily the most exciting thing which happened to me all year.

The project, however, is not without its difficulties. The immediate one which springs to mind is the right of the British Museum to many of the artefacts which it displays. So far none of the objects discussed have a British provenance. When the show was previewed in the Times, the majority of the comments came from African readers quite reasonably asking for their stuff back from the British Museum. Neil MacGregor, the director of the British museum and presenter, has foreseen this problem and he promises that this subject will be tackled in the series. In the mean time he asked Egyptian author, Ahdaf Soueif what she thinks. Soueif’s attitude is fairly conciliatory; that the presence of Egyptian artefacts in museums all over the world reminds people of the common human history which we all share. Read more

Interview: Dr Conor Kostick, historian and children’s author

8 February 2010

Interview date: 29 September 2009

What book do you wish you had written?
I’m with Cathy Hayes on this one: A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

What would you do if you were not a historian?
Well, I divide my time between history and writing fiction as it is, so ‘author’.

When was the last time you looked at wikipedia?
Sometime during the week. Its very handy for authors wanting to get technical details right, like how a combine harvester works. I don’t use it as a historian, it is not yet reliable enough, but a generation from now perhaps … Read More

History in times gone by

5 February 2010

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 Read More

What a (t)wit!: Swift, Stella and the phrenologists

3 February 2010

Contributed by Ciaran Toal

At a meeting room above Sackville Street in late August 1835 the skull of Jonathan Swift sat on a table alongside that of his friend Stella.  In turn, the gathered phrenologists, who believed character and mental ability could be read from the shape of the cranium, rose to make their pronouncements.  The leader, George Combe, went first.  He noted that if Swift’s skull had ‘been the cranium of a common man…he would have been hanged.’  Stella’s skull, the phrenologists claimed, showed characteristics of benevolence, wit and appropriation, but also destructiveness and amativeness.  Swift, by contrast, demonstrated signs of a love of children and hope, but a lack of benevolence.  Perhaps most importantly the phrenologists were able to claim that, with regards to wit, he was rather ‘small’. Read More

All about my mother

2 February 2010

By Juliana Adelman

I know that in the professional era of history, we are correctly reluctant to allow our personal lives to enter into the history that we write.  Nevertheless, there are very personal reasons that we choose our topics.  Of course, twists and turns on the career ladder (read: need to find job doing some kind of history, any kind) tend to have important effects.  But when we have the chance, we all come back to the topics that we love.  And why do we love them?  I thought I’d get the ball rolling on what I hope might become a discussion or a dialogue by sharing some thoughts on how I ended up doing what it is that I do.  As the title suggests, I blame my mother. Read More

Pue’s Recommendations for February

1 February 2010

Juliana Adelman I am currently reading It’s a Don’s Life, derived from Classicist Mary Beard’s blog of the same name. The blog and book are appealingly personal and the topics covered are anything from scholarly to political, all well written.  The National Library of Ireland has started a new online exhibition called ‘Discover Your National Library‘.  It’s not really targeted at academic researchers, but it’s worth a look.  Finally, two friends  recognised that cheesy Victorian period horror about werewolves ought to be right up my alley and alerted me to the opening of The Wolfman (12 Feb).  I can’t wait!

Lisa-Marie Griffith The IFI are running a fantastic free series for anyone in and around the capital this month called ‘Archive at lunchtime’. Under half an hour in length, the programmes include both fictional and non-fictional stories that are aimed at giving the viewer ‘a unique insight into Irish society’. This month they feature the work of Colm O’Laoghaire and begin this lunchtime with Water Wisdom & Irish Gossamer.

Christina Morin This month is a busy one for music in Belfast, and I’m looking forward to experiencing some of the city’s vibrant musical culture with the 7th annual Féile an Earraigh running from 4-7 February. With a great line-up of well-known bands and performers as well as a diverse range of concerts, performances, and activities happening at various venues throughout the city, the festival promises to be a lot of fun. I’m also hoping to catch the London Classic Theatre‘s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane when I’m in Cork for Valentine’s Day weekend. The play runs at the Everyman Palace Theatre from 2-13 February. While I’m in the soi-disant People’s Republic, I might also take the opportunity of popping into the Lewis Glucksman Gallery for the Thingamajig exhibit running from 23 January-9 May 2010. Exploring ‘the secret life of objects’, the exhibit is free, as is the stroll around UCC‘s campus – my old haunting grounds – you can take when you’re finished in the gallery.

Kevin O’Sullivan A history of the world, in thirteen-minute segments, across one hundred objects from the British Museum, hardly sounds like the most compelling of audio experiences, but if you can momentarily cast aside your doubts about the righftul ownership of some of these pieces (appeased by the promise that the series will deal with the issue), Radio 4’s aptly named new series A History of the World in One Hundred Objects well rewards a listen, or a podcast. Speaking of desirable objects, the new edition of Field Day Review arrived in January, its layout and subject-range as striking as ever, keeping its place as a must-read among Irish academic journals. It also includes an eminently readable article on zoological gardens in Dublin by one of the editors of this parish that’s certainly worth checking out. Finally, anyone in Dublin or passing through should jump on the Luas and head up to IMMA to catch Picturing New York: Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art, a striking collection of photographs of the city from the 1880s to today that runs until 14 February (hat-tip to Patrick Walsh for pointing this one out).