Archive for March, 2010

Some thoughts on how we do what we do – historians, that is

30 March 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently and, since time is always precious, trying to figure out ways of increasing my productivity. My current favourite tactic is to write in short bursts, working on a text until lunchtime before switching to do a different kind of research for the rest of the afternoon when the brain begins to slow. For those few hours, I abide no music, no radio, and no internet (the latter is crucial). The bookstand on my desk keeps my notes or text-that-I’m-about-to-pull-apart-in-the-editing-process at eye level, to save me from that pain between the shoulder blades known mainly to modern slaves of the laptop. It works better if I can put my feet up somewhere, or if I have a swivel chair, and I’m thinking about trying out journalist David Hepworth’s insistence that writing works better while standing up. Sometimes I read the text out loud to check its cadence and rhythm – but only before the others I share the office with arrive; no need to frighten people.

So in the middle of writing a seminar paper last month, I was intrigued to pick up the Saturday Guardian and read its ’10 rules for writers’ assembled from the advice of a number of prominent fiction authors. Read More

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In Handel’s day: Tuesday, 13 April, 2010

29 March 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Dublin can claim a special place in music history as the first place that Handel’s Messiah was performed. Handel, the story goes, was looking for his big break and yet to wow London audiences he came to Dublin and the piece was premiered at the Music Hall on Fishamble street on 13th of April 1742 at a philanthropic concert. As one of the most famous pieces of music in the world, the anniversary of this premiere is celebrated every year in the city by various city institutions and under the umbrella of the Temple Bar Cultural Trust.  Celebrations to mark the anniversary this year are bigger and better than ever before and it seems the trust are doing their best to bring the eighteenth century to Dublin’s streets. Activities 13 April include an eighteenth-century French ‘dance-off’ performed in period costume, a talk on Handel in Dublin, two walking tours and the movie on the square is Stanley Kubrick’s wonderful Barry Lyndon which is based on William Thackery’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon. The full programme can be found at the Temple Bar Cultural Trust website.

Review: Black and Tans at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery

24 March 2010

Contributed by Frank Bouchier Hayes

As a child, I spent quite a lot of time playing toy soldiers where the Germans were always victorious over the British and Americans because their uniforms were so attractive to my juvenile imagination. Such childhood play forms the basis for a collection of paintings by Mick O’Dea currently on display at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery in Dublin. O’Dea’s work is derived from photographs of combatants and politicians taken during the Irish War of Independence and attempts to understand the conflict from the British perspective. Those wishing to preview the exhibition can access a few images from the gallery website, or pick up a copy of the latest issue of the Irish Arts Review. Catherine Morris contributes a contextual essay available at the gallery to the intriguing collection of 26 portraits entitled ’Black & Tan’ which greatly assists one’s enjoyment and appreciation of the fruits of O’Dea’s research.

I would however take slight issue with a comment she makes about the men wearing “their guns in a way that anticipates John Wayne in the cowboy movies”. Read more

Giovanni and Lusanna: a microcosm of Renaissance Florence

23 March 2010

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

It feels a little strange being a twentieth-century historian in Florence, when the city is imbued everywhere with such a strong sense of a much older past. Walking around the centro storico, everywhere you look you see medieval towers, Renaissance palazzi, piazzas, cathedrals, all crowding around churches, statues… you get the idea. And so, even though I’m spending some time in Florence to do research for a project on 1950s and 1960s Italian history, I realised pretty soon that I was going to have to go a little farther back to really understand the city I was staying in.

As part of this ongoing side-project, I came across a small, slim book in the Uffizi Gallery shop called Giovanni and Lusanna. Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence, by American historian Gene Brucker (Berkeley, 2003). First published in 1986, when micro-history was beginning to come into vogue in historical writing – Carlo Ginzburg’s classic study of a sixteenth century miller and his world, The Cheese and the Worms was published in 1976 – the book is a study of a case brought by Lusanna, a widow from a modest background against wealthy banker Giovanni della Casa. According to Lusanna, Giovanni married her in secret. She brought a case against him after learning that he had contracted another marriage with a noblewoman, alleging that his marriage to her made him a bigamist. Read more

Top 5: History of Dublin 1500-2000

22 March 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

My PhD focused on Dublin and my research (and residency) has instilled me with a keen interest and passion for the history and architecture of the capital. I was appalled a few years ago when running an extramural course on Dublin history when a student told me that ‘as an outsider’, I am from Waterford, I could never truly understand the history of the city. I have since realised that his comment is just indicative of the passion which the city inspires in its older and more established citizens!  As someone coming to the urban history of Dublin as an outsider seeking a broad history, and then looking for some reliably accurate academic studies here is my top 5 in no particular order.

1. Maurice Craig, Dublin 1660-1860: The shaping of a city: Craig is an art-historian so I like this as it is not a traditional history. The evolution of the city, its development, architecture and civic spaces and the book shows how the city was shaped by figures rather than being led by events and people. This isn’t just an architectural history and should not be underestimated. It is a fantastic urban history. There are many editions of this wonderfully written history but if possible avoid the Liberties Revival edition which is riddled with typos and spelling errors. Read more

Secret History and a New Departure for Japan

18 March 2010

Contributed by Fintan Hoey

On 9 March Japan finally broke a fifty year silence on the existence of four Cold War-era secret agreements it concluded with the United States. These bilateral security understandings have long been mooted, first by investigative journalists, and then by the release of U.S. documents from this period. Therefore the publication of an official investigation into their existence is interesting not so much in terms of historical revelations but what is says about contemporary Japan, its international relations and its attitude toward the past.

The Cold War-era understandings, and the intense secrecy that surrounded them for so long, arose because of the tension between what the Japanese ruling elite felt was critical for their country’s security and the neutralist and pacifist sentiments of the Japanese public. In the aftermath of the Second World War Japan was occupied by the United States. It was disarmed, demilitarised and had a liberal-democratic and pacifist constitution imposed on it; reforms that were largely welcomed by a populace traumatised by war and domestic political repression. America quickly came to regret its earlier enthusiastic utopianism as Cold War tensions developed. Read More

Happily Ever After?

17 March 2010

By Christina Morin

With my own nuptials swiftly approaching, I’ve admittedly become a bit wedding-obsessed. In a bid to wean myself off my growing addiction to wedding magazines and wedding discussion forums, as well as to distract myself from the various seating plans, dress swatches, and rsvp cards with which I increasingly find myself surrounded, I popped into Waterstones for a browse. That I thought I could momentarily escape all things wedding related in a book shop was perhaps a little naive, but surely there had to be at least one or two books that I could flick through without reminding myself of the various to-do lists waiting for me on my desk? Realisation and resignation settled in when the first thing my eyes lit upon was Wendy Moore’s compellingly-titled exploration of marriage in eighteenth-century Britain, Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met his Match (2009). Following fast on the heels of Duchess, the 2008 cinematic rendering of the wedded trials of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Wedlock looks at the matrimonial horrors suffered by Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore. The richest heiress in late-eighteenth century England upon the death of her coal magnate father, Mary Eleanor became prey to the mercenary intents of the superficially charming but unscrupulous Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney – tellingly, the root of the contemporary expression still in use today: ‘ston(e)y broke’. Read more

Chavez Ravine to Churubusco: American history through song

16 March 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Ry Cooder, to turn a phrase, has previous. In 2005 he released an album entitled Chavez Ravine that told the history of a Mexican-American neighbourhood of Los Angeles, bulldozed to the ground in the 1950s to make way for a housing development that was never built and a baseball stadium that was. On ‘Don’t Call Me Red’ he took on the role of Frank Wilkinson, the public architect who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was condemned to prison as a result. On ‘Chinito Chinito’ he offered a colourful snapshot of inter-race relations in 1940s LA: ‘Washes my shirts, irons my pants/Then he takes his maraca home’. The tale had it all: McCarthyism, cool cats, UFOs, conspiracy, and injustice, with a dash of the boogie-woogie and the jitterbug thrown in for good measure.

No surprise then to hear him return to the album-as-history theme for his new record, San Patricio, recorded with The Chieftains and a troupe of Mexican musicians. The yarn on this occasion: a group of ‘disaffected’ Irish-Americans led by Captain John Riley, who deserted to fight with the Mexicans in the war of the 1840s under the command of General Antonio López de Santa Ana. Read More

PhD Diary: Anastasia Dukova, TCD

15 March 2010

Contributed by Anastasia Dukova, TCD.

Do you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? For me it’s is certainly more of a vocation than a job – I think a little inspiration is needed to begin, and to carry on.

In 20 words or less tell us why you decided to do a PhD? Really to follow untold stories and themes and to present them in a way that is relevant and useful today.

Anastasia’s Diary: Pursuing a PhD has opened doors to me to all the archives and repositories I could find good reason to visit. The prospect of endless records and the sense of excitement that I just might be the very first person to look at them since their compilation still is incredible.

Although I am Russian, and studied history in Canada, I felt a strong draw to study Irish history. I was introduced to Irish history when I studied British history at university in Toronto. I was always drawn to the subjects least familiar to me. Irish history was as strange to me as the sound of Gaelic language, which I made a go at as well, although it is hard to believe that now!

My first year in Dublin lead me realize how much there was to read that was of interest to me, and of relevance to my subject. I spent most of my time ‘catching up’ on Irish historiography. After lots of reading, I came to thinking of my subject in relation to other countries and cities, and so I came up with a comparative model. To ensure I cover as many aspects of my research as widely as I can, I chose to travel to Queensland, Australia (the University of Queensland, Brisbane, where I undertook my research is the photo above)  and so search the archives that are oceans apart, quite literally. Read more

Animal murderers

12 March 2010

By Juliana Adelman

I doubt the recent killing at SeaWorld can have escaped your notice. On February 24th Tilikum, a killer whale, pulled his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into a pool by her pony tail and batted her around ‘like a doll’ as one spectator recalled. By the time she was retreived from the whale’s jaws she was dead. Captive animals killing their keepers is nothing new.  Elephants were, and are, among the most common perpetrators.  One of the elephants in Dublin zoo killed her keeper in 1903; the subsequent press coverage was widespread and hit many similar notes to recent coverage of Tilikum.  However, the consequences for the animals were completely opposite.  Well into the twentieth century, the animal’s death was almost certain.  Tilikum will be spared despite having been responsible for at least one other death in the past.  This is no doubt supposed to be evidence that we are currently running a better kind of captivity than a Victorian menagerie.  Instead, I think, it reveals a greater level of hubris.  Now we think we understand animals.  Various explanations have been offered for Tilikum’s behavior, including that Brancheau’s swinging pony tail was provacative.  By coincidence the attack occurred while scientists are debating whether dolphins’ intelligence justifies their being defined as ‘nonhuman persons’ and legislation in Switzerland was mooted which would have allowed animals to have lawyers.  These attitudes are in sharp contrast to those held barely a century before. Read more