Archive for May, 2010

Blogging the Humanities

27 May 2010


Thanks to everyone for their support and interest in the event. We would like to inform everyone that registration is now closed. We would like to thank our speakers and attendees but in particular our sponsors David Dickson, History Ireland and the Trinity Long Room Hub. For those of you not attending we will report on the event next week and what has been discussed.


Christina, Juliana, Kevin& Lisa

Top five: football histories

26 May 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It’s now only sixteen days until the beginning of the most bloated, over-hyped, quality-diluted, greed-driven (see FIFA’s recent clampdown on South African airline Kulula for advertising themselves as the ‘unofficial national carrier of the “you-know-what”’) sporting show on earth. But do I still love it? Will I still collect and pore over a variety of free newspaper world cup guides in the way I did as an eight-year-old watching Francois Oman-Biyik head that goal against Argentina in 1990? Absolutely, although I think I might give the Star sticker album a miss this time.

Brian Glanville, The Story of the World Cup (newest edition: London, 2010).
First published in 1973, Glanville’s book is now on its eighth edition, and still offers by far the best synthesis of the competition’s history. In his long journalistic career, including columns for World Soccer magazine and frequent match reports for the Sunday Times, Glanville has been an original and refreshingly honest voice. The Story of the World Cup is an extension of that writing, managing to walk the difficult tightrope of match description, background information and pithy asides with confidence and style. I can’t think of any other writer who could quote William Wordsworth to describe Maradona’s ephedrine-fuelled exit from the 1994 World Cup – ‘Men are we, and must grieve when even the shade / Of that which once was great has passed away’ – and get away with it. Read More

Promoting Dublin’s Urban history: The History of the City of Dublin Reasearch Group

24 May 2010

Contributed by Lisa Marie Griffith

One of the major problems facing anyone who undertakes research on urban history is that by its very nature the field is incredibly broad. It encompasses architects, art historians, historians and local historians, as well as genealogists and town planners. Even with a brilliant resource like Dublin City Library and Archive it can be incredibly difficult to make a detailed survey of all of the different areas you need to be familiar with in order to carry out research on Dublin. While the Friends of Medieval Dublin have successfully harnessed the interest of those who seek to preserve as much of Medieval Dublin as possible in order to promote research in the area, research iniatives for the modern period still fall short.  A new research group funded by the Centre for Irish-Scottish and Comparative Studies (CISCS) in Trinity College Dublin aims to redress this imbalance.

The history of the modern Irish capital has spurred countless studies and research projects but many of these studies are lost or difficult to come by.The History of the City of Dublin Research Group aims to promote research in the area by bringing together researchers currently working on Dublin History and detailing their project and published output so that this material can be found in one place. Read more

Life before Fascism: Mussolini in wartime Milan

21 May 2010

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

Currently showing in the IFI and Lighthouse cinemas in Dublin, Vincere (meaning ‘win’), seems like a fitting title for a film about Mussolini’s younger days and his rise to power. Told from the perspective of his then mistress and fellow revolutionary Ida Dalser, the film follows his early career as editor of the socialist newspaper Avanti! in the heady atmosphere of turn of the century Milan. A leading member of the young, revolutionary contingent of the socialist party, the young Benito broke with the party’s pacifist stance in 1914 and rushed to support the war. In his eyes, war was the perfect opportunity for Italy; a chance to bring about excitement, revolution and national glory. According to the film, it was the ever admiring Ida who sold her draper’s shop to give Mussolini the capital to start his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia. It was through this new daily that he began to build up the mass following that, with the help of his Blackshirt militia, would propel him to power in 1922. Soon afterwards, Ida and Benito’s paths separated. After the war, having abandoned his revolutionary lifestyle for the respectable image necessary for his political career, Mussolini returned to his wife Donna Rachele. Left alone with their child, and convinced she was actually his rightful wife, Ida was unable to forget Mussolini as easily as he had cast her aside. The film follows their troubled lives against the background of the continued rise of fascism. Mussolini and fascism are only present in distant glimpses from then on – in statues, newspapers and newsreel footage – but even as the figure she sees from afar develops into the remote, imperious and even faintly ridiculous character of the dictator familiar to us from history, his presence continues to haunt Ida.

Stylishly edited, with original newsreel footage from the archive of the fascist film board – the Istituto Luce – interspersed throughout the film, Vincere offers a fascinating portrait of life in wartime and fascist Italy. Read more

Katyn: a Polish tragedy in two acts?

19 May 2010

Contributed by Julia Eichenberg

On April 10th a Polish plane crashed at the small airport in Smolensk in Russia. No one on board survived the crash, the most famous victim being the then Polish president, Lech Kaczyński. A month after the crash the causes are still being investigated, but the discussion mainly focuses on history. The crash proved to be cataclysmic for the Polish nation because of the plane’s destination, because of the composition of the passenger list, and the political impact of the tragedy. Surprisingly, the tragic event might have had at least some positive side effects.

The plane was heading for Smolensk but the real destination of its passengers was the nearby town of Katyń, to commemorate a horrendous massacre committed during World War II. In 1940, the Soviet Army executed about 20,000 Polish Officers in the area, aiming to extinguish the Polish elite and facilitate Soviet rule over Poland. When the mass graves were discovered in 1943, Soviet Russia blamed Nazi Germany for the massacre. The official Soviet narrative of Katyń as a German war crime was held up, in Russia as well as by the Soviet-influenced Polish historiography, until the downfall of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was the first to admit Stalin’s orders to commit the massacre of Polish officers; Yeltsin opened Soviet archives containing historical sources proving Soviet guilt. But still in 2009, Polish victims of Katyń were denied the status of victims of Stalinist terror. Only this year did Putin agree to a binational commemoration ceremony in Katyń on 7th April 2010. While refusing to accept Katyń as a Russian responsibility, Putin now supported the recognition of its victims as Stalinist victims. Read more

Who are the Irish? Review: Outside the Glow by Heather K. Crawford

18 May 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

For the majority of individuals in this country, the concept of being Irish, of what ‘Irishness’ means, remains an elusive concept. Is it defined by religion? Sport? Music? Language? The written word? Is it based on identification with the land or the island of Ireland? Do the Irish share a particular concept of culture and politics? Do we see ourselves in terms of our postcolonial identity – i.e. not being British? Or, as Tom Inglis hinted in his excellent Global Ireland: Same Difference (2008), is it in fact hypocrisy that emerges as the defining trait of the Irish character? (Not that we are unique in our fealty to the hypocritical, but simply that we are better at it than everyone else.)

In attempting to answer those questions we’re led to another, equally vexed and elusive: just who are ‘the Irish’? We are happy to embrace the 70 million or so who claim Irish ancestry across the world, those for whom Mary Robinson lit a candle in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin. But what of the millions of others who love Riverdance, Yeats and U2 and drink just as much in Irish pubs in Shanghai, Dubrovnik and Boston as south Dubliners manage on a Leinster weekend in Toulouse? Closer to home, what of our Polish and other central and eastern European neighbours, of the Chinese-Irish communities in Dublin’s city centre, groups of Nigerian-Irish in its western suburbs, or the large Brazilian-Irish community working and living in Gort, Co. Galway? How do these communities, families and individuals view their role in Irish society and sense of identification with their adopted home? And what of Ireland’s religious minorities and their relationship with the overwhelmingly (if declining) Catholic ethos of modern Ireland?

Based on one hundred anonymised interviews with members of both Protestant and Catholic confessions, Heather Crawford’s new book, Outside the Glow, examines the lives of Protestant Irish men and women across rural and urban communities since the foundation of the state. Their histories and the identities they assumed are unsurprisingly diverse: separate in many ways from the dominant Catholic and nationalist culture, but no less part of the consciousness of the newly independent Ireland. Together they offer an alternative view of the emerging state, challenging the widely-held assumption that ‘there’s no such thing as a poor Protestant’, and exploring the construction of the country’s dominant stereotypes, including knowing and unknowingly derogative stereotypes like the land-grabbing ‘planter’, ‘English pig’ and ‘Protestant bastard’. Read More

Professor John Oxford on the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic

17 May 2010

Contributed by Ida Milne

More than 90 years after the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic killed in excess of 40m people worldwide,  researchers at either side of the Atlantic continue to disagree about whether it actually began in Europe or on US soil. British virologist Professor John Oxford, one of the world’s leading influenza researchers, gave his views on this and the continuing threats posed by other influenzas at a public lecture in the Science Gallery [on Friday 7 May]. Ida Milne reports from the lecture:

Was Patient Zero in the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic really mess cook Private Albert Gitchell, from Fort Riley, Kansas, who fell ill  on 11 March 1918?

This  claim by US investigators has gained mileage in the popular press. The idea of being able to identify Patient Zero in a pandemic which killed more that 50 million people is media-friendly, if romantic.

Professor John Oxford, who specializes in the pathogenicity of the influenza virus, in particular the 1918 strain, believes it more likely that the pandemic began in army clearing houses in northern France in 1917.

He is excited about new historical research which suggests a link between Jeffrey Taubenberger’s claim for an American origin, and his own belief that the evidence points toward an earlier outbreak at the army base at Étaples. Read more

Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War begins at the American National Archives in Washington

14 May 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The above photograph is part of a new exhibition at the American National Archives commemorating the American Civil war and shows a racially integrated Union naval crew aboard a ship probably the Mendota. The American Civil War is an event which is considered to have been as key to the development of the United States as the American Revolution. As such, it is an event that has attracted a huge amount of interest from historians, history students, documentary makers and of course the general population. This has led to an outpour and huge consumption of books on the war, reconstruction, slavery and Lincoln and this will no doubt continue over the next few years as commemoration steps up a gear. On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil war a new exhibition at the American National Archives, called ‘Discovering the Civil War’, which brings together online 6,000 digitized records has sought out new ways of analysing, interpreting and viewing the civil war. While the material is not new it is welcome. The archive hopes that it will encourage visitors to ‘take a fresh look at the Civil War through little-known stories, seldom-seen documents, and unusual perspectives; consider and ask questions about the evidence; listen to a wide variety of voices; and make up your own mind about the struggle that tore apart these United States.’ The availability of so much of this material online is commendable and encouraging. The site is well worth a look offering a good example of how exhibits can be appreciated by those who can visit a location directly. It is geared towards a broad audience and with personal accounts of soldiers on both sides of the war, photographs which depict ‘camp life, routines, war preparations, the moments just prior to battle, and the aftermath of battle’,  as well as a section entitled ‘Teachable texts from the National Archives at New York City’ this is an excellent teaching resource. The exhibition falls into two sections; the first ‘Beginnings’ opened 30 April while the second section ‘Consequences’ opens 10 November.  The New York Times reviews the first section of the exhibit here.

Building an archive: the Project Arts Centre

12 May 2010

Contributed by Barry Houlihan

What started as a one-off event refused to cease and end in the traditional sense. The creativity and energy that surrounded Project ’67 would grow and become what is now the Project Arts Centre. For almost half a century, the Project Arts Centre has stood as a loud, true and independent voice in the Irish theatre and visual arts scene. Today, its archive spanning 35 years has been deposited and catalogued at the National Library of Ireland.

The Project Arts Centre was initially created as a temporary and singular artistic event in the form of a three-week festival at the Gate Theatre, known as ‘Project 67’. The festival included plays, readings, jazz, teach-ins on censorship and theatre and art exhibitions. The presence of the Project archive creates a living memory bank and artistic resource possibly umatched in Irish artistic and theatrical history. It contains detailed manuscript records of the theatre, dance, visual art, film and music that made the Project synonymous with new and emerging Irish talent. The archive is a comprehensive account of the initiation and gestation of the Project, and traces its growth, its leaders, its greatest theatrical and artistic events, its many homes and also its conflicts. Read More

Review: The Fethard-On-Sea Boycott

11 May 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Micro-history has pioneered a whole new genre of historical analysis where we look at history from the ground up. Irish writers have produced some fantastic micro-histories that examine various periods in Irish history and provide a unique insight into the mindset and lives of ordinary citizens. I am a big fan of this type of history and a couple of my favourite Irish micro-histories, which I think can rival even the best European micro-history, include Toby Barnard’s The abduction of a Limerick Heiress (Dublin, 1998), Des Elkin’s The Stolen Village (Dublin, 2006) and Brendan Twomey’s, Dublin in 1707: A year in the life of the city (Dublin, 2009). A personal favourite is Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary (London, 1999). The in-depth research that Bourke undertook for this book brings Bridget Cleary, her husband and their Tipperary community back to life.

It is with this in mind that I picked up Tim Fanning’s The Fethard-On-Sea Boycott which was released earlier this month. The Fethard-On-Sea Boycott recounts the story of a Catholic boycott of Protestant business people in a small Wexford village in 1957. The boycott became so bitter that it took the personal intervention of  Eamon De Valera to call a halt to the boycott. The incident started with a family dispute. A Protestant woman, Sheila Cloney, argued with her Catholic husband, Sean, about which local school to send their daughter to. The local Catholic clergy intervened and, with mounting pressure from both within her home and outside, Sheila left the village with her two daughters and went to Scotland. The boycott was carried out under the direction of the local parish priest who maintained that it would be upheld until Sheila returned her daughters to her husband for them to be sent to the local Catholic school.

The story offers up a lot of themes and possible threads. Read more