Archive for November, 2010

History: our comfort blanket? Saturday’s ICTU march

29 November 2010

Contributed by A Guest Poster

Were many Pue’s readers at the ICTU demo last Saturday?  Did anyone notice the historic theme which ran through many of the speeches?

Union rallies are hardly a byword for entertainment.  A pilgrimage from Parnell Square to the Dáil is normally followed by a too long array of boring speeches delivered by the usual suspects.

This time it was different.

Fintan O’Toole was MC. His opening speech (here, courtesy of the IMPACT website) invoked the memory of 1913 and 1916, setting it in a civic republican perspective.  Is this, one thought, an attempt to out green Fianna Fail – always anxious to wrap themselves in the foundation myths of the state?  But he gave a brief lecture on civic values, based largely on his current book.

O’Toole returned to the historical theme when he suggested that one of the cuts made should be the year 2016 – suggesting we should go direct from 2015 to 2017 in order to avoiding the embarrassment of having the shame of having to commemorate the 1916 centenary – a novel proposal and one aimed at causing particular embarrassment to Fianna Fáil.  Read More

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Student Fees Survey… The results are in

26 November 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The four-year plan has been set and it looks like student registration fees will increase from €1,500 to €2,000 from next year. But surely this is just fees through the back door and there is also no guarantee that students won’t face another hike in fees over the next couple of years. A few weeks ago we ran a poll at Pue’s to see how people felt about the reintroduction of full fees and there are our results.

56 people undertook the survey: 36% were postgraduate, 18% were university lecturers, 18% were postdoctoral fellows, 16% were concerned citizens (i.e. none of the above), 11 % were undergraduates and 2% were parents of undergraduate students.

We asked if fees should be reintroduced universally, be reintroduced but vary according to income or not be reintroduced at all. Read more

Why do we have trouble seeing the future?

25 November 2010

by Juliana Adelman

Brian Cowen is neither the first nor the last politician to have to admit that he was wrong.  Despite the many many voices of economists telling him that no bubble had ever resulted in a soft landing, he and his supporters continued to insist that Ireland would not experience a crash.  Why do we have such difficulty in accepting that past scenarios might be applicable to the present or even the future?  Why do we have so much difficulty in seeing the long term? It’s not just the politicians.  Despite the oft repeated George Santayana quote regarding the repetition of history, we seem as a species to be quite incapable of REALLY accepting that life repeats itself.  Yes, it is never exactly the same.  But nonetheless, human behavior shows remarkable consistency through historical time.  People react in similar ways to similar situations.  Unstable banks?  People rush to remove their money from them.  Uncertain future?  People put off spending.  And, it pains me to say, State budget crisis? Direct cuts and taxes at the lower paid.  But that’s a debate for another blog.

I recently came across a really interesting book review of The Thief of Time edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White in the New Yorker. The book is a collection of essays about procrastination.  Now procrastination maybe doesn’t seem completely relevant to financial meltdown.  But the writer of the review was in fact the magazine’s financial columnist, James Suroweicki and it seems to me that some of the ideas about why we procrastinate are related to other aspects of human behavior about future planning.

The inherent interest in procrastination is that it is irrational: the procrastinator knows it is a bad idea and still he/she (I!) does it.  Why oh why do we do it?  Suroweicki offers an evolutionary explanation which is that our mind is adapted to deal with the present, not with the future and so whatever is in front of us is the most engaging. Read more

Capturing ordinary life in extraordinary times

22 November 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Amid the deception, the outrage and the dark, dark humour of it all, last week’s events set me thinking about how we get to the history of the ordinary. In thirty years’ time, when historians – if they even wait that long – get to writing about the collapse of the Irish state, they will have no shortage of indignant voices to draw from. On Friday, the Irish Times carried ‘Two pages of your letters to the Editor’. On Saturday, the Financial Times devoted dozens of column inches to ‘Ireland on the Brink’. The front of this morning’s Metro Herald (or whatever it’s called these days) carries a photo of a hand-made paper sign posted at the entrance to the Department of an Taoiseach: ‘Traitors’.

It won’t stop there. The lucky few to access the RTÉ archives will get a glimpse and an earful of life after the horse has bolted. There will be a whole generation of emigrant stories to draw from, as the refugees of the ‘knowledge economy’ find their talents better valued elsewhere. And a raft of ‘new’ Irish, too, will find their voices and interpretations of life in post-Tiger Ireland.

I could go on. But what’s troubling me is not the process of documenting public outrage. It is simply to wonder, as we live through extraordinary times, how much of their crushing ‘ordinariness’ will be discarded or simply missed by future historians. I’m not claiming that people are uninterested in the manoeuvrings of the EU and the IMF and the massive impact they will have on their lives. However much his words were chosen in the interests of political points scoring, Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes’s comments on the government’s extraordinary ‘we’re fine’ line last week captured the mood of a nation: ‘it’s a pile of shit … and you don’t believe it’. Read More

This little piggy

16 November 2010

By Juliana Adelman

Urban dwellers are enthusiastically embracing the trend for grow-your-own.  Not content with vegetables, they are moving on to animals.  I was driving near St Catherine’s church in the south inner city recently when I noticed a community garden which contained an elaborate hen house.  A segment on RTE Radio 1’s morning programme recently suggested that people are now also rearing urban pigs.  The sanitary reformers of the nineteenth century would be horrified to imagine that all their years of toil to eradicate food animals from the city were being quietly reversed.

The pig is, in many ways, a perfect back garden animal.  It eats garbage, needs little space and produces a lot of manure and edible meat in return.  As Homer Simpson remarked when Lisa informed him that pork chops, bacon and ham all came from the same animal: ‘Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!’  Irish people during the nineteenth century gained a reputation as particularly fond of the wonderful, magical pig.  In the eyes of some travel writers, the household pig was symbolic of the poor hygiene and moral character of the Irish themselves. Read More

Great History Blogging

15 November 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

A quick post on this frosty Monday morning to highlight the vitality of the wider blogging community that Pue’s forms part of. I noticed over the weekend that the Cliopatria Awards, run by the US-based History News Network, are open for nominations for 2010. The list of past winners is a great showcase for the depth of quality history writing on the web, and a good starting point for anyone just dipping their toes into the world of academic blogging. Anyone can nominate in any of the six categories (best group blog, best individual blog, best newcomer, best post, best series of posts, best writer), so if there’s a blog that catches your attention, don’t be coy! Even if not, head over to HNN to open the door to a world of quality history writing on the web.

Undergraduate fees: survey results so far

12 November 2010

By Juliana Adelman

Well the numbers are in and Pue’s readers are in favor of a reintroduction of fees by a strong majority of 63%.  Undergraduates were a very small minority of our respondents, but perhaps unsurprisingly they were 75% against the reintroduction of fees.  Postgraduates were the largest group of respondents and they represent the overall trends of the survey relatively well with 65% in favor of fees, but heavily in favor of graduated fees (41% versus 24% for universal).  Postdoctoral fellows, however were 89% in favor of the reintroduction of student fees, with the vast majority in favor of fees graduated by income.  University lecturers were most evenly divided among the three options (universal fees, fees varied by income, no fees).  Although the majority (72%) were in favor of fees, this was split between those who want universal fees (29%) and those who want graduated fees (42%).  We only had one respondent who identified themselves as a parent of an undergraduate and they were understandably NOT in favor of fees!  I haven’t closed the poll, so please feel free to vote if you have not yet and at the end of next week I will put up the complete results.

An ingenious audio guide to Tara

10 November 2010

Contributed by Anne Mac Lellan

A tapestry of green and brown fields guarded by haw-laden hedgerows unfolds on all sides. The summit of Tara, reached via a muddy path through squelching wet grass, rewards with views of twelve of Ireland’s counties. Under the mud, further treasures abound. However, without interpretation, it can be difficult to appreciate the significance and richness attached to Tara’s series of grassy ditches, mounds and dips.

A new audio guide infuses the landscape with meaning as the voice of broadcaster Mary Mulvihill guides the listener on a meandering journey through the site. Standing in front of the Mound of the Hostages, the story of ‘Tara boy’ unfolds. A robust 14-year-old, gender unknown, was probably the last person buried in the mound. He or she was the only person not to be cremated. The skeleton was adorned with a necklace of faience, bronze and amber beads while a dagger lay nearby. Read More

Reminder: please vote on fees!

8 November 2010

We’ve had a great response to the survey so far, but we’d like as many as possible.  If you haven’t voted yet, it takes approximately 30 seconds and requires you to answer two questions.

You can read the most recent Irish Times coverage on the subject if you want to know more before you vote. [UPDATE: See an interesting opinion piece by former DCU president Ferdinand von Prondzynski in today’s paper: ‘“Free fees” were a disaster for society and the third level system’.]

In searching for  news on the budget, I have discovered that there is Fantasy Budget a competition sponsored by the Irish Taxation Institute. I suspect they do not mean for you to fantasize about giving yourself and all your friends a giant tax break…

What is a postdoctoral fellow?

8 November 2010

By Juliana Adelman

I think the first time that I truly understood the term ‘existential crisis’ was when I learned that thirty-eight painters are engaged full time to paint the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  It wasn’t the tedium of their work that struck me.  In fact, I doubt that painting 100 to 200m up in the air over some of the world’s most stunning scenery could ever become tedious.  It was the fact that their work would never be done.  Not ever.  They would retire without feeling that sense of completion that I associate with work. Their job is to make something appear as though it never changes.

As the preceding paragraph has made abundantly clear, I should stick to history and stay away from philosophy.  Nonetheless, the past few years have made me increasingly question the point of what I do.  Will anything I write change anything or am I maintaining the paint on the Golden Gate Bridge?  It seems to me that this is a crisis of navel gazing which is almost unique to the postdoctoral fellow, although feel free to tell me that I am wrong.  A faculty member has PhD students and so is very likely to at least have some effect on the ideas of one or two people, even if she never publishes a word.  A PhD student, when not convinced he will never achieve anything, thinks she will change the world and that everyone before her was utterly misguided.  Your examiners provide an audience, however small.  A postdoc has incredible freedom (a freedom which is unlikely to be repeated in ANY type of future employment) but it comes at a price.  You are free because you are largely invisible: you keep the bridge painted. Read More