Archive for the ‘History in the news’ Category

The Irish Landed Estates Database

12 July 2011

Contributed by Joanne McEntee

One could be forgiven for supposing that the contemporary terms ‘ghost estates’ or ‘abandoned estates’ merely exist as part of the historic nomenclature of the now defunct world of operating Irish landed estates. Yet the ghost estates of yesteryear are now as visible and accessible to the public as their twenty-first century brethren thanks to the recent launch of the Munster Landed Estates Database. Complementing the already existing Connacht database and maintained by the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies, National University of Ireland, Galway, the Landed Estates Database provides a comprehensive and integrated resource guide to landed estates and historic houses in Connacht and Munster, c. 1700-1914. Seeking to assist and support researchers working on social, economic, political and cultural Irish history, this user-friendly website should not confound even those claiming not to be au fait with the rapidly expanding world of digitization. The fact alone that the website records over 4500 houses and provides images for approximately half of those bears testament to the Trojan work of the researchers Marie Boran and Brigid Clesham in undertaking such a monumental task. Read More

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Remembering Declan Costello (1926-2011)

15 June 2011

Contributed by Ciara Meehan

I had the privilege of having lunch with Declan Costello in Leinster House in early 2009.  He was engaging, honest, and struck me as being an absolute gentleman.  We talked about why he drafted the Just Society when he did, the influences behind his thinking, and the challenges he faced in having it accepted by Fine Gael.  When I asked him what he thought of the document’s long-term legacy, he seemed disillusioned, admitting that it had not impacted on Fine Gael or on society as he had hoped.

The Just Society aimed to make a reality the concepts of freedom and equality.  Published as Fine Gael’s election manifesto for the 1965 election, Towards a Just Society proposed reforms in the field of economics (including a Ministry for Economic Affairs), changes in the Dáil and Seanad, an increase in the number of schools and teachers, an extension of the health services, a choice of doctor for all, and changes to social welfare.  Progressive, forward looking and with minimal references to Fianna Fáil, it signalled a break with the past and a shift away from Fine Gael’s traditional policies.

Declan Costello was first elected to the Dáil in 1951 at the age of 25 for the working-class constituency of Dublin North-West.  As the son of a former Taoiseach from a privileged background, his interest in social justice was perhaps peculiar.  But in his constituency he encountered emigration, unemployment and poverty; problems that were replicated throughout the country in the 1950s.  Ireland had not experienced the post-war boom enjoyed by other western countries, but the Seán Lemass / T.K. Whitaker programme for economic recovery resulted in a rise in confidence.  However, economic modernisation was not complemented with a social development strategy, and despite Lemass’s oft-cited ‘rising tide lifts all boats’, he himself admitted in 1963 that inequalities and distortions had emerged or widened. Read more

Remembering Garret FitzGerald (1926-2011)

20 May 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It was early July 2005. I was sitting in Garret FitzGerald’s front room, in the midst of an hour-long conversation about his time as Irish minister for foreign affairs, when my interviewee stopped me in mid-sentence. I’d been asking him why Ireland had refused to open full diplomatic relations with Portugal until – as I had it in my preparation notes – 1975, after the Revolution of the Carnations and the fall of the Caetano regime. ‘1974’, FitzGerald corrected me. But being a confident young postgraduate less than a year into my PhD, I was standing my ground. ‘No’, I said. ‘I believe it was 1975.’ ‘Really?’ came the reply, shocked less, I think, at the response than at the idea that he might have made an error in his dates.

He mumbled something and left the room – in a rather sprightly fashion I might add – and I sat there for a while, wondering where he’d gone, and who’d eventually find the stone from one of the cherries he’d been eating after lunch and dropped under his chair. (It makes for a nice little moment on the tape.) About five minutes later he returned brandishing a copy of the annual State Directory and an admission that yes, I had been correct. We carried on our conversation from there, passing through his story of enraging the Germans over the Irish insistence on spending someone else’s money (on foreign aid – but plus ça change nonetheless), on the way to borrowing the Fijian foreign minister’s glasses in Lomé, west Africa, in 1975, but without me ever finding out why – or where – he held a private collection of official publications in the comfort of his own home. Read More

‘Big Society’ debate rumbles on

16 May 2011

By Juliana Adelman

In late March the Observer ran an article claiming that the major humanities funding body in the UK (AHRC) had agreed under duress to put a large proportion of its funding resources towards research into the ‘Big Society‘.  The newspaper asserted that the new Tory-led government had forced this concession in order to direct humanities research to underpin the party’s own values and plans.  The AHRC disagreed with this interpretation of events and issued a statement on the subject that you can read here and a slightly more recent one here.  While the debate has continued to attract attention from scholars and has often been in the papers, it seems to have heated up again recently with the publication of a letter by the director of the AHRC in the Times Higher Education supplementThere is a petition on the go and I have received a notice on the subject from a couple of email lists that I belong to.  In short, a lot of academics are really angry and concerned that this marks the end of freedom in research in the UK.  Reference is often made to the Haldane Principle which established that research funding decisions should be made by other researchers rather than politicians. I find the idea of funneling research money into political ideologies to be both laughable and worrisome in a democracy.  Nevertheless, I also find it slightly disingenuous that researchers are claiming that having the decision in their own hands is a complete guarantee of academic freedom.  Surely academics also live in the political and social world and are thereby vulnerable to other influences aside from those of their discipline? And of course academia has its own set of politics which are admittedly different from government politics but have a significant impact nonetheless.  What do you think?

W(h)ither the humanities?

6 April 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

The outlook – to borrow a typically understated phrase from our friends in Met Éireann – is changeable. Academic discussion in the last two months in Ireland has been dominated by comment (informed and less-so) about changes to university structures and the future of the humanities in a period of deep recession. In the UK, the frightening prospect of diverting state funding through the Arts and Humanities Research Council to the study of the ‘big society’ has prompted a strong defence of academic freedom. At the same time, a parallel debate has been raging at secondary school level, where commentators like Niall Ferguson bemoan the ‘ruination’ of history, hemmed in by national boundaries while the world – and academic profession – becomes transnational. At each turn, the image of the good ship humanities listing violently in an economic storm has become increasingly difficult to ignore.

A little over two weeks ago, Ireland’s own Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the source of funding for so much that is positive about research in Ireland over the last eleven years, hosted Martha Nussbaum, the University of Chicago-based philosopher and author of Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, in the second in its lecture series on ‘The Public Intellectual’. At the heart of her address was a plea for recognition of the importance of the humanities to democracy: Read More

Help! Know any planetary history?

28 March 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

The beauty of history, to add to Juliana’s list, to me lies in its never-ending possibilities. It’s like finding an author you love and discovering they’ve written ten other novels all waiting to be read. Or falling in love with a band on their sixth album and delving through their back catalogue. There’s always something out there that you don’t know, something that you should know, a genre that you hadn’t even known existed.

Early last month, in response to a post that I wrote on the practice of contemporary history in Ireland, Juliana made a simple but telling comment:

If we truly think that history is integral to humanity, then it must be the history of humanity that we aim for. This means being aware of the ways in which being aware of the ways in which different disciplines address the same questions that historians do and acknowledging that the political state is not always the correct viewpoint from which to pose a question.

I am, I admit, a bit of a fool for big ideas. Read More

‘History is about two sides. Like in a war’

26 March 2011

By Juliana Adelman

Image: Maine Depart of Labor Mural (panels 7-9) by Judy Taylor

I hope you won’t think I am being too indulgent by highlighting a controversy over labor history that a friend of mine has found herself landed in.  Judy Taylor painted a mural for the Department of Labor in the state of Maine.  The paintings hang in the reception area of the department and depict the history of labor in the state.  The paintings make explicit reference to a number of episodes in history, with a focus on laborers.  The new governor of Maine, Paul LePage has decided to have the mural taken down for being one-sided.  According to LePage, it is unfriendly to business and discourages cooperation: ‘History is about two sides.  Like in a war’.  You can see various press coverage of the controversy here, here and here.  You can hear some radio coverage here.  Apparently, business representatives have complained about being faced with the mural while sitting in reception.

The controversy struck me as interesting and also very American.  We really are a nation who likes to forget the past.  No matter that Judy’s mural depicts an artistic interpretation of real history, we don’t like how it makes us feel so please let’s take it down.  When asked what it would be replaced with, LePage’s spokesperson said ‘something neutral’.  Is there anything neutral????  Maybe he means something that has nothing to do with labor history at all.  Contrary to what LePage was trying to suggest, he is not offering to present ‘two sides’ but to be selective about the story that is told.  Judy’s mural seems to have been construed as biased by presenting labor history from the laborer’s perspective.  LePage’s objections do not remove the fact that child labor and strikes happened.  Anyway, I just wanted to point it out because it seems to me to raise a lot of issues of interest to historians.  Plus (and I may be biased) I think the paintings are great.

‘Applause please’: Innovations in Irish electioneering

23 February 2011

Contributed by Ciara Meehan

Polling day is now almost upon us.  By this stage the leaflets of various parties will have come through our letter boxes, while the lucky (?) few will have been canvassed directly by the candidates themselves.  The usual gimmickry is evident: the election has produced a proliferation of campaign songs; Maman Poulet has collected some of them on her blog.  And although this has not been an internet election, twitter, Facebook and other on-line media have had a noticeable presence.  Ireland, it would seem, is embracing the post-modern or digital age of campaigning.  But the combination of traditional gimmicks with new techniques and technologies to reach a wider audience is nothing new.

In the late 1920s and early thirties, Cumann na nGaedheal took an innovative approach to electioneering.  The Dublin North by-election of March 1929 was an arid political battle that attracted little attention; the parties simply went through the motions.  One event, however, that did inject some life into the campaign occurred on polling day.  A private aeroplane flown by Colonel Fitzmaurice – one of the three-man crew that piloted the first flight from Europe to North American on board the Bremen aeroplane the previous year – flew over the constituency, dropping the leaflets of the Cumann na nGaedheal candidate, Dr Thomas O’Higgins.  Read More

The Story of the King James Bible

21 February 2011

By Christina Morin

While in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago, I took the opportunity to visit the exhibition I mentioned in this month’s recommendations: ‘Great and Manifold Blessings: The Making of the King James Bible’. Just before going, I happened upon Diarmaid MacCulloch’s review piece, ‘How good is it?’ in the London Review of Books (3 February 2011). In it, MacCulloch states, ‘The story of the KJB and its influence has often been told, and we will hear it repeated to distraction in this quartercentenary year. If one wonders whether it’s worth telling again, well, like the KJB itself, it sells, and good luck to publishers who turn an honest penny by it’. If ever you’ve booked yourself into a hotel and had a rummage through the bedside table drawers, you’ve probably found yourself a KJB. I have a copy or two of the KJB myself, as I imagine lots of Irish households do, and though its language can be excessively formal, flowery, and archaic, especially in an atmosphere in which there is an ever-increasing number of translations that target twenty-first century readers with twenty-first century language (here I’m thinking specifically of The Message), the KJB remains a bestseller today, four hundred years after it was first produced.

Part of the KJB’s continued attraction is the transformation it effected in seventeenth-century English social, religious, and cultural life as well as the ongoing effect it arguably still has on many facets of twenty-first century life. In an article published in The Guardian last November, Robert McCrum calls the KJB ‘a number one bestseller of unprecedented literary significance’ that has fundamentally ‘shaped our imaginative landscape’. With stronger language still, McCrum claims, ‘As well as selling an estimated 1bn copies since 1611, the KJB went straight into our literary bloodstream like a lifesaving drug’. He further notes that many well-used words – ‘scapegoat’ and ‘long-suffering’, for instance – as well as favourite idiomatic sayings – ‘fighting the good fight’, for example, or ‘see the writing on the wall’ – come directly from the KJB. Read more

‘When the press is gagged, the reader must read between the lines’

16 February 2011

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

In a time of political crisis, when real power eludes us or there is huge uncertainty about what we want or how to solve our problems, words may be the best weapon we have. It is journalism and editorial comment that so often articulate the mood, and the concerns of a society, and through words – whether printed or increasingly online – that we manage to reflect meaningfully on what is going on, and even to sketch out, discuss and debate ideas and possible solutions. The value of good editorial commentary – whether in national newspapers or blogs; Fintan O’Toole or Ireland after Nama – has become increasingly clear during Ireland’s recent years of political crisis. The more immediate Egyptian crisis is another, urgent indication of the importance of courageous, independent voices, even if their medium is more likely to be Twitter than newspapers.

The outspoken antifascist Piero Gobetti attempted to play this role in Italy during the early years of Mussolini’s rule, trying desperately to raise the Italian people’s political consciousness, before his premature death on February 16 1926, eighty-five years ago today.

Born in 1901, this ‘boy wonder’ of Turin began his career as journalist and editor at the precocious age of 17, and at a time when Italy was in a state of chaos. Read More