Archive for the ‘History in the news’ Category

How do we write contemporary history anyway?

24 January 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: another piece of shameless self-promotion from a member of the Pue’s collective. Well I can promise you, this is far from that. We are living – in case you hadn’t noticed – through historical times. The fabric of our economic and social systems is unravelling before our eyes, while our politicians continue to play the ‘game’ of electioneering and party politics. I never thought I’d see the day when the spectre of a chess-playing Charles Haughey hovering over my name would seem less threatening than a click to the front page of The Irish Times. On Friday (21 January 2011), I even found myself agreeing with John Waters in the same newspaper (a momentous occasion indeed): ‘No matter how bad things get, our collective sense of what is important can always be diverted into the drama of politics, which we are prone to mistake for reality.’

But what – if anything – are historians to make of it? Read More

Something for the weekend: the King’s speech

7 January 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The King’s Speech is released today and getting promising reviews. The film has received seven nominations for the Golden Globes with Colin Firth receving some glowing comments for his performance. The plot focuses on George VI (Colin Firth) who takes the throne after his brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), abdicates to marry his divorcee girlfriend Wallace Simpson. Not expecting to inherit the throne, George VI suffered with a bad speech impediment and the story focuses on his battle to overcome this. The trailer for the film can be viewed here. We would like to hear what you think if you go to view the film and comments can be posted below.

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

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

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.

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…

Where do we go from here?

3 November 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

 It seems increasingly likely that from September Undergraduate Students will have to pay up to €3,000 in fees. The Irish Times reported on Monday that this would consist of the €1,500 registration fee which they currently pay and up to a further €1,500 on a ‘new student contribution’. While on Monday it looked like the suggestion of an increase in the registration fees would at least cause ‘tension in the government’, Tuesday brought news that the Greens have given in once more and have supported the increase of €1,000 in registration fees to bring them up to €2,500. Savings from the educational sector through an increase in registration fees are expected to yield €80 million for the Irish Revenue. Today students take to the streets to object against this registration fee increase but it seems unlikely that the government will back down.

How exactly is it proposed that students will pay these fees? Well presumably the government assumes that middle class parents across the country will fork out the cash for their children but what about everyone else? Yesterday the Department of Education ruled out the possibility of putting in place an Australian-type  loan scheme to cover the increased amount which students are being asked to pay. This will send those struggling to pay the fees to part-time work (if they can get it) and to banks for loans.

As someone who benefitted during the Celtic Tiger and did not have to pay fees this is a horrifying prospect. Cutbacks across the board will make it even more difficult for school goers to make it to college, or at least without building up huge personal debt. I had several friends who went to college in the UK and facilitated this through bank loans which were in ready supply in Britain. Experiencing this culture of borrowing at a personal level to both pay for college fees and other expenses has meant that once they left college at 21 or 22 they were saddled with huge debts and had a much more relaxed view to just taking out a loan and building their debt further.

But without fees where can Irish Universities go? Read more

Random history from my month of July

8 October 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

At the beginning of the summer, tired of trying to remember all those good things I’d seen/heard of and intended to include in our monthly recommendations, but just didn’t quite get around to, I had what I thought was a clever idea. I’d start a list, include everything that sparked my interest in the course of one month (July), recommendable or not, and come autumn I would have an interesting image of my media and reading habits, and how history crosses their paths over the course of four weeks.

Looking back over my hand-written notes, digital lists, and a number of bookmarked web pages, what I’ve collected strikes me as an interesting reflection of our interaction with the waves of media that wash over us. Some things stick, and not always the ones you might imagine. You might think that it would prove a very personal, and a very idiosyncratic list. And you’d be right. You might think that its voyage would be very difficult to track, would make quite an egocentric piece, and be of little interest to anyone else. And you’d be sort of right. But it’s now autumn and what I’ve collected feels like a Friday piece, so read on through my notes at your peril and I’ll let you be the judge.

  • Leadbelly’s false history. [Explanatory note: This was from an article in The Word detailing how the back-story of American blues musician Leadbelly was greatly exaggerated by marketing men in order to heighten his appeal among white audiences. Good ideas never grow old, etc.]
  • ‘Folk’ music as an invention of the Victorians. First reference to folk music not until 1843 and didn’t enter dictionary until late C19th. [From a podcasted interview with Rob Young, author of Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music (about 11.55 in). Young revealed that the term ‘folk music’ was, in fact, largely an invention of the Victorians. ‘Ploughmen are not sitting out there in the sixteenth century thinking about going to the folk club tonight.’]
  • Italian painter Caravaggio killed someone. How he was killed himself. Read More