Archive for the ‘Pue’s Soap Box’ Category

The streets of Dublin

16 November 2011

By Juliana Adelman

I was very excited to delve into Lief Jerram’s Streetlife: the untold history of Europe’s twentieth century.  Unlike pretty much everyone I’ve talked to, though, I was rather disappointed.  In fact, I still haven’t finished it.  I could see what Jerram was trying to do.  I liked the writing and the integration of material.  But for me the book wasn’t really getting to the heart of the matter.  Jerram repeatedly asserted the importance of the street in history without really discovering what the street IS.  In fact, the book is really urban history rather than much to do with street life per se.  What makes things happen in one street and not in another?  We all know that some streets ‘feel’ different to others and that landing into a foreign city can throw off our personal radar that detects which streets are friendly and which are dangerous.  But Jerram wasn’t really interested in this, as far as my reading of the first few chapters could gather.  He was merely asserting the importance of the space or place in which history happens.  No one with even a passing acquaintance with historical geography could find this argument novel.  I’m sure Jerram fans will pepper the comments section with complaints that I am completely wrong based on the last two chapters of book.  So fire away and I promise to go back and read them.

My knowledge of the historiography of the twentieth century is admittedly limited.  Ninteenth-century historians seem to have been far more interested in street life, perhaps because of the evocative picture of vice and decay that can be found in many primary sources and in Charles Dickens’ extensive output.  Victorian London, in particular, has been the subject of numerous volumes devoted to its underworld and to the varieties of urban life it housed. Read more

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Where did it all go wrong? History’s battle for souls

12 September 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Since this is, after all, a history blog, we should probably start with the evidence. There is enough casual interest in our subject in Ireland to sustain a healthy publishing industry (peruse the catalogues of Irish Academic Press, Four Courts Press, UCD Press, UCC Press, Mercier, Gill and Macmillan et al for evidence), a dedicated monthly magazine (History Ireland), two national radio programmes (Newstalk’s Talking History and RTÉ’s The History Show), and a growing online community of bloggers and history writers. The genealogy industry continues to blossom, drawing in tourists from across the world in search of their Irish roots. Millions of others flock to Newgrange, Trinity College, Dublin Castle and a whole host of historical sites across the country. You can banquet, medieval style, at Bunratty. You can watch re-enacted cavalry training or musket fire at the Battle of the Boyne site near Drogheda. Or, if you’re not the going-out type, you can turn on the television any night of the week and watch a high-quality documentary on some period of Ireland’s recent – and not-so-recent – past (take a bow, TG4).

But still you get the feeling that something’s missing.

(more…)

Time for a change

8 September 2011

By Juliana Adelman

Autumn has always been my favorite season.  Where I come from in New England (see picture to the left) it is certainly the most spectacular season.  Even in Dublin there is a noticeable clarity to the air and a certain brightness that you don’t get any other time of year.  Perhaps it is because I can’t seem to get away from places of education, but I always think of autumn as the start of the year.  I tend to make my resolutions in September and not in January.  This year there have already been lots of changes (moving house and my son starting ‘big’ school) but I also feel the need for some changes of my own.  I thought I would share my autumn resolutions with Pue’s.  Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

1. Read more novels.  I don’t know about you, but I have an office full of nonfiction and a pile of nonfiction next to my bed.  Some of this is pleasure, most of it is work.  I am beginning to think that I have lost touch with story telling and good writing, which is sadly in scarce supply in many history books.  I am hoping fiction is the antidote. Read more

The writing is the hardest part

29 August 2011

By Juliana Adelman

So here I am again, surrounded by notes and papers and books littered with colorful sticky tabs.  I have more than enough material and yet I find myself making a list of other things I should look up.  This will give me a number of tasks in the library that will make me feel as though I am accomplishing something yet I will be no closer to the end result.  Of course writing is the hardest part because it is the task through which we add up facts to make something more than the sum of their parts.  Writing is the creative part of the historical process, the one in which you allow yourself into the picture.  You have to put all your flaws, or your potentially flawed arguments, on display for everyone to read.  It is much easier to keep gathering ammunition and hope you can simply bombard potential readers with facts until they beg for mercy and agree.  Not that I like to read anything written in this way, but at least it has the appearance of solidity.  This is my effort at breaking writer’s block and hopefully providing you with some interesting reading/listening as well. Read more

Carnival Museum

27 July 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

In my last post I mentioned that I visited Cuba this summer. The one museum I had as a ‘must see’ was the Carnival Museum in Santiago de Cuba. The earliest written record of Carnival being celebrated in Santiago dates to 1679 and the festivities centered around dancing and drinking to mark and celebrate the summer season. Its believed the practice probably came from Spain where Carnivals were held from the sixteenth century. Carnival in Santiago is one of the biggest celebration of its kind in the Caribbean.

The Carnival Museum exhibits costumes, masks and musical instruments which were used in the parades and festivities and brings visitors through the history of the festivity in Santiago documenting periods when the Carnival was prohibited or when certain groups were not allowed to take part.  Photographs are not allowed in the museum so I was limited to photographing some of the murals on the walls outside.

The museum draws a huge number of tourists and the museum made me think of  St. Patrick’s Day Festival. I have to admit that I was really impressed this year by the Dublin parade which had a literary theme to celebrate the city being awarded the title of a UNESCO literary city. Read more

Letters to Ireland: I, the tight rope

11 May 2011


My dearest Pue,

As your country now finds itself again brought down into the deepest misery and prostration as a result of that universal character of the Irish—improvidence—I hope that your readers would be obliged to consider, in a series of letters, the suggestions of a concerned friend to the country for its immediate and sustained improvement.

Although not an Irishman, I have forever cherished the virtues and characters of this green and lovely land and I wish to see it swiftly restored to peace, happiness and prosperity.  I propose to travel around the countryside, and to view for myself its present circumstances, gathering in a most impartial and empirical fashion those facts needed for its future growth and regeneration. Read more

Dublin UNESCO City of Literature- one year on

4 May 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

  Last week Dublin City Council launched the festival programme for this the Dublin Writer’s Festival 2011. A quick look at the schedule shows that this year’s festival, which takes place 23-29 May, is bigger, brighter and more ambitious than ever before. The festival will include some of Ireland’s finest writer’s including Anne Enright, Dermot Healy, Roddy Doyle, Colm Tobin, John Boyne and Seamus Heaney (I could go on).  The International lineup is also excellent and includes Michal Palin, Paul Theoroux, Paul Harding (Pulitzer winner for Fiction 2010) and Czeslaw Milosz (a Nobel laureate)There will even be a link up with other UNESCO literary cities by a live link-up. The festival will be covered by Sky Arts.

So the festival is maturing and growing up. Quite naturally of course considering that Dublin became a UNESCO City of Literature nearly one year ago (26 July 2010).  This was greeted with great enthusiasm as it has the potential of show-casing further Ireland’s literary talent, encouraging the arts and of course it might bring in a few more tourists! So a year on how is the city faring with its new title? Well on the surface things look good. Read more

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

What is the point?

21 March 2011

By Juliana Adelman

As Lisa has already highlighted, the academic job market is currently in full swing (or half swing, given the ‘e’ word).  Applying for jobs tends to turn one cynical in the best of times. The process of composing cover letters that summarize years of one’s life in 500 words or less can be soul destroying.  The type of self-representation which is required by those engaged in the academic job hunt tends to reinforce the distance between ‘professional’ historians and everyone else with an interest in history.  With this in mind, I thought it might be good to get a discussion going as to why we do history since I think this represents common ground for everyone with an interest in the subject.  I have given 5 reasons below and I hope others will add theirs in the comments section.

1. I am nosy and I bet you are too.  People like to know about other people.  I have recently read (in On Deep History and the Brain by D L Smail) of a theory in neuroscience which suggests that gossip is a form of addictive behavior.  Gossiping releases endorphins and helps people to combat psychological ‘slumps’.  And really what is history at its most basic but a form of gossip?  On a more serious note, history is a means of examining ourselves and may be considered, as Roger Smith argues, an integral part of what it means to be human. Read more

The challenges of contemporary history

8 February 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I’ve been thinking a lot (again) recently about how we do what we do. First, the squeeze on public sector spending and comments made in The Irish Times by Glen Dimplex chairman Martin Naughton– ‘it’s crazy for the Government to borrow money and then give it away on overseas aid’ (3 December 2010) – put me in mind of the travails of the Irish aid industry in the 1980s and the lessons they offer to today’s policy-makers. Then, as I sat distilling my thoughts – we’ve been here before, don’t you know – an invite came from the Irish Historical Society to take part in a roundtable discussion on the challenges of writing contemporary history. More time for reflection, further opportunity to think and talk out the future of our profession – what procrastinating historian wouldn’t jump at the chance?

Of course, holding opinions is one thing; articulating them is another. Read More