Archive for the ‘Pue’s Soap Box’ Category

I’ve been used!

20 January 2011

By Juliana Adelman

In theory, there is nothing more exciting for the academic than to find that her work has actually been read by someone and even, gasp, cited!  It is less exciting, however, to discover it being mustered in the cause of intelligent design.  Someone in cyberspace has seized upon an article of mine as evidence that evolution never happened.  Mind you my article does not have much at all to do with evolution or intelligent design.  Instead it is about the importance of personality, reputation and media exposure in the consolidation of scientific opinion.  Nonetheless, since I do mention Darwin one time it was doubtless this that brought the article to the reader’s googling.  I am not going to provide a link to the website, but if you are curious you can google ‘Eozoon’ and it will come up.

The fact that my article is being used by a pro-creationist lobby is slightly disturbing, although I have to admit that the lobbiest in question clearly read and understood the article and used my ideas in a rather subtle and clever attack on scientific authority.  While most historians of science are neither creationists nor relativists, recent historiographical trends have offered ample ammunition for these groups to seize upon.  Historical narratives depicting a heroic quest for scientific truth are now limited to popular science.  Instead, we tell stories of how one idea gathered support at the expense of others offering diverse nonscientific causes including social, political and cultural needs. Read more

What makes a good exhibition great? Monet at the Grand Palais

5 October 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It’s something I’m sure most of us have in common. In our lives we’ve spent millions of slow footsteps dodging the digital camera-wielding bus tourists and the unenthusiastic schoolchildren led around by stressed-looking teachers and harassed tour guides. We remember some of them. Others fade quickly into a mist of ‘did I see that?’ But only sometimes do we stop to think more deeply about what captures our attention and what turns a collection of paintings and artefacts into a memorable exhibition.

Should we be guided along in a thematic or chronological sequence? Do we prefer to be left alone? Lots or little text? How much background do we need? And what about interactive touch screens? Audio guides? Introductory films?

It is, of course, predominantly a matter of personal taste. When I go to a museum, I’m searching for an elusive property: the space to engage with the subject matter physically, but also just the right amount of information to make up my own mind about the subject matter in front of me. Whether that makes me typical or not, I have no idea, but I know that sometimes a curator can get it so right that it leaves everyone – consciously or not – with the sense that they’ve been allowed to see something special.

The Claude Monet retrospective which opened at Paris’s Grand Palais on 22 September does just that. Read More

Hindsight, it’s a wonderful thing

21 September 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

‘Governments, consultancies and investment banks rushed to hire economists, who were thought to possess vital skills and information. Historians, by contrast, were treated as mere entertainers and storytellers. They were archive-grubbers, lacking in scientific method – good on television, but useless with a PowerPoint and no help in government or the boardroom.’

A tad simplistic, a little provocative, Gideon Rachman’s comments in the Financial Times on the difference between historians and economists – he’s on ‘our’ side – have stuck in my brain. And not just because of the conversation they sparked in that august journal and across the blogosphere.

About a week ago, I gave a paper at a symposium organised by the Development Studies Association Ireland, the lone historian among a cohort of social scientists, economists, aid workers, natural scientists, aid officials and bureaucrats. Great company and a great audience to test some of the theories of my current project – the history of Irish foreign aid, in 15 short minutes. But I could see it in their eyes, and I could hear it in the question of one audience member: yes, this is all very well and a nice little story too, but what does it tell us about aid giving in the recessionary climate of 2010?

Well, quite a lot actually, I replied. But just what is not the point of this post. Or, rather, it is. Read More

History for the dogs

8 July 2010

By Juliana Adelman

At the risk of boring those of you who are not already on your holidays, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on changing ideas of historical actors.  To get straight to the point: are dogs the new working classes?  The idea of history from below reaching beyond the human species is not especially radical in ‘animal studies’ circles.  Nevertheless, I am guessing that most historians would be reluctant to embrace the idea that a nonhuman animal be treated as a historical actor with agency.  I would tend to agree,  even as a person who studies the history of animals and who rather likes dogs.

There are some compelling reasons to consider animals as actors and as having some kind of agency.  For starters we are animals and we don’t really quite understand what it is about us that is so different from other animals.  Genetically, it amounts to very little.  So far scientists have found a very small number of uniquely human genes (discovered by Aoife McLysaght’s laboratory in TCD).  In terms of intelligence, we are aware that other animals are highly intelligent and have sophisticated means of communication.  As I noted in a different post, dolphins have recently been dubbed ‘nonhuman persons’ because of their intellectual capacity (as defined by humans).  There is, however, the minor matter of not leaving written records. Read more

Blogging the Humanities: arts, culture, heritage, humanities online, TCD 3 June 2010

8 May 2010

Pue’s is almost a year old and, we thought, what better way to celebrate than to organise a symposium on the arts, culture, heritage and humanities blogging community in Ireland – where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re going in future. Hosted in the TCD Irish Art Research Centre, the day is intended to provide an informal format that will stimulate lots of debate and discussion, led by a group of speakers from Ireland After Nama, The Irish Left Archive, Come Here to Me!, History Compass, Some Blind Alleys, UCD Academic Blogging, Sligo Model Gallery Blog, and, of course, your very own Pue’s. We welcome the input of all voices – from history, arts, culture, heritage and beyond, sceptics and otherwise – so if you’re interested, have a look at our dedicated conference page and keep an eye out on Pue’s for more details closer to the event. Registration is via our online form only and numbers are limited, so we would encourage you to do so early. We look forward to seeing you there!

Auxiliary Cadets and the ‘Black and Tans’

27 April 2010

Contributed by Donal Fallon

The following article aims to address what I see as a significant misunderstanding, even at the highest level of historical research, about state forces during the years of what is widely labeled the ‘War of Independence’. Auxiliary Cadets of the Royal Irish Constabulary are consistently lumped in with the seperate ‘Black and Tans’ to create the overall historical figure of the ‘Black and Tan’. Many events involving Auxiliaries, in popular Irish history, are associated with ‘The Tans’.

Florence O’ Donoghue, a leading republican involved with the Cork No.1 Brigade of the I.R.A, wrote of the differences between the two forces briefly in his article The Sacking Of Cork. The Royal Irish Constabulary, O’ Donoghue believed, had been strengthened by “..a reinforcement of British jail-birds and down-and-outs who had been hastily recruited into the force in England when candidates had ceased to offer themselves in Ireland. These instruments of despicable policy were the origin of the expression ‘Black and Tan’”. Read More

Behind the scenes at the Dublin Natural History Museum

20 April 2010

By Juliana Adelman

Cleaning glass and dusting are activities that I avoid in my own house, but for some reason in the context of the Dublin Natural History Museum they seemed like fun.  Last Friday Ciarán Wallace and I spent the day getting a completely different perspective on my favourite Dublin cultural institution.  The museum is to open on the 29th of April after three years and I am glad to say that nothing much will have changed except the paint.  They also have a nice new structurally sound staircase.  Unfortunately the downturn in public finances spelled the end for the museum’s renovation project which would have added disabled access, a cafe, a separate education room and proper toilets.  Despite this disappointment I am delighted to see the museum reopening and am glad it will retain its Victorian character.  I thought I would share some photos from our day of dusting and scrubbing.  I had the bizarre experience of looking at the museum from inside the glass cases while the animals sat outside!  Seeing the specimens out of context confirmed for me the degree to which the display structures of the traditional cabinet museum present a particular message to the viewer.  Although innovative taxidermy towards the close of the nineteenth century posed animals in family groups or in active scenes (the museum has a few bloody examples of animals eating prey), there is no question that animals in glass boxes do not trouble you with their gaze in quite the same way.  Anyway, read on to enjoy a different perspective on the museum.  Read More

Sketches of conferensis

16 April 2010

By Juliana Adelman

Conference season is nearly upon us.  Oh, the academic conference…  On the one hand they are vital means of communication, feedback, idea sharing and ‘networking’.  On the other hand, they are overly numerous, expensive, time-consuming and often disappointing.  I have to say that I recall my first academic conference with considerable fondness.  I was in the first year of my PhD and I went to Manchester for the British Society for the History of Science’s annual postgraduate conference.  I was so nervous before my talk that I couldn’t eat and almost lost the half a sandwich I managed to stuff into my dry mouth.  On the way back from lunch with a group of my colleagues, a rather indiscreet participant told my fellow panelist not to worry about her talk as the other papers in her session sounded horribly boring.  He meant MY paper, of course.  Just the thing to calm the nerves.  However, once the talk was out of the way, there I was, surrounded by other people who also liked the history of science!  Hurrah!  Shared esoteric knowledge is truly salve to the lonely postgrad soul.  Now I have (mostly) got over the pre-talk jitters.  I have moved to the dark side of conference organisation, full of budget spread sheets, orphan bank accounts with strange names, nagging emails (mine), whining emails (theirs), revised programmes, registration forms and conference packs.  To be honest, I much prefer sweating over giving a paper. Read More

Archives in crisis: the response

12 April 2010

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

On Saturday over 250 archivists, archive readers, students, staff and researchers from across the humanities packed into Trinity’s arts block for the ‘Archives in Crisis’ symposium and they were just the ones who made it in. Every seat in the lecture theatre was taken and those who had not arrived early were lined up against the wall or forced to take a seat on the steps- ten minutes into the symposium the security staff were turning people away at the door. The overwhelming turn out on a beautifully sunny day confirms how seriously people feel about objecting to the planned government merger of the National Archives of Ireland into the National Library of Ireland.

Moderated by Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, historian of UCD, he thanked everyone for attending and Peter Crooks for organising the event and bringing everyone together. The first speaker was Catriona Crowe, chairperson of the archivist’s branch of IMPACT, who outlined the difficult position the NAI were currently in. Underfunded and with a staff of only 44 the archives are currently forced to limit their processing and archiving to only certain government departments and in January 2010 the archive announced that they could not process the files due to be opened to the public under the 30 year rule. Read more

Some thoughts on how we do what we do – historians, that is

30 March 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently and, since time is always precious, trying to figure out ways of increasing my productivity. My current favourite tactic is to write in short bursts, working on a text until lunchtime before switching to do a different kind of research for the rest of the afternoon when the brain begins to slow. For those few hours, I abide no music, no radio, and no internet (the latter is crucial). The bookstand on my desk keeps my notes or text-that-I’m-about-to-pull-apart-in-the-editing-process at eye level, to save me from that pain between the shoulder blades known mainly to modern slaves of the laptop. It works better if I can put my feet up somewhere, or if I have a swivel chair, and I’m thinking about trying out journalist David Hepworth’s insistence that writing works better while standing up. Sometimes I read the text out loud to check its cadence and rhythm – but only before the others I share the office with arrive; no need to frighten people.

So in the middle of writing a seminar paper last month, I was intrigued to pick up the Saturday Guardian and read its ’10 rules for writers’ assembled from the advice of a number of prominent fiction authors. Read More