Posts Tagged ‘History Writing’

It’s the little things

27 September 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It was around this time last week. I was sitting at a desk in the OECD archives in Paris while the librarian showed me how to use Powerfilm, an unimaginably useful software programme that prints images from microfiche directly to pdf for the reader to take away and read at his/her leisure. Let me pause and run that by you again. Documents in the OECD are stored on microfiche, microfilm, or, in the case of more recent material, on pdf, so all that’s needed is to find the pages you want, click, save to a memory stick, and continue on your way. That means no paper print-outs, no photocopying costs, no hoping your digital photographs have come out ok when you get home, no more multiple packets of AA batteries for the same.

I know what you’re thinking: brilliant, and why can’t we have one of those. Yet in the midst of my stunned elation at saving time spent indoors when it was 24 degrees and, well, Paris outside, it did sow the germ of a question for this post: just how much has technology changed the way history is researched and written in the last two decades? Read More

Review: The Fethard-On-Sea Boycott

11 May 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Micro-history has pioneered a whole new genre of historical analysis where we look at history from the ground up. Irish writers have produced some fantastic micro-histories that examine various periods in Irish history and provide a unique insight into the mindset and lives of ordinary citizens. I am a big fan of this type of history and a couple of my favourite Irish micro-histories, which I think can rival even the best European micro-history, include Toby Barnard’s The abduction of a Limerick Heiress (Dublin, 1998), Des Elkin’s The Stolen Village (Dublin, 2006) and Brendan Twomey’s, Dublin in 1707: A year in the life of the city (Dublin, 2009). A personal favourite is Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary (London, 1999). The in-depth research that Bourke undertook for this book brings Bridget Cleary, her husband and their Tipperary community back to life.

It is with this in mind that I picked up Tim Fanning’s The Fethard-On-Sea Boycott which was released earlier this month. The Fethard-On-Sea Boycott recounts the story of a Catholic boycott of Protestant business people in a small Wexford village in 1957. The boycott became so bitter that it took the personal intervention of  Eamon De Valera to call a halt to the boycott. The incident started with a family dispute. A Protestant woman, Sheila Cloney, argued with her Catholic husband, Sean, about which local school to send their daughter to. The local Catholic clergy intervened and, with mounting pressure from both within her home and outside, Sheila left the village with her two daughters and went to Scotland. The boycott was carried out under the direction of the local parish priest who maintained that it would be upheld until Sheila returned her daughters to her husband for them to be sent to the local Catholic school.

The story offers up a lot of themes and possible threads. Read more

Book of the Decade

30 April 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Want to know what you can do with a history degree? The answer may well be write a historic novel! There certainly seems to be a ready market for them in Ireland. Bord Gais are sponsoring the vote for the best Irish book of the decade and with the overall shortlist consisting of 50 books a quick glance shows that history seems to be doing quite well. There are three history books nominated: Read more

PhD Diary: Andy Sargent

19 April 2010

Contributed by Andy Sargent, NUI Galway

Do you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? Originally the reason for starting my PhD was mainly due to a personal interest in my subject. Now, nearly three years on, my PhD has become a job – a job that needs to be completed!

In 20 words or less tell us why you decided to do a PhD? Great encouragement from my supervisor was one of the original factors.

Andy’s PhD Diary: I am at the writing up stage and I never expected it to be so difficult. As probably many PhD students find, a PhD cannot be written like all of those degree level essays which we used to rattle off in a day or two, putting it all together is a nightmare. A work-life balance needs to be found but life seems to always get in the way. I am eternally jealous of all those who have no children or partners to juggle studying around! [Note to self: will have to ensure that partner and children do not read this]. 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

Happily Ever After?

17 March 2010

By Christina Morin

With my own nuptials swiftly approaching, I’ve admittedly become a bit wedding-obsessed. In a bid to wean myself off my growing addiction to wedding magazines and wedding discussion forums, as well as to distract myself from the various seating plans, dress swatches, and rsvp cards with which I increasingly find myself surrounded, I popped into Waterstones for a browse. That I thought I could momentarily escape all things wedding related in a book shop was perhaps a little naive, but surely there had to be at least one or two books that I could flick through without reminding myself of the various to-do lists waiting for me on my desk? Realisation and resignation settled in when the first thing my eyes lit upon was Wendy Moore’s compellingly-titled exploration of marriage in eighteenth-century Britain, Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met his Match (2009). Following fast on the heels of Duchess, the 2008 cinematic rendering of the wedded trials of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Wedlock looks at the matrimonial horrors suffered by Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore. The richest heiress in late-eighteenth century England upon the death of her coal magnate father, Mary Eleanor became prey to the mercenary intents of the superficially charming but unscrupulous Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney – tellingly, the root of the contemporary expression still in use today: ‘ston(e)y broke’. Read more

PhD Diary: Gerry Sutton, UCC

11 January 2010

Contributed by Gerry Sutton, UCC

Do you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation?
What a question. My PhD was certainly not job in the conventional sense but it was hard work to motivate oneself. Passion and the burning desire to answer the questions and goals I set myself kept me going.

In 20 words or less tell us why you decided to do a PhD? To answer the seemingly unanswerable!

Gerry’s Diary: What a slog! Working full time and researching has been intense to say the least. My thesis has definitely been a labour of love that was born out of a small kernel of interest in the workings of landlord and tenant. Now, I’m attempting the impossible- justifying landlords actions!

Getting into the libraries and archives is my escape. I love to get my head buried in books and records for hours on end, often ignoring the protestations of my hunger pangs. Read more

PhD Diary: Justin Dolan Stover, Trinity College Dublin

21 December 2009

Contributed by Justin Dolan Stover

Do you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? Both.   If it were only a vocation the lack of funding and stability wouldn’t bother me.  If it were only a job I couldn’t sustain my motivation to work.  Having aspects of both keeps me driven and satisfied.

In 20 words or less, tell us why you decided to do a PhD? Being an academic historian is the most difficult profession I could think of; a PhD was the first step.

Justin’s diary: I have several times over the past calendar month attempted to clear my mind, sit and write a diary entry which would illustrate the experiences of an American studying in Ireland.  Numerous mental obstacles emerged, however, which prevented me from doing so.  Allow me to mention just one:  the annual experience of registering with immigration.  Last year my wife and I queued for many hours, waiting with others in the cold and rain, to present ourselves, our documents and €150 each, to legally remain in Ireland.  The ordeal lasted 13 hours.  This year we shaved that down to 7 hours.  I rose at 4am to join the queue and secure our place.  Arriving at Burgh Quay at 4.30am, I was eighth in line.  My wife joined me when the offices opened at 9am as she is four months pregnant and in need of a toilet every 45 minutes or so. Read more

Review: The GAA, a People’s History

17 November 2009

Contributed by Ida Milne

gaa_peoples_history[1]Some of my strongest childhood memories derive from the GAA.  Playing in family groups on the beach in Courtown,  when a radio was switched on and the Dads were collectively lured away to the hypnotic sound of GAA commentator extraordinaire Micheal O’Hehir,  or watching my father and the neighbours hurl on the pitch on our farm as I struggled with a downsized camán, or going to Ferns to welcome the team home from Croke Park with the traditional mountain of burning tyres, the column of black smoke drawing people from miles around to the reception, as Wexford celebrated yet another All-Ireland hurling championship win.  In the 60s the Rackard brothers were legends; when Nicky came into the yard to dose the cattle we hung around, starstruck.

The GAA was and is part of my cultural background. The fact that we went to a different church on a Sunday in no way impinged on that.  But in recent years, I have noticed that historians writing about the involvement of Protestants in the GAA have tended to focus on their otherness, rather than their sharing in the same culture. For me, the GAA was and is part of the ordinariness of life, not the difference.

When The GAA, A People’s History, was published recently, I eagerly anticipated that at last here was a bottom-up history of the association ideally positioned to chronicle  the everyday involvement of members of the Church of Ireland and other non-Catholic denominations or belief systems.

Here follows the book’s entire discussion of Protestant involvement in the organisation as it appears in the chapter ‘Religion’ Read more

PhD Diary: Léan Ní Chléirigh

16 November 2009

Contributed by Léan Ní Chléirigh of Trinity College Dublin

booksDo you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? I’m not sure it’s either, I love it but to call it a vocation implies that somehow my PhD will make a difference and unless your a medieval ethnographer (and maybe even if you are) it won’t.

In 20 words or less, tell us why you decided to do a PhD? I genuinely can’t remember, I thought I might be good at it…

Léan’s diary: I have just started my fourth year of research and have had to take stock of what I have done with the last three years of my life, which took about five minutes. I am one of those poor souls whose PhD morphed dramatically in the beginning of third year and as a result some of my first two years’ work became redundant and I was left with only 15,000 words to my name. I know now that it was for the best but I cried for a month when it happened (Oversharing? Anyone who tells you they haven’t cried over their PhD is lying or has no soul). Read more