Archive for September, 2013

Changing Ideals: Ireland in Transition

Tim McMahon is associate professor of Irish history at Marquette University and author of Grand Opportunity: The Gaelic Revival and Irish Society, 1893-1910 (Syracuse University Press, 2008).

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Yew trees leading to the cemetery at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

In June I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland for a conference on Modernism, Media and Memory.  The sessions focused on the decade from 1912 to 1922, the centenary of which government and private sponsors are planning to commemorate over the next several years.  And there is much to commemorate as, during that decade, Ireland experienced labor strife, political turmoil, a world war, a guerrilla war for independence from the United Kingdom, the partition of the island into two states (Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, the latter of which became the Republic of Ireland in the late 1940s), a civil war in the south of the island, and communal violence in the north.

A catalogue of such events can serve as a useful introduction to what people experienced in early twentieth-century Ireland, but it merely points to what I believe were more deeply rooted long-term transformations that shaped the island during the ensuing century.  One of the more fundamental transitions had been underway for years prior to 1912, but it came to a head during the “decade of commemorations.”  I am writing of the Gaelic revival, a movement that has profoundly shaped popular and official understandings of Irish identity down to the present.  Continue reading ‘Changing Ideals: Ireland in Transition’

Summer Research in South Jersey

Dr. Kristen Foster is an associate professor of American history at Marquette University.  She is working on a book manuscript, titled Haiti’s Mirror: The Impact of the Haitian Revolution on Early  American Ideas about Race and Equality.

Armed with a rental car, a map, and a GPS (thank goodness), I headed off to find the Cumberland County Historical Society in Southwestern New Jersey, fondly called South Jersey by locals.  This is not the Jersey of Springsteen, Snooki or reality housewives.  It’s the other side of the state, settled by Nanticoke Lenape Indians and English Quakers.  This region is still lush and green, dotted by wide-open farms ripe with peaches.  Now I understand why New Jersey is called the Garden State.

On this particular day, I hoped to find evidence of an early free black and mixed race community that existed unobtrusively here during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, perhaps because it was tucked away from the hungry eyes of slave catchers.  Not far from the Cohansey River which flows to the Delaware, I found this gem of a historical society on a sleepy street.  A dapper older gentleman named Jack greeted me, and after telling him that I was looking for anything that might help me understand Gouldtown,  and, in a larger sense, the lived revolutionary-era experiences of free black Americans.  Jack started bringing me books and a couple of modest files.  While I was working my way through these, another patron arrived and filled the room with happy banter.  It was clear this man was a local.  No sooner had I settled into the comfortable Sunday afternoon atmosphere, than Jack introduced me to this man, Ian, saying “here is the person you want to talk with.”

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Bethel Othello African Methodist Episcopal Church in Springtown, New Jersey (Established in 1838)

Ian, a consummate raconteur, sat with me in the hard chairs at the broad oak table and moved easily through the history of families and towns in the region.  I couldn’t write fast enough—Goulds, Pierces, Murrys, Cuffs…not the Loatmans or Hughes’s (they were from Delaware and intermarried with the Lenni Lenape, he said). That’s another story.  He told me I needed to go to Springtown and that I should poke around Greenwich too.  He gave me contacts, and invited me to his AME church to network.  He told me where to go to have lunch with the Nanticoke Lenape descendants if I wanted to go that direction.  By the time we were finished, I had reaffirmed my appreciation for the stories people hold in their care and the meticulous work social historians do.  In fact, I had to email Marquette’s own social historian Tom Jablonsky to tell him this.  Town by town, street by street, name by name; histories are restored.  Ian reminded me once again why history is fun and why getting away from the computer and library is crucial to the process of understanding the past.

Backstories

James Marten is professor and Chair of the history department at Marquette University, editor of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, and President of the Society for the History of Children and Youth.

Historians@Work celebrates the “journeys” we historians take in doing our jobs.  Some are literal, some figurative, but all originate in the research we undertake.  My own research inspired me to become involved with the Society for the History of Children and Youth, a small but vibrant organization with members from twenty different countries.  I served as the Society’s first secretary-treasurer for a decade and have attended all of its biannual conferences (including two that I hosted here at Marquette).  Find out more about the Society at http://shcyhome.org/

My commitment to the Society and to the field led me on several different kinds of journeys this summer.  Only one is complete; the other two are barely begun.  And although my responsibilities did require me to take an actual trip this summer—our 2013 conference was held at Nottingham University in the UK at the end of June—the real journeys that I undertook this summer had more to do with stretching into new roles and responsibilities that directed my focus away from my own research and publishing and toward helping others bring their own scholarship to fruition.shcy-logo

Oddly, the least interesting traveling in all of this was the actual trip to England. Although Nottingham boasts a beautiful campus, that’s about all I saw of this historic city—no Sherwood Forest, no castles, not even the so-called “oldest pub in England” a couple of miles from campus.  Mainly I just went to panels and meetings and a couple of official dinners.

Continue reading ‘Backstories’


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