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Thread: Irish Historiography

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    Default Irish Historiography

    I thought I’d make use of the new forum and try and deal a bit with historiography.
    Quote Originally Posted by merle haggard (from [url=http://www.politics.ie/viewtopic.php?p=417717&highlight=#417717
    this thread[/url])]The problem with the level of historical analysis in our own country mainly lies with those who rewrite and falsify it simply to suit a foreign imperialist agenda . [...] Those tasked with critically analysing Irish history simply arent up to the task . A lot of people need to feckin grow up and stop thinking its cool to pour scorn on our own peoples efforts to free themselves and suck up to British imperialism at every turn like theyre still rebelling against their parents or some oul christian brother.
    While I would agree that historical analysis in Ireland has been marked with a perverse one-sidedness, you probably should not let it get to you to the extent that it evidently does. And I somehow doubt that the mould into which you would like to pour Irish history is an improvement.

    Historical analysis becomes warped by the gravitational pull of money. Hence noblemen, the Church and the aristocracy enjoyed an immortality denied to the vast swaths of mankind. The rise of the state in the nineteenth century in turn gave rise to a new history, one which supported nation building. Historians feted with state money began encouraging statewide identities. And it is towards this end that Irish history became skewed.

    The fledgling state required bolstering against those who sought to destroy it, and a rather flagrant contradiction was opened up whereby revolutionaries before 1921 were good and revolutionaries after 1921 were bad. Sometimes, allowances were made for those who continued the “struggle” up to 1926 for obvious reasons. Indeed, “retrospective justification” continues in vogue for some people- though I really don’t think it stands up to scrutiny. Revisionism will be necessary to iron out these contradictions and that is a worthy effort; one that will lead to historians landing themselves on all sorts of different sides to all sorts of different fences.

    Ultimately, the entrance of modern thinking often taints historical analysis. Imagine different trends of thought as various coloured filters. For Europe, the major (or primary colours) would be classical, Christian and enlightenment thinking. Liberalism may constitute a fourth. To understand any aspect of say, the twentieth century, one would have to look at that aspect through each individual filter, and then in various combinations of filters, before a clear picture might be drawn. There is an inclination to just pile one filter upon another into a tower, and draw the resulting conclusion. Such sloppy analysis is lazy, at best inconsistent and at worst misleading. Your attack, especially when read in full, would suggest that you wish to leave the filter of green* nationalism over Irish history never to be removed under any circumstance. To do so would leave numerous truths hidden from view. I would of course balance that by saying that the filter of green nationalism must be used to understand Irish history, but it must be removed in places also.

    As an example, I shall take Irish neutrality during World War II (I don’t want to address 1916, as it proves divisive and would drag this discussion way off course) and neo-conservative thinking. Initially, Eamon de Valera’s role in protecting Irish neutrality was seen as his greatest achievement. But, in more recent times, he has been castigated for it and Irish neutrality became synonymous with cowardice. I feel this is because a neo-conservative filter was added by certain commentators, and though this revealed certain aspects, it distorted the picture as a whole. Anyone who applied a rigorous historiographical approach, I believe, would arrive at the conclusion that Irish neutrality was indeed important and that protecting it was no mean feat.

    But of course, applying such a neutral agenda to historical study renders it- to some degree- rudderless. It at least removes the power of steering from any institution. So, historians would be forced to ask themselves what they are pursuing. And the state seeing that nation building, the product of a nationalist filter, was no longer a priority would be forced to ask itself why funding history departments is worth it.


    *- I use the word green here as I did not really know what to call it. I suppose one could alternatively use fenian either. Whatever label one might use, I am referring to that branch of Irish nationalism which is haughtily jingoistic, generally anti-British and quite willing to resort to (or justify) violence.

    Quote Originally Posted by merle haggard
    Sad thing is it took an Englishman to depict our history in this critical manner . Our own werent up to it .
    "But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house."- Mark 6:4
    We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the internet, we know this is not true.

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    Politics.ie Member Catalpa's Avatar
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    I think one of the major flaws with the Revisionist histories that emerged in the wake of the conflict in the North was that many of the writers believed that they were writing 'value free' that would reflect the actual facts of historical events and replace the overtly Nationalist ones of earlier times.

    That as we know did not happen. Rather the new historians replaced the prejudices and mind sets of earlier writers with fresh ones of their own making.

    Perhaps I wonder if some of the more worthy ones did not feel under some kind of pressure to write up historical events in a manner that reflected support for the current Establishment.

    I know from my time at College that the tone and content of some of the lecturers there was in marked contrast to what appeared in print.

    In the Lecture Hall they were much broader in scope and more well balanced in their assessments.

    Which isn't to say that Revisionism is or was automatically 'Bad History', plenty of good work was done alongside some of the clangers!

    History by it's nature is studied subjectively and that of course means that different aspects of any event are seen in different ways by both participents and recorders before even the Historians come to grips with the subject.

    In my own Life experience the Hunger Strikes of 1980 and 1981 I suppose would now be considered an Historical event and it's interesting to note how my recollections and (minor) participation in those events are seen today by Historians.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Catalpa
    Perhaps I wonder if some of the more worthy ones did not feel under some kind of pressure to write up historical events in a manner that reflected support for the current Establishment.

    I know from my time at College that the tone and content of some of the lecturers there was in marked contrast to what appeared in print.
    Indeed, I think undergraduate students were always encouraged to remove the nationalist filter in places. But the liberal filter is now firmly fixed in place, rarely if ever removed. Though it is not maintained with the same zeal.

    The problem is really one of school education, where history and values are provided in a two-for-one package. Universities then have to deconstruct this frame when fresh-faced youngsters arrive on their doorsteps. But that process often takes one or even two years, and many history degrees only last three, and many students appear to continue without picking up on it.

    This problem pervades secondary school teaching and does immense damage to people's ability to think. The civic, social and political education course, for example, appears to teach students that democracy and liberalism are kindred spirits when indeed there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. This leaves students open to neo-conservative lines of thought without sufficient resources to scrutinise the idealogy. The new and revised junior cycle science syllabus still includes an experiment to prove that light travels in straight lines, even though it does not. So, students are rewarded for "proving" and stating a falsehood.

    While the history course does not teach falsehoods per se, it teaches history in such a manner as to suggest constant progress. Hence the French Revolution is good, the rise of labour is good, the success of feminism is good, with little or no emphasis on why and if they are good.

    Surely such a system hoodwinks people into believing the world is far simpler than it is. It puts a cap on thinking and tells students, "there you go, now you understand," when quite frankly they don't. And teachers who try and explain this to their students are requested by those same students to stay on topic, because CAO points are of immediate concern and research methods can wait.

    It gives the final few years of school a certain cul-de-sac-like quality, and then universities have to spend valuable time and resources pulling students out of the resulting logjam. And perhaps most worryingly of all, many universities are just not bothered to put the effort in any more, and re-write their courses accordingly.
    We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the internet, we know this is not true.

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    We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the internet, we know this is not true.

    A Million Monkeys banging on a million typewriters are likely to get their naughty bits caught!

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