The Great Irish Famine and Transatlantic Historiographies, 1847-1914

Professor Peter Gray (Queen's University Belfast)
11 December 2014

The second half of the 18th century saw in the Anglophone world the growing prestige of 'History' as an authoritative genre for the interpretation of past events, ad to some extent the growing prominence of 'historians' (some self-defined, others holding prestigious professional positions) as public intellectuals commenting on current affairs. This lecture will focus on the self-consciously 'historical' constructions of the Great Irish Famine in the decades preceding the First World War, aware that these occurred in the contexts of both a frenzy of politicised instrumentalisation of the crisis by Irish nationalists and the salience of recalled memory on the part of many of the writers who had been observers or participants in the events they depicted. It gives particular emphasis to the transatlantic nature of the historical formation of the Famine, not just because of the immense importance of Irish America as a site of Famine memorialisation, but also because of the role played by Anglo-America as the focus for much of the public contestations of meaning articulated by British and Irish liberal as well as Irish nationalist writers.

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