Modern Languages

Open Access and Modern Languages Open – In Conversation with Luis I. Prádanos and Julia Waters

To celebrate 120 years of Liverpool University Press, we’re focusing on a different theme each month. During April, we’ve been focusing on Open Access. Modern Languages Open (MLO) is a platform for the open access dissemination of peer-reviewed scholarship from across the modern languages to a global audience. Recent publications which have been added to MLO include Luis I. Prádanos’ Postgrowth Imaginaries: New Ecologies and Counterhegemonic Culture in Post-2008 Spain and Julia Waters’ The Mauritian Novel: Fictions of Belonging. We spoke to these authors to find out more about their experience with Open Access and MLO.

What made you decide to explore Open Access for your monograph?

LP: I wanted my book to be freely available not just to other scholars with access to university libraries, but also to all students and activists that could find it useful. Also, I work as a professor in a public university and therefore I consider that my scholarly work should be public.

 JW: My decision to explore Open Access publication for my monograph, The Mauritian Novel: Fictions of Belonging, was motivated by its subject-matter, its likely readership and the timing of its publication. Due to be published in the year in which Mauritius celebrated 50 years of independence, when significant international attention was already being paid to post-colonial Mauritian society and culture, I was keen that my book be readily and promptly available. My book explores many of the historical, political and socio-cultural factors that make belonging – its key thematic and conceptual focus – such a central but fraught issue in contemporary Mauritian literature.  Open Access would make my findings available to a wide range of scholars working on related topics in different disciplines, as well as to scholars of Mauritian, Indian Ocean and postcolonial francophone literatures from around the world.  Key readerships for the monograph’s findings are from Mauritius, India, Africa and the Indian Ocean region. At £80 in hardback and £30 in paperback, the cost of conventional paper copies would have made my book prohibitively expensive for several of the book’s most crucial international audiences.

Do you think it was important that the topic of your work specifically be freely available?

 LP: Yes, my work challenges the dominant economic imaginary and its dependency on constant growth for exacerbating social inequality and ecological depletion. I did not want for my book to become one more commodity to fuel the growth machine I was criticizing. Capitalism is a theory of scarcity and it actually needs to create scarcity to be able to profit from something that is not scarce. Knowledge is abundant and does not get depleted when somebody uses it. Quite the opposite, the more knowledge is shared the more it grows. Capitalism creates perverse mechanisms to restrict access to knowledge in order to make it artificially scarce and be able to make it into a commodity and profit from it.

JW: My monograph is the first book-length study in English on twenty-first-century francophone Mauritian fiction. Its focus on the under-researched, affective dimension of belonging and its intersections with the ‘politics of belonging’, as portrayed in recent Mauritian novels, makes an original, significant contribution to the recent expansion of research on Indian Ocean cultures. Through original, close textual analyses of individual novels or pairs of novels by leading contemporary Mauritian writers, mine is the first book to examine Mauritian literary responses to the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya’ riots of 1999 and to the problems of belonging and exclusion that they exposed. Although published with a UK-based academic publisher, Open Access publication thus makes my book’s findings easily accessible to scholars, students and general audiences in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. My book’s new, multidimensional approach to understanding issues of belonging and exclusion in diverse, multi-ethnic societies will also, I hope, be of interest to a broader academic audience, who, with Open Access publication, are able to access my findings freely.

Has there, to your mind, been more engagement with your work due to it being Open Access? How do you think the MLO platform has encouraged people to engage with your work?

LP: Sure, I know that some professors are already assigning parts of the book into their courses because it is convenient and students do not need to buy anything. I also know that some people in Latin America and Spain are reading it because it is available open access.

JW: It is hard to tell, at this early stage, whether engagement with my work has increased as a direct result of its being Open Access. I think there will always be a place for traditional hard copies and library holdings: anecdotally, I think academics like to ‘try out’ books and articles online and then, if they find them useful, they still like to buy their own copy. I also think that reviews in academic journals and other fora still play an important part in promoting and disseminating new research. What has definitely been particularly gratifying, however, has been the response from the authors whose works I discuss in my book: they were pleased to be able to read my analyses of their novels ‘hot off the press’ and several have since been in contact with their responses and appreciations. I’m convinced that this kind of immediate, productive exchange between literary authors and academic critic, despite the great geographic distance, would not have been possible – or, at least, not in such an instant, interactive, responsive fashion – with more conventional publication.

How important do you think it is for modern languages research to become more accessible?

 JW: Modern Languages research is, by nature, multidisciplinary and speaks to multiple audiences in different countries and different cultural and academic contexts: notwithstanding the potential barriers of publishing just in English, Open Access does make this research more accessible to these different audiences across the globe.

With the increasing shift to Open Access how do you think modern languages, or the humanities as a whole, might be affected?

 JW: There will inevitably be a period of transition and adaptation, as Open Access gradually gains ground on conventional, hardback and paperback publishing. The economic model for publishing, particularly for small, academic publishers, will need to be radically rethought. But academics themselves have always been motivated more by making their research available to as wide an audience as possible than they have by financial profit: Open Access makes the latter ambition far more achievable. I am confident that Modern Languages research is well-placed to benefit, longer term, from the technological advantages of Open Access publication.  

For more information on Postgrowth Imaginaries please visit our website or read it for free on Modern Languages Open

For more information on The Mauritian Novel please visit our website or read it for free on Modern Languages Open.

 Liverpool University Press is a proud supporter of Open Access publishing with over 40 OA monographs currently available. You can find out more about our OA policy here and browse some of our OA titles on the OAPEN library

 

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Irish Studies, Literature

Ireland, Migration and Return Migration – In Conversation with Sinéad Moynihan

Drawing on literary, historical and cultural studies perspectives, Sinéad Moynihan’s Ireland, Migration and Return Migration examines the phenomenon of the “Returned Yank” in the cultural imagination. Taking as its point of departure The Quiet Man (1952), it provides a cultural history that charts the ways in which the Returned Yank indexes a set of recurring anxieties in Ireland from 1952 to the present. We spoke to Sinéad Moynihan to find out more about the book.

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Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Ireland, Migration and Return Migration and what drew you to focus your research in this area?

My interest in the “Returned Yank” arises out of both scholarly and personal attachments. My previous book, “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture (Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2013) was interested in how unprecedented in-migration was negotiated in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years. A notable feature of this moment was the question of how many immigrants to Ireland were themselves Irish (i.e. returnees). Because the returnee is both an immigrant and of Irish descent, s/he came to occupy an interesting position in debates about immigration to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years. In the book, I discussed the significance of the “Returned Yank” in relation to Des Bishop’s stand-up comedy, the film The Nephew (dir. Eugene Brady, 1998) and Ronan Noone’s play The Blowin of Baile Gall (2002). It was while writing that book that I realised a full-length cultural history of the “Returned Yank” figure had not yet been written.

From a personal point of view, my maternal grandmother was a “Returned Yank.” Unfortunately, I never met her but reading, in particular, Edna O’Brien’s work did make me wonder about the many Irish women migrants who returned to Ireland to marry and have children, and how different their lives might have been had they stayed in the U.S.

This is the first full-length study of the “Returned Yank” figure, and return migration is quite an under-examined aspect of Irish diaspora studies. Why do you think these areas have been somewhat overlooked?

I think there are a couple of answers to that question. First, is that actual return migration to Ireland from the U.S. was low compared with other countries. One historian estimates that, between 1899 and 1924, only 9 percent of Irish emigrants returned from the U.S. to live in their homeland, compared with 14 percent of Germans, 15 percent of Scandinavians, 33 percent of Poles, 45 percent of Italians, 53 percent of Greeks and 87 percent of Russians (Wyman 16). Irish census figures taken since 1922 show that the only periods during which there was demonstrable return migration (from anywhere, not just the U.S.) were the 1970s and the Celtic Tiger years. Nonetheless, there has been scholarly work – mostly from an historical and/or sociological point of view – that studies this phenomenon.

But I was interested in the fact that, despite these low rates of actual return, the “Returned Yank” looms large in the cultural imagination. I would guess that for most Irish people older than maybe 40, the term is still quite a meaningful one, conjuring up a whole set of associations that have been amplified and reinforced by representations of the “Returned Yank” in literature and on film, especially (perhaps) The Quiet Man (dir. John Ford, 1952). Some of those associations? His/her largesse; nostalgia for an Ireland now gone; a vocabulary peppered with Americanisms (panty hose; pocketbooks); or, when framed in more negative terms, what Philip O’Leary sums up as “flashy clothes, conspicuous wealth, ignorance, bombast, and a distressing accent.”

The Quiet Man and Angela’s Ashes are two of the most well-known “Returned Yank” narratives. Besides these two, which of the novels or films you focused on during this research would you highlight as key in studying this figure in the cultural imagination and why?

The answer here has to be Edna O’Brien’s work! Before beginning this research project several years ago, I had read little of O’Brien’s work. Inspired by my colleague, Dr. Ellen McWilliams’s brilliant work on the novel, I began with The Light of Evening (2006) and worked backwards from there. I soon realised that the Irish woman, who returns to Ireland after living for several years in the U.S., marries and bears children, is a recurring character in O’Brien’s work, from Maura Neary Brady in The Country Girls (1960) to Dilly Macready in The Light of Evening. More often than not, return to Ireland in O’Brien’s fiction is, for those women characters, the forerunner to the infinite disappointments, challenges and struggles of married life and motherhood in Ireland. Numerous O’Brien Returned Yank women remember with nostalgia the fashionable clothing they wore in America, the parties they attended and the glamour of their lives. O’Brien’s interest in Returned Yank women is at least partly autobiographical: her mother was a Returned Yank. In the O’Brien papers held at Emory University, I came across an unpublished typescript of A Novel of Lena and Michael (c.1997), which described how Lena worked as a shopgirl in New York when, on what she intended to be a brief return visit to Ireland, she was strongly encouraged by her family to marry a well-heeled local man. (Lena and Michael were O’Brien’s parents’ actual names). The typescript was accompanied by a handwritten note from O’Brien: “A Novel of Lena/Michael (never written) Never will. Dec. 1st 1997.”

Could you tell us the story behind the image by David Creedon Photography which you chose for the cover of Ireland, Migration and Return Migration? What was the reason for this image being chosen?

I first became aware of David Creedon’s work when I heard Dr. Tina O’Toole of the University of Limerick mention his book of photographs, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed (2011) in a paper she delivered at the American Conference for Irish Studies at UCD in 2014. Tina was particularly interested in what the “American dress” signifies and she showed a very evocative image of such a dress from Ghosts of the Faithful Departed. When I bought the book myself, I came across an image called “The Return,” featuring a trunk belonging to Mary Sullivan, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1930 and returned 19 years later. I thought it would be the perfect cover image for the book because the trunk looms large in depictions of the Returned Yank.

I particularly liked that it showed labels and stickers, as these minutiae are often invested with deep significance in Returned Yank narratives. “Lemonade,” for example, is a short story in which a young girl is preparing to move from the U.S. back to Ireland with her parents (much like Lavin did in real life). Prior to their departure, the family has their neighbours around for a few drinks to bid them farewell. One nosy neighbour, Ma Spiddal, is trying to find out whether the family will be sailing in steerage or in first class by “gently, but persuasively, pushing apart the two big steamer trunks” to pore over the labels attached to them. In The Country Boy, Returned Yank Eddie and his wife, Julia, pay a visit to Eddie’s home place in Co. Mayo, bringing with them a large trunk bedecked with a “stateroom” sticker and an expensive camera. By the end of the play, however, it is revealed that the trunk is empty and the camera rented: they felt the need to put on a façade of prosperity and success for their relatives back in Ireland.

What are you going to be working on next?

I’m at the very (very!) early stages of a new project, provisionally entitled: “The View From the Kitchen”: Domestic Workers in American Literature, 1942-1974. Some readers will recognise that the title is taken from a Maeve Brennan short story that appeared in the New Yorker in 1953. With a focus on depictions of African American and white ethnic domestic workers, the project explicitly builds on my expertise in African American and Irish American literatures.

For more information on Ireland, Migration and Return Migration, please visit our website.

 

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Literature

Tyranny and Usurpation – In Conversation with Doyeeta Majumder

Tyranny and Usurpation investigates the political, legal, historical circumstances under which the ‘tyrant’ of early Tudor drama becomes conflated with the ‘usurper-tyrant’ of the commercial theatres of London, and how the usurpation plot emerges as one of the central preoccupations of early modern drama. We caught up with Doyeeta Majumder to discuss this recent publication.

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Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Tyranny and Usurpation and what compelled you to focus your research in this area?

I was quite fascinated by early modern literature and culture all through my years as an undergrad and master’s student at Jadavpur University, primarily because we had the amazing good fortune of being taught by the very best, including Sukanta Chaudhuri, Supriya Chaudhuri, Swapan Chakravarti, Amlan Das Gupta, and Paromita Chakravarti. I enrolled in a number of specialized optional courses on early modern drama, started learning Latin informally with Professor Das Gupta, then Italian at the School of Languages, JU. The immediate ‘trigger’ was a master’s course on Renaissance Political Thought, taught by Professor Das Gupta, where we read a huge body of material starting from Defensor Pacis to Leviathan. Right after this, Professor Chaudhuri offered me the opportunity of translating Machiavelli’s Il Principe from Italian to Bengali, as part of a collaboration between our department and University of Naples. Thus Machiavelli occupied my mindspace for nearly a whole year, at the end of which, I knew I had something to say about the ‘new prince’ in early modern drama. Finally, when I joined the department of English at the University of St Andrews as doctoral student, my supervisor, Lorna Hutson, helped to focus my ideas with coherence and consistency.

Your book has a wide coverage of dramatic texts, focusing on both Scottish and English texts and historical contexts. Could you tell us more about one of the plays which particularly stands out to you as a key example in your work?

Both David Lyndsay’s Ane Satyre (Scottish) and Norton and Sackville’s Gorboduc stand out. These plays are not read very widely anymore (if they ever were), so the ways in which they mark a crucial turning point in the political fate of the two nations, and use startling dramaturgical innovations, came as a bit of a surprise to me. Gorboduc is the first Senecan tragedy on the English stage, and as I have noted in my book it was also the first play to depict regicide and an armed uprising, while Ane Satyre provides a detailed account of the proceedings of the Scottish parliament, complete with a charter of acts and bills passed at the end of it. I had read Gorboduc before with cursory interest, Ane Satyre was a total revelation, and it was quite thrilling to make these discoveries.

The book’s cover image is very striking – could you tell us more about the artwork and why you chose it as the cover of your book?

The book focuses on the idea of dynastic legitimacy and the spectre of usurpation that threatens to destabilize it. Goya’s Saturn is an iconic painting which depicts Saturn devouring one of his children because it had been prophesied that he would be overthrown (i.e. have his throne usurped) by one of his children, just as he had done to his father, Caelus. The figure of Saturn is the very embodiment of the usurper-tyrant who is the protagonist of my book. Last summer I had the opportunity to see the physical painting at Prado, and it had been stuck in my head since then so I was very glad that Liverpool University Press managed to get the requisite permissions.

How does this volume pave the way for future research in this area?

The scope of this book begins and ends with the reign of the Tudors. The epilogue touches upon Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, indicating that further/similar work can be undertaken in the field of Jacobean or even Carolingian drama. The book also brings Scottish texts and contexts in dialogue with English ones, and tries to locate the main currents of English political thought within the broader framework of continental political thought. This might open up possibilities for more work along these lines– more books or articles which analyse literary and cultural developments in England within the context of archipelagic and continental European writings. I have used twentieth century political theory as a framework to make sense of the sixteenth-century texts, and while a lot of valuable work has been done in this direction–works of scholars such as Victoria Kahn, Julia Lupton, Graham Hammill, and so on — I think there is more to be said.

What are you going to be working on next?

I’ve started writing a couple of pieces on early modern equity and sovereign exception. Part of this work was presented at the Crossroads of Knowledge conference at Cambridge last year. Some more work on equity, natural law, and the Inns of Courts will (hopefully) be presented at King’s College this year. I have received valuable feedback on this work from peers in the discipline. I’m hoping this work can be expanded and thematically organized in the shape of another monograph.

For more information on Tyranny and Usurpation, please visit our website.

 

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Jewish Studies

Recovering a Voice – In Conversation with David Weinberg

David Weinberg’s multi-national study, focusing on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, offers a wide lens through which to view post-war efforts to help Jewish communal life recover its voice and its raison d’être. By underscoring the similarities in the situation facing Jews across borders, he demonstrates how the three communities with the aid of international Jewish organizations utilized unprecedented means to meet unprecedented challenges. We caught up with David Weinberg to discuss more about the book.

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Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Recovering a Voice and what compelled you to focus your research in this area?

In the course of my writing and research on modern Jewish history over the past half century, I became increasingly aware of the absence of serious discussion of post-war European Jewry.   What little I could find echoed the familiar trope that continental Jews were vanishing or had already vanished.  I also gradually realized that these attitudes were mirrored in the attitudes of the general Jewish population in both America and Israel.  Trips to Europe, which focused on death camps and bypassed contemporary Jewish institutions, reinforced the image of a “world that is no more.”  So too did displays in synagogues and museums that portrayed ritual items of European communities as historical artifacts or objets d’art.

I was determined to “right the wrong” by publishing a general survey of European Jewry since World War Two that would demonstrate its continuing vibrancy and strength.  I soon realized, however, that the topic was unmanageable.  Nor was I prepared to make any bold predictions about the future of European Jewish life, especially in light of the wave of anti-Semitic incidents in the past two and a half decades.  In the end, I decided to produce a more limited study that would concentrate on three Jewish communities that struggled and largely succeeded in recovering their place in European and world Jewish affairs in the first decade and a half after the devastation of the Holocaust.

You discuss how the efforts made by French, Belgian, and Dutch Jews to reconstruct their lives after the Second World War have largely been ignored. Why do you think this area has been overlooked in previous scholarship?

There are several reasons.  First and foremost is the fact that research on twentieth-century European Jewry has focused almost entirely on eastern Europe and especially Poland, communities that were decimated during the Holocaust.  The result is that the immediate post–war era has become almost exclusively associated with the fate of DP’s (Displaced Persons), who were uprooted and who were unlikely to return to their homelands.  Second, continental countries fearing that they would be accused of anti-Semitism have incorporated their Jewish citizens into their narrative of national postwar recovery.  The result is that few general works about Europe after 1945 even bother to mention Jews – except as victims of Nazism.  Finally, scholars of modern Jewish history are mostly American or Israeli in origin and view their communities as having replaced European Jewry as centers of contemporary Jewish life.

What kind of sources did you use in the research of this work? Are there any sources that particularly stand out to you which you could share details of with us?

The two major sources were the archives of major international Jewish relief and political organizations active in post-war reconstruction and of the newly created Jewish communal bodies in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Great Britain.  I also made good use of community-wide newspapers and journals, which sprang up almost immediately after the resumption of communal life.  Several of these sources have been digitally reproduced and are available on-line; others remain largely untouched and difficult to access.

Amongst the thousands of documents that I waded through, several have stuck in my memory.  The correspondence between leaders of American agencies and emerging leaders of west European Jewry are filled with stereotypical comments about the other that belie the public image of postwar mutual good will and amity.  In my examination of the Cold War, I was surprised to find how crucial anti-communist fears played in American Jewish attitudes towards European Jewish reconstruction.  (Typical was a letter by Joseph McCarthy’s ally Roy Cohn warning the Joint Distribution Committee about the infiltration of “communist” elements into French Jewish communal organizations.)   Then there are the veiled and not so veiled anti-Semitic comments contained in several of the speeches of General Charles De Gaulle and other Resistance figures on the eve of Liberation.  Finally, I uncovered fascinating details about the struggle between Yad Vashem and local European Jewish institutions for control of both the documentation and the memory of the Holocaust.

What I most regret is that I was unable to interview participants in the events.  Though I am grateful to those who shared their recollections, I wish that their memories of the past had been as keen as my interest in the subject.

How does Recovering a Voice pave the way for future research in this area?

Though my investigation of primary sources was exhaustive, sending me to archives in the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Israel, there were many sources I was unable or did not have the time to investigate.  In recent years, several young Dutch and French historians have begun to fill in these gaps by mining local documents with excellent results.  I would also encourage researchers to examine developments in local communities outside of the major centers of Jewish life.  Finally, I look forward to seeing studies on other aspects of communal life that I did not closely investigate, including most notably cultural and literary trends that illustrate the obstacles facing survivors who chose to remain in their native or adopted homelands.

What are you working on next?

I have been thinking about preparing a series of essays on the challenges and opportunities facing world Jewry in the years immediately after the Holocaust.  The study would focus on the complex interrelationship amongst American, Israeli, and European Jewry. How did American Jews emerge as a major force in world Jewry after the war and how was their new role viewed by European and Israeli Jews?  What assumptions did Israeli leaders after 1948 make about the fate of European Jewish survivors who remained in their homelands and of American Jews?  What efforts did European Jewish leaders make to maintain a sense of a distinctive Jewish heritage in the wake of the Holocaust?

For more information on Recovering a Voice, please visit our website.

 

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Irish Studies

Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland – In Conversation with Ciarán McCabe

Beggars and begging were ubiquitous features of pre-Famine Irish society, yet have gone largely unexamined by historians. Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland explores for the first time the complex cultures of mendicancy, as well as how wider societal perceptions of and responses to begging were framed by social class, gender and religion. The book has recently been unlatched by Knowledge Unlatched, and the ebook can now be accessed for free. We spoke to author Ciarán McCabe about this recent publication.

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Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland and what compelled you to focus your research in this area?

I have been interested in the history of poverty and welfare for a number of years, and the topics of begging and vagrancy kept coming up in the sources, but there was no substantial study of them. I think I was initially attracted by the language used by contemporaries to describe “study beggars and idle vagrants”! The sheer ubiquity of beggars in the pre-Famine period was fascinating to me: they were everywhere and constant. They were found in large numbers in both urban and rural areas, and they were inevitably commented on by foreign travellers, albeit with some literary gloss sometimes applied to their account!

When researching this topic during my PhD at Maynooth University, I decided to explore how charitable societies, civil parish bodies and the various churches dealt with mendicancy. And this facilitated the approach I have taken in Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland, wherein I consider societal perceptions of beggars and begging, and then responses to the problem  – (begging was usually seen as a problem!). I also consider the other side of the giver / receiver exchange, and explore the motivations and experience of alms-givers.

The book explores different ways in which beggars were seen: as spreaders of disease; as work-shy idlers; as conveyors of gossip and political sedition; as a drain on the benevolence and Christian generosity of a mostly impoverished population. But, they could also be seen as engaged in a perfectly legitimate, fundamentally human act: asking assistance of one’s fellow man. When factors such as gender, social class and religious background are considered, it becomes a fascinating, yet complex, topic.

In a nutshell, Chapters 1-3 consider the broad topic of mendicancy: how can we define who was a beggar and what was begging; how and why were many contemporaries so eager to enumerate the numbers of people begging; and the disparate ways in which beggars were perceived.

Chapter 4 explores the short-lived mendicity society movement (there were more than fifty anti-begging societies established throughout Ireland between 1809 and 1845), while Chapter 5 looks at how parish vestries regulated begging through a badging / licencing system.

Chapters 6 and 7 respectively examine Catholic and Protestant approaches to mendicancy and discuss differences and similarities in perceptions and responses.

You highlight the lack of historical study into begging in pre-Famine Irish society. Why do you think this topic has been somewhat overlooked?

I think that the seeming lack of sources – especially sources from the perspective of the soliciting beggar – did not lend itself to considerable attention from scholars. I trawled through archives and libraries throughout Ireland and Britain finding material relating to begging and beggars in Ireland, and in some cases came upon sources which had not been used before, while in other cases, I asked new questions of well-worn sources.

The historian Caitriona Clear has written about beggars and vagrants as having “at best, a walk-on part in Irish history”, which I think is perfectly accurate. In social historians’ studies of the pre-Famine period beggars are usually mentioned, but have been left as ubiquitous, yet not terribly important, figures. My book broadens out the question beyond just the people engaged in begging and considers the practice of begging itself, as well as the significance that begging played in wider social and political reforms, such as the introduction of the Poor Law into Ireland in the late-1830s. But also, it looks at how a study of mendicancy informs changes in other developments within Irish society – the evolving experiences of poverty and welfare; the emergence of statistical and social inquiry in the early- to mid-nineteenth century; societal responses to disease epidemics; the changing function of the parish vestry as a unit of local government.

How does this volume pave the way for future research on the topic?

Among the topics I explore is the changing role of the civil parish vestry as a local government entity and a provider of social services, such as the care of orphans and deserted children, the provision of coffins to poor parishioners and the regulation of begging through a badging system. The parish gradually lost these powers throughout the mid-nineteenth century and this loss, I think, represents a substantial change in community power-brokering and interdenominational relations, especially in urban parishes, which is a much-neglected subject.

My book also makes considerable use of the published reports of the Whately Poor Inquiry, which sat between 1833-36 and examined in considerable detail the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland a decade before the Famine; their final output comprised more than 5,000 pages of reports. While numerous historians have made great use of the Whately Inquiry material, I still found new questions to ask of the sources. I think that the inquiry’s reports are wonderful sources that other scholars can return to as well, bringing new interests and asking new research questions.

The book uses a range of sources including case studies. Are there any sources which particularly stood out to you which you could discuss further with us?

The most enjoyable sources to work with were ones which opened up new perspectives on the history of begging, vagrancy and the relief of the poor. I started my research by considering these topics within the broader history of criminality, but the research evolved away from this angle and towards considering the responses of charities and churches. As such, it became a study of begging and alms-giving within the wider sphere of charity. The sources which facilitated this approach included Presbyterian kirk session minute books, the manuscript records of the Methodist-run Strangers’ Friend Society, the Society of Friends’ monthly meeting minute books and, for a Dublin case study, the papers of Archbishop Daniel Murray, who served as the Catholic archbishop of Dublin between 1823 and 1852.

Most interesting of all, though, were the vestry minute books of parishes from across Ireland. With some exceptions, these were all consulted in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin. The parish vestry was a gathering of (male) householders in a parish, to consider the levying of local rates (a parish cess) to fund particular items of expenditure for the coming year. The minutes reveal that, from the 17th into the 19th centuries, parishes’ role was not limited to ecclesiastical matters, but extended into social matters – for example, the support of foundlings, orphans, widows and, in some fascinating instances, the operation of a system of licenced begging. Local ‘deserving’ beggars, who were known to the authorities, were issued with copper or tin badges, which served as a licence to solicit alms in a public place. The beggar who did not possess a badge could, therefore, be labelled ‘undeserving’ and duly refused alms. The parish vestry minute books are a much underused body of sources for Irish social history tell us much about the public operation of power and community tensions, as well as attitudes towards poverty and welfare, in this period. I was fortunate in being pointed in the direction of the vestry minute books by the late Dr Caroline Gallagher of Maynooth University.

As valuable as the vestry minute books are, they are best considered alongside contemporary newspaper reports of the annual Easter vestry meetings. These reports, especially for parishes in large urban centres such as Dublin and Cork, reveal much more about these meetings than the administrative records. Journalists’ accounts reveal to us the debates, arguments and (occasional) boisterousness which went unrecorded in the minute books.

What are you going to be working on next?

At the moment I am a postdoctoral research fellow at University College Dublin, funded by the Irish Research Council’s Enterprise Partnership Scheme. My project examines the survival strategies of working-class women in Dublin city between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, and is associated with Dublin City Council and its new museum at 14 Henrietta Street. Among the topics I am exploring are the position of charwomen in Dublin’s unskilled labour force, women’s use of pawnshops, Dublin’s second-hand clothes markets, and the social and cultural relevance of the ubiquitous ‘open front door’ in the city’s tenements.

Visit our website for more information on Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland or to read the ebook for free.

 

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