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The Picture Postcard

A new window into Edwardian Ireland


Ann Wilson

The Picture Postcard, a new window into Edwardian Ireland uses the material culture of the picture postcard as a lens through which to examine life on the island of Ireland during the Edwardian period (1902-10). Picture postcards became extremely popular worldwide at the start of the twentieth century, when literally hundreds of billions of them were produced and sold.

This book draws on postcard collections to access the everyday lives of people who rarely make it into conventional historical narratives, and to make connections in an Irish context between their «small histories» and broader, well-studied discourses such as identity, nationalism, empire, modernity, emigration, tourism and the roles of women.


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Chapter 1 Edwardian Ireland and the picture postcard craze: Responses, debates and anxieties


According to ‘The Citizen’, writing in 1909 in the American magazine Art and Progress,

There was probably never an age so picture-mad as the present. The Citizen has a friend who declares that in a generation or two this will be the only means of communication – that people are forgetting how to read because they are being over-fed by the magazines on pictures, and that they are likewise forgetting how to write because of the picture post-card.1

The observations here, and the anxieties associated with them, were made and expressed in many parts of the world in the early twentieth century. An explosion in imagery and in people’s appetite for consuming it was a notable feature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This was apparent in Ireland as elsewhere, and is (and was at the time) seen as a characteristic of modernity. Ireland between 1900 and 1910 was a country in the throes of modernization, despite the fact that many commentators despaired of its backwardness in so many areas, most obviously industrialization, while others, most notably some nationalists and religious leaders, worked hard to protect its people from what they saw as the harmful influences of the modern world.

Especially in the capital, Dublin, whose population was just under 300,000 in 1901, a fondness for shopping, spectacle and leisure was evident that we would easily recognize today. Large and glamorous department stores had begun to appear in the city in the 1840s,...

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