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Global Legacies of the Great Irish Famine

Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives


Marguerite Corporaal, Christopher Cusack, Lindsay Janssen and Ruud van den Beuken

The 150th anniversary of Ireland’s Great Famine in the 1990s generated a significant increase in scholarship on the history of the crisis and its social and cultural aftermath. Two decades later, interest in the Irish Famine – both scholarly and popular – has soared once again. A key event in Irish cultural memory, the crisis still crops up regularly in public discourse within Ireland and among the Irish diaspora. This volume, containing essays by distinguished scholars such as Peter Gray, Margaret Kelleher and Chris Morash, offers new perspectives on the Famine and its contexts. Addressing the challenges and opportunities for Irish Famine studies today, the book presents a stimulating dialogue between a wide range of disciplinary approaches to the Famine and its legacies.
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Peter Gray: The Great Famine in Irish and British Historiographies, c. 1860–1914


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The Great Famine in Irish and British Historiographies, c. 1860–1914

Self-consciously ‘historical’ writing on the Great Famine began even before the catastrophe had ended. Notoriously, Charles Edward Trevelyan prefaced his semi-official The Irish Crisis (1848) with the claim that it was desirable ‘thus early to review, with the calm temper of a future generation, the history of the great Irish famine of 1847’.1 Trevelyan’s narrative was suffused with an ideological analysis of the events, the state’s response and the anticipated outcomes that amounted to an apologia for both his own role in famine administration and the government he served. It was also clearly an early intervention attempting to shape subsequent ‘historical’ accounts. It is hardly surprising, then, that it was countered by another active participant in the events of the later 1840s, the radical nationalist John Mitchel, whose conviction and transportation in the spring of 1848 merely interrupted – rather than curtailed – his journalistic attacks on British government as the author of all Ireland’s sufferings.2

Trevelyan’s and Mitchel’s exchanges initiated the formative period in the historicization of the Famine between the event itself and the outbreak of the First World War that forms the subject of this essay. Irish nationalist historical writing in the later nineteenth century has attracted the critical attention of a number of modern writers, most usefully that of ← 39 | 40 → James S. Donnelly.3 Donnelly succinctly summarized the leading elements of the nationalist historical tradition that...

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