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Global Legacies of the Great Irish Famine

Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

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

The 150 th 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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Andrew G. Newby: ‘Rather Peculiar Claims Upon Our Sympathies’: Britain and Famine in Finland, 1856–1868

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ANDREW G. NEWBY

‘Rather Peculiar Claims Upon Our Sympathies’: Britain and Famine in Finland, 1856–1868

Never yet, perhaps, were English sympathies appealed to in vain… During the past year the corn crop, in the North of Europe generally and in Finland particularly, was a most deplorable failure […] The English people, brought up in the lap of luxury, can form but a very imperfect idea of hundreds of fellow creatures dwindling away into moving skeletons and at length staggering to their graves the victims of a general starvation. Here, then, indeed, is a fit occasion for English sympathy and liberality […] It is on behalf of the Finns particularly that we speak; for them and in the holy name of Charity we plead, when we ask that the benevolence which has long glorified our name shall not be withheld from the starving inhabitants of Finland.1

The stirring rhetoric of this appeal from the Ladies’ Newspaper is only one of many examples of British public engagement with the idea of charity, and more specifically famine relief, during the Victorian era. The Great Irish Famine (1845–52) had thrust arguments about poor relief prominently into the public sphere, not least as a result of the 1838 Irish Poor Law’s reinforcement of notions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.2 These arguments were informed by the increasingly prominent role of the British middle classes in philanthropic activity, along with the development of the British imperial self-image, an...

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