Showing posts with label memorialization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memorialization. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Museum of Free Derry Needs to Keep the Names Up

The Museum of Free Derry has recently drawn fire from all sides for an exhibit that lists the names of all those killed in the area during the early Troubles.  On one hand, relatives of RUC officers killed during the Troubles "find it disgraceful" that their loved ones are identified in a space they consider a bastion of republicanism and which supports "terrorism."  On the other hand, some relatives of Bloody Sunday victims and others object to the full display of names of those killed on the grounds that it shows "complete disrespect for those on the list that have been murdered by the establishment" by having members of "the establishment" listed alongside the Bloody Sunday dead and other victims of state violence.  While the exhibit has been up for a decade, it has received attention recently because of the reopening of the museum after renovations.

I was so glad that the Museum of Free Derry received £2.4m to fund renovations and an extension for the simple reason that it does the best job in the city, really in the North (and for that matter on the entire island of Ireland,) of presenting the history of the civil rights movement and the early Troubles.  As an historian of Derry, I've been impressed by MoFD because it has struggled and persevered under the kinds of strains and challenges that would have sunk a less sturdy instituion and would have ripped apart less stalwart organizers.  

During the Troubles, the Bloody Sunday Trust maintained a countermemory, a version of the past diamterically opposed to the official version proclaimed by the Widgery Tribunal and adopted by the Northern State and mainstream press that blamed the victims of Bloody Sunday for state violence that killed 13 unarmed civil rights protestors.  It was not until the Good Friday Agreement authorized a new inquiry that the version of events almost unanimously held by Catholic nationalists in Derry and Northern Ireland (not to mention the Republic) was considered, evidence weighed.  (Lots of evidence -- the inquiry took 12 years, considered 20 million pages of testimony and produced a 5000 page report.)

From 1972 until 2010, when the British government apologized for Bloody Sunday calling it unjustified and unjustifiable, families of the victims, civil rights activists, scholars and republicans joined together to commemorate Bloody Sunday, to remember the victims, to bring the truth to light. It was an act of defiance -- standing up for truth.

It was out of this movement that the Museum of Free Derry came into being.  It started as all good things in Derry start, a DIY affair with a lot of hard work, sweat, tears, laughter and passion.  It started also with the need to create an archive.  Derry needed a repository, a safe place to hold and keep artifacts related to the civil rights movement, Bloody Sunday and the Troubles.  Nationalist Derry also needed a space to tell its story, a story that was discredited and oversimplified for so long.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Erasing Labor Day?

A friend of mine posted this picture yesterday:

She took it at her dry cleaners.  It led to a very funny thread on her Facebook wall:

"Someone might need a tutorial on holidays?"

"Police?  Well, they are usually unionized, right?"

"Union organizers! They keep us strong and free."

"My shop steward definitely keeps me safe from management."

And it went on from there.  One person made the case that the dry cleaners' experience was directly connected to the events at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York and  made them, possibly, more amenable to learning the stories of America's labor organizing histories. "History is a weapon."


Several people mentioned American flags flying everywhere in honor of Labor Day.  Here in Tennessee, college classes ran on schedule and even the campus post office was open for half the day.

Labor Day seemed a non-event.

Are we erasing Labor Day from our national commemorative calendar?  Are we in danger of forgetting the importance of organized labor to our history?

It is a distinct possibility.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Since when were the Gardaí on the other side of the Northern Ireland conflict?

Today, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience announced its grant awards for 2016.



Photo courtesy of SHOUT
One grant was awarded to an organization called  Diversity Challenges, whose mission is "to assist culturally specific groups in integrating community relations principles and considerations within all aspects of their work."

(No, I don't actually know what that means either.)

According to the Sites of Conscience the grant will fund “Voices from the Vault,” a project that collects stories from former police officers in two police forces on either side of the (Northern Ireland) conflict. The work is groundbreaking in the sense that it is uncommon for state agents in any dispute to talk about their experiences."

Ummmm, what?

As a public historian, I tend to dismiss academics who get petty about semantics.  They always seem to have an air of the kid in the front of the room just dying to get the answer right. (The kid waving their hand in the air so hard you think they might pee themselves.)


As an historian of Northern Ireland, though, this term "on both sides of the conflict" jarred.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Tours at the Highlander Folk School Historic Site

My students and I have been busy.  


Sewanee Students Offer Historical Tours of the Highlander Folk School 

If you have ever wanted to learn more about the Highlander Folk School in the Summerfield community of Grundy County, now is your chance to learn.

University of the South students enrolled in courses offered through the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies will offer free historical tours of the Highlander Folk School site on Saturdays throughout April. Tours will be offered at 1 and 3 p.m. April 9, 16, 23, and 30, weather permitting. Tours last approximately one hour and leave from the Highlander Folk School Library on Old Highlander Lane in Monteagle, Tennessee. If you are interested in attending a tour, please plan to arrive 10 minutes before it is scheduled to begin.

Student tour guides will share the history of the site and the vision and ethos of its founders and staff. They will introduce the historic programs and work of the school and relay its contributions to U.S. labor, civil rights, and social justice movements. They will highlight key figures who participated in Highlander's programs, and will explain how and why controversies led to the forced closure of the folk school. The continued work and legacies of Highlander and efforts to preserve the site in Summerfield will be included in the tour.

Dr. Margo Shea, a visiting fellow with the Collaborative, has worked with Sewanee students in two courses, Introduction to Public History and Place-Based Research Methods, to conduct research and find creative ways to interpret the site in partnership with the Tennessee Preservation Trust. (Both courses are part of the university’s community-engaged learning program.) In 2013, the Tennessee Preservation Trust purchased the buildings and land associated with the school, which closed in 1961 and has since relocated to New Market, Tennessee.

For more information, please contact Margo Shea at 931.598.1879 or mmshea@sewanee.edu.



Monday, March 28, 2016

1916: The Centenary of the Easter Rising

It is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.  Events throughout the week, indeed throughout the year, are scheduled in Dublin.  It is an interesting moment of looking back and looking forward, as commemorations generally tend to be.  I, for one, think the Republic has only healed from its turbulent history in the wake of the Northern Ireland peace process.  Until then, there were still schisms and wounds.  What kind of nation is Ireland and what kind of nation will it be?  The centenary of the Rising is a good time to ask these questions, a good time to transcend post-colonial collective traumas and still, to carry the lessons of the past to continue to construct a democratic, progressive, welcoming nation that puts the wellbeing of its citizens before everything else.





At about 11:00 am on Easter Monday, 100 years ago today, the Irish Volunteers, along with the Irish Citizen Army, assembled at various prearranged meeting points in Dublin, and before noon ambushed and occupied seats of British and Ascendancy power in the city. These had been selected to command the main routes into the capital, and also because of their strategic position in relation to the major military barracks. They included the General Post Office, the Four Courts, Jacob’s Factory, Boland’s Bakery, the South Dublin Union, St. Stephen’s Green and later the College of Surgeons. The properties targeted were taken virtually without resistance and immediately the rebels set about making them defensible. The GPO was the nerve centre of the rebellion. It served as the rebels’ headquarters and the seat of the provisional government which they declared.”  

Here is an image of the General Post Office during the Rising: 




The rising was crushed almost immediately, its leaders executed and imprisoned.  All over Britain, and indeed in Ireland itself, the events were mocked and trivialized.  The Manchester Guardian  had this to say 100 years ago: “It is the nature of a riot rather than a rising,”  dubbing it “a show – for it cannot be regarded as more than this – of rebellion”.  Today, historians still consider the rebellion a failure, but the harsh and merciless treatment of its leaders by British forces changed public opinion and laid the foundation for a protracted war of independence --- Ireland's fight for sovereignty was the first crack in the facade of  Empire.

William Butler Yeats, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865, the son of a well-known Irish painter, John Butler Yeats. Born into the Anglo-Irish landowning class, Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period. Deeply involved in politics in Ireland, he wrote numerous poems like this one, giving voice to the struggles and price of Irish independence, the yearning and doubt so much a part of the movement.


I’ve only included about half this poem but you can find it in its entirety by clicking here 

Easter 1916 
W. B. Yeats


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terribly beauty is born…

…Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be, 
Wherever green is worn, 
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let Go of Your Sorrows? What To Make of Derry's Temple

How do you say the unsayable?  Translate the untranslatable?  It makes sense that David Best, a sculptor deeply embedded in the "you can't understand it until you've been to it" Burning Man festival would come to Derry, Northern Ireland with ingredients for a community project designed around reflection and release. Sponsored and organized by Artichoke Trust, which specializes in helping artists engage communities in larger-than-life installations located in unpredictable spaces, Temple was conceived as a community process.  To build it.  To inhabit it. To witness as it burned.


According to Best, the point of Temple was twofold: to create a space for catharsis and to reframe bonfires. Bonfires, of course, have a long history in Northern Ireland.   There were fires to commemorate the 12th, the Relief of Derry in August, and then tit-for-tat bonfires to observe Lady Day, or the feast of the Assumption of Mary a couple days later.  And those bonfires, it is said, are artifacts of the ancient bonfires lit to celebrate Lúnasa, the harvest "festival of light." December would see Lundy's effigy burn.  


Monday, February 2, 2015

Night Will Fall: A Meditation on Representation

At ceremonies and pilgrimages, through newspaper accounts and private reflection, people around the world observed the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz last week.  It has become a touchstone date, a moment for remembrance, a call to witness. 

Perhaps the ghosts of the Holocaust were with us as well.  In a locked room at Auschwitz in which an the Italian television crew and Jewish leaders found themselves trapped. Amidst silence and candlelight at vigils across the globe.  
And in André Singers' film "Night Will Fall," which aired around the world on January 27th.


Night Will Fall is a film about witnessing.  About survival amidst death. About the ways to tell a story, the impact of the visual, the politics of evidence.  About the power of solid historical research to deepen our understanding of both the past and the horizons and the limits of our humanity.  It is a difficult and necessary film.


There's been much ado about the documentary, and for good reason.  It introduces most viewers to historical newsreel footage of the Allied liberation of Nazi concentration camps that British filmmaker Sidney Bernstein used to create the film "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey."  Bernstein's film was never completed, the project ultimately axed because the US Army withdrew its footage due to fears of alienating Germans at a critical point in the early Cold War.  

Some of the US footage was used by Billy Wilder, an Austrian Jew and Hollywood director , members of whose immediate family were killed in the Holocaust.  Wilder produced "Death Mills" for the U.S. Department of War.  Its purpose was perhaps best expressed by the intro for US audiences to the English language version of the short film, which played in German in cities and towns across occupied Germany and Austria to showcase Nazi atrocities.  "It is a reminder that behind the curtain of Nazi pageants and parades, millions of men, women and children were tortured to death -- the worst mass murder in human history." The Bernstein film that was never made, (until recently under guidance of the Imperial War Museums staff,) was a subtler, more evocative exposé.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Irish Famine: LOL?

They say comedy = tragedy + time.  A proposed television series set in Ireland during the Famine (1845-1852) has raised interesting questions about how to attribute meaning and weight to each variable in this particular equation.

When screenwriter Hugh Travers, a Dublin native, mentioned in an interview that he had been given an open commission to develop a television program by Channel 4, and was working on a tragicomedy set during the Famine, he referred to it as a "kind of Shameless, set during the Famine."  Reaction was speedy, and quite what you would expect. 




Most stories ran photos of Rowan Gillespie's Dublin memorial to Famine victims.
The Daily Mail led the race for the headline with, "Is this the Most Tasteless Idea for a Sitcom Ever?" while IrishCentral.com's Irish-American pundit Niall O'Dowd forgave those who thought this was an April Fool's joke. The Irish Times interviewed writers and historians who said it was in poor taste and made inevitable comparisons to other historic atrocities. Indeed, it showed its hand by eschewing any number of historians of the Famine to interview Tim Pat Coogan on the matter.  Coogan, the most vociferous proponent of the "famine as genocide" school of thought, was quoted saying, “You really would have to be talking about making jokes about Belsen and Auschwitz and the gas chambers to make it an equivalent thing in our lifetime.” Petitions were posted for people to register a negative reaction; protests outside Channel 4 were scheduled.  

And the too-cool-for-school hipster journalists made it clear that no one cares if you are offended,  mocking those who were bothered by the idea of a Famine comedy by calling them the simpleton "outragerati" and taking particularly sharp digs at Irish Americans who, according to some, have no right to an opinion on the matter.  (I'd say that of the things Irish America legitimately gets to have an opinion about, the way the Famine is remembered ranks pretty high on the list, given that it led to one million deaths and over one million emigrants, many of whom came to North America.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Salem Witch Trial Memorial - “What's This Memorial Really About?”



I was supposed to give this talk today, but it got rained out.  I may have the chance to give it again sometime soon, but I thought I'd post this here in case anyone is interested.

The Salem Witch Trial memorial was erected in 1992 to mark the tercentenary of the witch hysteria. It was designed as the first physical structure in the city of Salem to commemorate the trials and the execution of twenty innocent people suspected of witchcraft in 1692.  

What a beautiful, reflective, introspective space.  People often forget just how long the memorial was in coming to fruition.  Historic Salem, Inc. created a committee in 1963 to commemorate what they then referred to as the Witch Delusion.  The idea was that the memorial would rest on Gallows Hill, where the hangings are believed to have taken place.  At that point, the Essex Institute, now part of the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Massachusetts Society for the Preservation of American Antiquities, now Historic New England, had tossed around the idea of purchasing the Gallows Hill lot on Proctor Street.  They intended to erect a granite shaft to honor those who were executed.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The City Revisited: A Re-photographic Study of Derry

A lot of really wonderful things happened in Derry, or Londonderry, (or Legenderry even,) last year when it became the first UK City of Culture.  For a small city, it's been big at attracting interesting and creative people; last year there was funding and impetus for people to continue and build on that tradition.

One of my favorite projects was created by two photographers, Andy Horsman and Paul McGuckin.  They rephotographed iconic Derry photos, many taken over 100 years ago.  Using a large format camera that would have been used to take the originals (5" x 4") they did some editing magic to knit the images together in surprising, poignant and occasionally haunting ways. You can check out their awesome blog to learn more about them, their technique and the evolution of the project. A montage of their work mashing up more contemporary cityscapes in Derry with scenes of the civil rights movement and the Troubles can be found here, at the BBC History website.

I didn't know about the pictures and so I discovered them serendipitously. Many of the images were hung, mural-like, in the space  I was exploring --- the most-dramatically changed aspect of Derry since my last visit: the site of the former Ebrington Barracks, which has been transformed into a public space that is commemorative in a deliberately pageantry-infused way. The longterm plan includes spaces for residential, commercial and cultural use.  It is connect by a pretty awe-inspiring suspension footbridge that links the city center to Ebrington.


Historians say the site at Ebrington was where King James II's troops were camped during the Siege of Derry (1688-'89.) Finding it a good site, it was used as a barracks from the mid-eighteenth century, mostly housing locally recruited regiments. It was a parade ground in the 1840s.  From 1939, it was a navy base until 1970, when British soldiers used it as their barracks during the Troubles until 2003.

As military history (like most history) is often divisive in the city, and because the River Foyle, which runs between Ebrington and the Guildhall, was long seen as a kind of dividing line between the cityside and the Waterside, Catholic nationalist and Protestant unionist, this is symbolically a big step.  It's also an important public space.  Northern Ireland has historically had precious few of these.  Even before the Troubles raised fears of large gatherings, public spaces were limited in a congested city where order demanded that everything and everyone have a place.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dialogue with Racial Violence - Really?

So, turns out that three first year students from the Ole Miss chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity were probably responsible for defacing the statue of James Meredith on the Ole Miss campus last weekend.  The chapter's been indefinitely suspended, but not before it voted to expel the students allegedly responsible for tying a noose around the neck of the statue and enrobing it in a flag emblazoned with the Confederate Battle flag.  Their parents must be so proud.