Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History


What is the Irish nation? Who is included in it? Are its borders delimited by religion, ethnicity, language, or civic commitment? And how should we teach its history? These and other questions are carefully considered by distinguished historian Hugh F. Kearney in Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History.

The insightful essays collected here all circle around Ireland, with the first section attending to questions of nationalism and the second addressing pivotal moments in the history and historiography of the isle. Kearney contends that Ireland represents a striking example of the power of nationalism, which, while unique in many ways, provides an illuminating case study for students of the modern world. He goes on to elaborate his revisionist "four nations" approach to Irish history.

In the book, Kearney recounts his own development in the field and the key personalities, departments, and movements he encountered along the way. It is a unique portrait not only of a humane and sensitive historian, but of the historical profession (and the practice of history) in Britain, Ireland, and the United States from the 1940s to the late 20th century-at once public intellectual history and fascinating personal memoir.


In 1942 I had the good fortune to win a state scholarship worth £250 a year. It also covered university fees. Without the state scholarship I might have gone to Liverpool University; with it I was able to apply for admission to Cambridge University. Cambridge, like Oxford, was a collegiate university and in becoming an undergraduate I also had to choose a college. Quite by chance I became a member of Peterhouse, mainly because my history teacher Frank Grace had been a research student there in the 1920s. Peterhouse was also well known as the college of Herbert Butterfield, a former grammar schoolboy, whose book The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) challenged the assumptions of the orthodox nationalist interpretation of English history. I had come across it at my own grammar school. Peterhouse had earned a reputation as a college in which history had been taken seriously since the days of Adolphus Ward, master of the College from 1900 to 1924. One of the editors of the Cambridge Modern History, Harold Temperley, a leading diplomatic historian, had been a fellow. It was thus not surprising that it should be my choice of college.

History teaching at Cambridge revolved around lectures organized on a university basis and tutorials centered on the college. We attended most lectures out of a sense of duty but there are some which I still recall with pleasure, in particular those by Michael Oakeshott on political thought and by Michael Postan on economic history. Helen Cam's course of lectures on medieval constitutional history was also an impressive performance. She was a great admirer of Stubbs but she also introduced us to the works of Maitland and we were made very much aware that there was a good deal of debate about such issues as the Magna Carta and the role of parliament. We also read Stubbs's Charters as well as parts of his History.

Oakeshott's lectures were intellectually exciting but it was in Postan's lectures that we were made aware of what today we would call history . . .

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