Historical Archaeology of the Irish Diaspora: A Transnational Approach

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Historical Archaeology of the Irish Diaspora: A Transnational Approach. By Stephen A. Brighton. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 2009- Pp. xxvii, 226. $49.95. ISBN 978-1-572-33667-4.)

The epic immodesty of an insufficiently revised dissertation can almost be awe-inspiring. Stephen A. Brighton has analyzed the contents of four toilet pits in the late-nineteenth-century United States (two from tenements in the Five Points, New York City, and the others from two single-dwellings in Patterson, New Jersey). He has compared the material culture in those sites with baseline data: two pre-Potato Famine cabin sites in County Roscommon. Now, whether the rather small rural data base in midland Ireland and the rather small urban data base in the northeastern United States are miscible is not a matter about which he worries, since apparently everybody concerned was Irish Catholic and therefore socioeconomically comparable. In any case, to interpret his data he developed a theoretical frame that he broadcasts as having

far-reaching applications for historical archaeologists and historians. Broadly speaking, its purpose is to serve as a multidisciplinary model of how material culture can be used to interpret continuities and changes in social identity within a critical and analytical discourse of the term diaspora, (p. xxvii)

Along with this hyperinflation of the importance of his own work comes the usual self-vaunting review of the literature that is standard PhD fare. Brighton's reading of Irish historical writing is notably eccentric. For example (p. 270), he sees the 1966 work of Raymond Crotty as being one of the influential levers of the "new history" of Ireland, of which Brighton seems to disapprove. In fact, if there ever was a forgotten and noninfluential historian of mid-nineteenth-century Ireland, Crotty fills that description. …