Archive for February, 2012

Too much time..

When I first ventured onto the wild world that is the internet I was struck by the drivel that constituted historical discussion, particularly with regards my homeland of Ireland.  In essence what I found was three distinct schools: professional historians, amateur historians and finally mudslingers. Within each school I then discovered there were sub-groups each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Professional historians generally were divided into three sub-groups: University historians, secondary school teachers and finally, history writers. The amateur historian, by his or her very nature, is harder to categorize but could be categorised thusly: ‘facts man’ (and this type is generally male), ‘I have an interest in one area and one area only’- historian and ‘I just like history in general’ historian. Last, but by no means least I found the mudslinger and when it comes to Irish history these people are the most numerous and the most vocal of all. You have: Rabid-Republican and his/her close relative (although neither would agree on this) Uber-Unionist. This is followed by centrist-nationalist and centrist-unionist. Hot on the heels of all this you have crazy Scots and crazy Irish both banging on about Dal Riata and Cuchulainn. Then, and you always find this person, you have English guy that read two books about Ireland and is now going to prove that everything you thought you knew about Irish history (regardless of the fact you may have a degree/masters/ doctorate in the subject) is wrong. Oh, and of course you have the self-loathing Irishman and Irishwomen who believe that Pearse et al. probably ate babies and wrote bad poetry.[1]

 

I am going to deal with the mudslingers first (and professional and amateur historians can and are part of the mudslinging) mainly because they are so funny. Rabid Republicans and Uber-Unionists are never, ever going to agree on anything to do with history. They are the ultimate dichotomist dysfunctional dramaturgical dyad. Both are ideologically opposed and never the twain shall meet. That is fair enough but it makes for boring reading on forums and since both are rooted in a very twentieth century ideology they should really be writing letters to newspapers. Crazy Scots and Crazy Irish are similar but their ramblings are best off in a psychiatrist’s pad of some description or on a mural up north. Centrist nationalist and centrist unionist are my mudslingers of choice, they have a lot in common and are the way forward in online debates on Irish history. Two books English guy, God he puts up a good fight, he really does. However, arguing that (1) James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, J.M Synge, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and G.B. Shaw aren’t really Irish because Ireland was part of the Union then and they didn’t have an Irish passport only highlights your own ignorance of the actual terms of the Act of Union. (2) Sometimes, just sometimes, the British government did get things wrong in Ireland. (3) I know St Patrick wasn’t Irish I figured it out when I was told in primary school that he was a slave brought to Ireland. By the way St George never actually killed a dragon. (4) I know that U2 have two members that weren’t born in Ireland. All these arguments can be found on Wikipedia’s discussion page are an illustration of why Wikipedia is an unreliable source. (In the interests of fairness there are a ton of my fellow countrymen and women that claim anyone with an Irish sounding name to be Irish but if I started to write about the lunacy of Irishness I could be hear for a long time.) Self-loathing Irish people are great fun because they believe everything in Ireland is inherently worse then everywhere else. Ireland has the worst roads, worst trains, worst television, worst history, worst rain, worst men/women etc. then anywhere else on the planet (look lads ye are right but ye don’t have to be telling the whole world about it Jaysus you are turning us into a laughing stock).

 

 

Right so, we move onward and upward (or downward depending on you perspective) to the amateur and professional historians. Facts man is the amateur historian of choice. He is like Mister Gradgrind as facts are all that matter to him. He believes that all that is needed to get to the heart of any topic is a fact and he has cleverly deduced this all on his own. Everyone else is biased except him and he gives out that if we could only remove our emotion and be like him history would be oh so much better. He has no time for anything resembling sociology, anthropology or heaven forbid opinion (unless it is his opinion) entering the argument. In essence he wants to win when it comes to history. He is flawless and God-like (even though he doesn’t understand what bias actually means) and should be worshipped. As an aside I have also noticed he doesn’t like when women talk about history and I think this is because their experiences are so different from men that he gets a little frightened by this and he retreats into his shell. The ‘I have an interest in one area and one area only historian’ will do anything to drag the topic to their particular subject for example a discussion may start like this: ‘What do you think were the main causes of the American Civil War?’ They will answer: ‘Well the reason is slavery (or states rights…calm down there all you states rights folk) but I think the American Civil War has a lot in common with the people of the Aran Islands in the 1930s because…(because it is a topic you know a lot about). Those that like history in general are truly heroic as they try to start topics on areas that are largely forgotten about but they never get a lot of replies, which is a real pity because I love reading these topics. Ah and that just leaves the professional historian (I suppose since I teach history I belong here) and these people are the worst. We are always spoiling everything. Someone will say ‘Let them eat cake’ and we will say ‘tut, tut the poor woman never said that, it was attributed to her but Arthur J. Knowitall in his groundbreaking tome Removing every ounce of fun from History noted that blah de blah’.  A friend will say I love that show The Tudors and we will go ‘They never had that type of fireplace in Tudor England and that character you love was terrible to the Irish etc. etc.’ The secondary level teacher will defend the way he/she teaches. The third level lecturer will blame all misconceptions his/her students have on the secondary teacher and it all gets very messy. What is important to remember about the professional historian is this: I have written a 50, 000 word masters thesis (that only four people will ever read).

 

So, what have we learned? In a nutshell we have learned I need to find a girlfriend. We have also learned that I have way too much time on my hands and that I take history way too seriously.

 


[1] For those without a sense of humour: I may be making some serious points in this blog, however, keep in mind that I do not hate English people, Scottish people, self-hating Irish people or anyone else. (The Welsh are smart enough not to enter into the debate and as a consequence end up having time to practice singing and Rugby and are good at both.) I do think that the poetry of Pearse wasn’t the best. I am also aware of Eamon de Valera and all that but for the love of God that is a whole different kettle of fish.)