Edinburgh Centre for Global History

Making Ireland Modern

This project explored the Irish encounter with the modern world between 1750 and the 1960s, encompassing both people living in Ireland after and Irish born and Irish descent populations settled overseas.

Combining the techniques of social and cultural history with a transnational methodology, it used a range of archival, printed and visual sources, to chart how the global Irish responded to the key features of the modern world, whether this be in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Britain or Australasia.

The project was based around four themes: (i) Everyday life, including patterns of consumption, material culture, time discipline, self and communal identity; (ii) The New Order, charts how conceptions of order were integrated into everyday life by fostering the market economy, and the expansion of the role of the state in day-to-day activities such as education, commerce, justice, what Weber famously described as the bureaucratic 'iron cage' of administration; (iii ) How people understood the world around them forms the focus of the third theme, Codes of Meaning.

This involved probing feelings, perceptions and sensibilities and exploring cognitive systems. Irish vernacular culture was predominantly oral until at least the end of the nineteenth century, and most of the people covered in this book are 'without history' in Eric R. Wolf's famous formulation, lacking a documentary archive. This is largely achieved through using folklore accounts supplemented by first-hand accounts such as migrant letters, autobiographies, diaries and other eyewitness accounts including travel writings; (iv) The final theme , Crossroads, deals with pre-modern or 'traditional' attitudes, values and practices. It examines how the natural world continued to retain a strong hold on Irish imaginations until the 1950s and 1960s. Religious faith, both Catholic and Protestant, also emerged from late modernity—the period after 1870—relatively unscathed.

The principal output from this project will be a monograph, 'Making Ireland Modern', as well as a number of journal articles.

Project dates: 2010-2013

Dr Enda Delaney

Project leader

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