In the News: Roots of Unionist Political Parties in Northern Ireland

Since last week’s election, the Democratic Unionist Party has received more attention outside of Northern Ireland than it has in years, now holding the balance of power in the UK Parliament.  While the DUP was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, the separation of political parties in Northern Ireland from the main United Kingdom parties has roots in the late nineteenth century before and during the Home Rule era.

2017 Election

2017 General Election Results – BBC News

In the 1870s, sectarian strife in the north of Ireland was at a low ebb as both Catholics and Protestants united through Liberal Party politics.  Continue reading

Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part III: National Monuments

Where any church or ecclesiastical building or structure appears to the Commissioners to be ruinous, or if a church to be wholly disused as a place of public worship, and not suitable for restoration as a place of public worship, and yet to be deserving of being maintained as a national monument by reason of its architectural character or antiquity, the Commissioners shall by order vest such church, building, or structure in the secretary of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, to be held by such secretary, his heirs and assigns, upon trust for the Commissions of Public Works, to be preserved as a national monument, and not to be used as a place of public worship.

Irish Church Act, Section 25.1 (1869)

Not only did the Irish Church Act of 1869 disestablish the Church of Ireland, but it also provided for the protection of the first national monuments in Ireland.  They were to be placed under the control of what is now the Office of Public Works, founded in 1831 and one of the oldest government agencies still in existence in Ireland.

The first group of monuments, those at the Rock of Cashel, were taken into state care in 1874.

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Rock of Cashel, 1970 – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Rock of Cashel, a medieval site in County Tipperary, contains several 12th and 13th century religious structures, with roots dating back much further as the traditional seat of the kings of Munster. Continue reading

More Maps: John Speed’s Depictions of Ireland

Today we’re taking a look at John Speed’s depictions of Ireland in his Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, published in 1611/1612.  Speed (1552-1629), the best-known mapmaker of his era, included an overview of Ireland and maps of each province in his atlas.  As I described in a previous post, Speed used previously compiled sources to inform his atlas, but made the maps and other elements himself.

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland - photo credit: British Library

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland – photo credit: British Library

R. Dudley Edwards and Mary O’Dowd noted the importance of Speed’s maps in their Sources for Early Modern Irish History, 1534-1641, writing:

Among the most ambitious projects commissioned by a London bookseller in the early seventeenth century was John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, which appeared in 1611.  Speed devoted special attention to Ireland for which he provided a general map of the country and separate provincial maps.  This gives him, in the opinion of J.H. Andrews, the claim to be, in the eyes of contemporaries, the author of the definitive map as known till the mid seventeenth century in Britain and abroad.  Speed’s work was based on some of the ‘regional surveys, especially in the north, as well as Mercator’s general map of 1595, and, less, happily, Boazio.’  His work included the first printed plans for the towns of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.  As Dr. Nuala Burke pointed out, Speed’s work was not necessarily up to date.  She considers, however, that Speed can be regarded as giving a ‘reasonably correct general impression of the actual early seventeenth century topography,’ though there can be errors in matters of detail.

While this was considered the definitive map of Ireland and its provinces for its time, there are biases and agendas at work in Speed’s depictions.  Continue reading

Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part II: The European Union

Lough Key Forest Park - photo credit: wikimedia commons

Lough Key Forest Park (project with funding from the ERDF) – photo credit: wikimedia commons

Find Part I of this series here.

As a member of the European Union, Ireland’s cultural heritage and historic preservation policies are impacted by transnational policies and initiatives from the European Commission.  A wide range of heritage-related areas are impacted by EU membership, including agriculture, agritourism, natural heritage, fisheries, environmental policies, rural development, education, and languages.  This is in addition to the cultural heritage policies and programs put in place by the EU.

The Maastricht Treaty set out policies relating to the cultural heritage of EU member states, including:

  • Contributing to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore
  • Encouraging cooperation between Member States, and supporting action in the following areas: improvement of knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of European peoples; conservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage of European significance; non-commercial cultural exchanges; artistic and literary creation

The current European Agenda for Culture sets out to “address common challenges” among EU member states, including “promoting cultural diversity, protecting cultural heritage, easing obstacles to the mobility of cultural professionals, and supporting the contribution of cultural and creative industries to boosting growth and jobs across the EU.”

The current EU Work Plan for Culture sets out four main priorities: Accessible and inclusive culture; Cultural heritage; Cultural and creative sectors: creative economy and innovation; Promotion of cultural diversity, culture in EU external relations, and mobility.

There are several layers to the EU policies and programs on cultural heritage.  One strand promotes projects that encompass several Member States as well as other international organizations.  The Creative Europe Culture Sub-Program has provided €13.7 million in funding to projects with Irish partners and €2 million to Irish-led projects to date.  The projects range widely from the National Museum of Ireland and UCD partnered-project, CEMEC (Connecting Early Medieval European Collections) to the Follow the Vikings project in which Dublinia and Waterford Treasures at the Granary are partners, to many other projects promoting creativity, the arts, and cultural heritage.  The full list of Irish-participant projects is here.

Another strand invests in regional development, including through support of innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for small and medium-sized enterprises, and the low-carbon economy.  Along with projects in other areas of regional development, the EU helped fund projects at Lough Key, Cork’s Triskel Christchurch Arts Centre, the House of Waterford Crystal, and other investments in Irish towns and cities.  Find the list of Irish projects here.

The European Union has many other programs and policies which have the potential to impact cultural heritage preservation in Ireland, especially through cultural exchanges and transnational projects, and it is interesting to think about how cultural heritage is interwoven into the layers of EU policies which apply to Ireland.

Further Reading:

Valerie C. Fletcher, “The European Union and Heritage,” in The Heritage of Ireland, ed. Neil Buttimer, Colin Rynne, and Helen Guerin (Cork: Collins, 2000).

Patsy Donovan, Fleet-Footed and Prolific Irish Ballplayer

Patsy Donovan was a quintessential player of his age, and was quite possibly the most successful Irish-born baseball player.  Like many other players of the deadball era, Donovan hit for high average but little power, compiling a lifetime batting average of .301 with 1,957 singles out of his 2,256 career hits.  He was fast and aggressive on the base paths, stealing 518 bases over his career.  And he played for seventeen years, spending time on the Boston Beaneaters, Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Louisville Colonels, Washington Statesmen, Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Brooklyn Superbas.

Patsy Donovan

Patsy Donovan – Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Donovan was born in Cobh (then Queenstown), County Cork, in 1865 (or possibly 1863 – he may have fabricated his age to appear younger) and immigrated with his family to the United States as a young child as part of a huge wave of Irish immigrants in the second half of the nineteenth century.  They moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where Donovan went to work in the cotton mills after finishing elementary school.

He got his start in baseball in his home town, playing for the Lawrence club in the New England League.  From there, he joined other clubs in the minor leagues, playing in Salem, Massachusetts, and London, Ontario, before making his major league debut with the Boston Beaneaters in 1890.  The outfielder was soon noted for his leadership abilities.  As David Jones notes, “In a decade that was infamous for rough play and rowdyism, Donovan was most admired for his quiet dignity and work ethic.”  He is a strong contrast against negative stereotypes of Irish and Irish-American players of his era.  Consequently, Donovan was hired as a player-manager of the Pirates in 1897.  He was replaced as manager after leading the team to a 60-71 record, but granted a second chance in 1899.  In total, he spend eleven years as a manager of the Pirates, Cardinals, Senators, Superbas, and Boston Red Sox, where he also worked as a scout.  Donovan was one of the first managers to regularly use relief pitchers, with his 1899 Pirates team handing to ball to a reliever 39 times that season, the most ever at that time.  He is known for convincing the Red Sox to sign Babe Ruth after watching him play for the minor league Baltimore Orioles in 1914.

After his time in the big leagues, Donovan spent 14 years as a minor league manager and continued to scout until 1946.

Over the history of the major leagues, forty-seven players have been born in Ireland, mainly from the 1870s through the 1910s, an era which is heavily associated with Irish-American influence on the sport.  Since 1910, there have only been three Irish-born players.  Cork-born Joe Cleary was the most recent, appearing in a single game for the Washington Senators in 1945.  Having pitched 1/3 of an inning, he had an unfortunate career ERA of 189.00.

Happy opening week of the baseball season!  Go Rockies!

 

Further reading:

Baseball Reference: Patsy Donovan Player Page.

Baseball Reference: Patsy Donovan Manager Page.

David Jones, “Patsy Donovan,” SABR Bio Project.

Patsy Donovan, New York Times obituary (The Deadball Era).

Brian Sheehy, “Baseball Star!,” Lawrence History News (Spring 2003) – Lawrence History Center: Immigrant City Archives and Museum.

John C. Skipper, A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers (2003).

Oscar Wilde in Leadville, Colorado

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Harper’s Bazaar 10 June 1882

I came across this Thomas Nast cartoon earlier this week.  The caption reads, “Wilde on US.  Something to “Live Up” to in America.”

“Mr. Oscar Wilde has lately delivered a lecture in New York on Art Decoration…. In all his travels, he says, the only well-dressed men he has seen have been the miners of the Rocky Mountains.  ‘Their wide-brimmed hats, which shade their faces from the sun and protect them from the rain, and the cloak, which is by far the most beautiful piece of drapery ever invented, may well be dwelt on with admiration.  Their high boots, too, were sensible and practical.  They only wore what was comfortable, and therefore beautiful.'”

At the top of the cartoon are sketches of boxers, a liquor bottle, fighting roosters, and houses with the caption “Leadville.”

You can find more about the history of the Irish in the silver mining town of Leadville, CO in my post here.  As part of his tour of the United States in 1882, Wilde traveled to Leadville, Denver, and Colorado Springs.  He gave a talk to Leadville’s miners at the Tabor Opera House on art and aesthetics, and drank a remarkable amount of whiskey.

In his Impressions of America, Wilde noted:

From Salt Lake City one travels over the great plains of Colorado and up the Rocky Mountains, on the top of which is Leadville, the richest city in the world.  It has also got the reputation of being the roughest, and every man carries a  revolver.  I was told that if I went there they would be sure to shoot me or my travelling manager.  I wrote and told them that nothing that they could do to my travelling manager would intimidate me.  They are miners – men working in metals, so I lectured to them on the Ethics of Art.  I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and they seemed much delighted.  I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought him with me.  I explained that he had been dead for some time which elicited the enquiry ‘Who shot him’?  They afterwards took me to a dancing saloon where I saw the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across.  Over the piano was printed a notice:

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Oscar Wilde, Impressions of America

The mortality among pianists in that place is marvellous.

John F. Kennedy and Irish History

Last fall, I wrote a series of posts discussing US Presidential visits to Ireland, and one thing that I found striking was the use of history in the Presidents’ speeches.  What did they choose to focus on in Irish history, and what historical connections between Ireland and the United States did they call upon?

The most famous visit of an American president to Ireland was that of John F. Kennedy from 26 to 29 June 1963.  Find my overview of his trip here.

The Cold War was a clear backdrop to Kennedy’s words, as he referenced Ireland’s past, present, and future role as a beacon of freedom in the world.  Other frequent themes included the role of the Irish diaspora, the life of De Valera, and the Irish participation in the American Civil War.  A breakdown of his speeches follows.

Remarks Upon Arrival at Dublin Airport (26 June 1963)

In this opening speech, Kennedy set out many of the themes for the speeches he would make throughout his visit.

As you said, eight of my grandparents left these shores in the space, almost, of months, and came to the United States. No country in the world, in the history of the world, has endured the hemorrhage which this island endured over a period of a few years for so many of her sons and daughters. These sons and daughters are scattered throughout the world, and they give this small island a family of millions upon millions who are scattered all over the globe, who have been among the best and most loyal citizens of the countries that they have gone to, but have also kept a special place in their memories, in many cases their ancestral memory, of this green and misty island. So, in a sense, all of them who visit Ireland come home.

In addition, Mr. President, I am proud to visit here because of you–an old and valued friend of my father–who has served his country with so much distinction, spreading over the period of a half-century; who has expressed in his own life and in the things that he stood for the very best of Western thought and, equally important, Western action.

And then I am glad to be here because this island still fulfills a historic assignment. There are Irishmen buried many thousands of miles from here who went on missions of peace, either as soldiers or as churchmen, who traveled throughout the world, carrying the gospel as so many Irish have done for so many hundreds of years.

Remarks on the Quay at New Ross (27 June 1963)

Kennedy fittingly recounted his own family history as emigrants from Ireland.

Remarks at Redmond Place in Wexford (27 June 1963)

Kennedy remembered the role of John Barry in the American Revolutionary War and the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War.

It seems to me that in these dangerous days when the struggle for freedom is worldwide against an armed doctrine, that Ireland and its experience has one special significance, and that is that the people’s fight, which John Boyle O’Reilly said outlived a thousand years, that it was possible for a people over hundreds of years of foreign domination and religious persecution–it was possible for that people to maintain their national identity and their strong faith. And therefore those who may feel that in these difficult times, who may believe that freedom may be on the run, or that some nations may be permanently subjugated and eventually wiped out, would do well to remember Ireland.

Remarks at the City Hall in Cork (28 June 1963)

I would like to ask how many people here have relatives in the United States.  Perhaps they could hold up their hands, if they do.

… Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold or some other crop, but Ireland has had only one export and that is its people. They have gone all over the United States, and the United States has been generous to them. And I think it not unfair to say that they have been generous themselves and with their sons and daughters to the United States.

… And I come to this island which has been identified with that effort for a thousand years, which was the first country in the 20th century to lead what is the most powerful tide of the 20th century–the desire for national independence, the desire to be free. And I come here in 1963 and find that strong tide still beats, still runs. And I drive from where we arrived to here and am greeted by an honor guard on the way down, nearly half of whom wear the Blue Ribbon which indicates service in the Congo. So Ireland is still old Ireland, but it has found a new mission in the 1960’s, and that is to lead the free world to join with other countries of the free world to do in the sixties what Ireland did in the early part of this century and, indeed, has done for the last 800 years–and that is associate intimately with independence and freedom.

Address Before the Irish Parliament in Dublin (28 June 1963)

Earlier in the day, Kennedy laid a wreath at the graves of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising, at Arbour Hill.

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Kennedy in Ireland – photo credit: RTE

He then became the first foreign leader to address the Houses of the Oireachtas. In this important speech, Kennedy began by calling upon links between Ireland and the United States through recounting the role of the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War.

…I am proud to be the first American President to visit Ireland during his term of office, proud to be addressing this distinguished assembly, and proud of the welcome you have given me. My presence and your welcome, however, only symbolize the many and the enduring links which have bound the Irish and the Americans since the earliest days.

Benjamin Franklin–the envoy of the American Revolution who was also born in Boston–was received by the Irish Parliament in 1772. It was neither independent nor free from discrimination at the time, but Franklin reported its members “disposed to be friends of America.” “By joining our interest with theirs,” he said, “a more equitable treatment … might be obtained for both nations.”

Our interests have been joined ever since. Franklin sent leaflets to Irish freedom fighters. O’Connell was influenced by Washington, and Emmet influenced Lincoln. Irish volunteers played so predominant a role in the American army that Lord Mountjoy lamented in the British Parliament that “we have lost America through the Irish.” John Barry, whose statue we honored yesterday and whose sword is in my office, was only one who fought for liberty in America to set an example for liberty in Ireland. Yesterday was the 117th anniversary of the birth of Charles Stewart Parnell–whose grandfather fought under Barry and whose mother was born in America-and who, at the age of 34, was invited to address the American Congress on the cause of Irish freedom. “I have seen since I have been in this country,” he said, “so many tokens of the good wishes of the American people toward Ireland …. ” And today, 83 years later, I can say to you that I have seen in this country so many tokens of good wishes of the Irish people towards America.

And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not underrate the difficulties of their course once they arrived in the United States. They left behind hearts, fields, and a nation yearning to be free. It is no wonder that James Joyce described the Atlantic as a bowl of bitter tears. And an earlier poet wrote, “They are going, going, going, and we cannot bid them stay.”

He then called upon the words of Yeats, of Henry Grattan, of John Boyle O’Reilly, of George Bernard Shaw.

To conclude, he quoted poet George William Russell (Æ):

A great Irish poet once wrote: “I believe profoundly … in the future of Ireland … that this is an isle of destiny, that that destiny will be glorious… and that when our hour is come, we will have something to give to the world.”  My friends: Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world–and that is a future of peace with freedom.

Remarks at a Civic and Academic Reception in St. Patrick’s Hall, Dublin Castle (28 June 1963)

Kennedy praised Ireland for its educational traditions, serving as a beacon for Europe during the Dark Ages.  He compared Ireland to the United States, in its establishment of schools through the Northwest Ordinance and Land Grant colleges.

Remarks at Eyre Square in Galway (29 June 1963)

If the day was clear enough, and if you went down to the bay, and you looked west, and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Mass. And if you did, you would see down working on the docks there some Doughertys and Flahertys and Ryans and cousins of yours who have gone to Boston and made good.

I wonder if you could perhaps let me know how many of you here have a relative in America, who you would admit to–if you would hold up your hand? I don’t know what it is about you that causes me to think that nearly everybody in Boston comes from Galway. They are not shy about it, at all.

Remarks at a Reception in Limerick (29 June 1963)

I wonder, before I go, if I could find out how many citizens here have relations in the United States?  Do you think you could hold up your hand, if you do?  No wonder there are so many of them over there.

Well, I will tell you, they have been among the best citizens and they behave themselves very well, and you would be proud of them.  And they are proud of you.  Even though a good many years have passed since most of them left, they still remain and retain the strongest sentiments of affection for this country.  And I hope that this visit that we have been able to make on this occasion has reminded them not only of their past, but also that here in Ireland the word ‘freedom,’ the word ‘independence,’ the whole sentiment of a nation is perhaps stronger than it is almost any place in the world.

He then referenced the role of De Valera:

To see your President, who has played such a distinguished part, whose life is so tied up with the life of this island in this century – all this has made the past very real, and has made the present very hopeful.

Remarks at Shannon Airport Upon Leaving for England (29 June 1963)

In his final remarks in Ireland, Kennedy emphasized the role of history in Irish culture, and the historic connections between Ireland and America through the diaspora:

Ireland is an unusual place.  What happened 500 or 1000 years ago is yesterday; where we on the other side of the Atlantic 3000 miles away, we are next door.  While there may be those removed by two or three generations from Ireland, they may have left 100 years ago their people, and yet when I ask how many people may have relatives in America nearly everybody holds up their hands.

 

Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part I: UNESCO World Heritage Sites

This semester, I’ve been taking a class in (American) Historic Preservation at the University of Colorado Denver.  Learning about the ways in which historic preservation works in the United States has made me even more appreciative of our historic sites and public history efforts.  Public outreach is such an important part of the history field, and it is up to us as historians to communicate what makes the study of history important today.  Given the current political climate, knowledge of history, civics, and global connections over time seems ever more vital.  The built heritage that surrounds us is a large part of that – it brings character and identity to our communities, and helps to bring history to life for the public.

I’ll be taking a look at different ways in which historic preservation is practiced in Ireland, starting with the highest level a historic site can reach – the World Heritage Sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  These are sites of cultural and natural heritage considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.

Ireland has two sites recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Sceilg Mhichíl

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Skellig Michael – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Sceilg Mhichíl (or Skellig Michael) is a monastic complex perched on a rocky island about seven miles off the coast of County Kerry.  The site is extremely remote and, as the World Heritage listing highlights, it “illustrates the very spartan existence of the first Irish Christians.” It is considered an exceptional and in many ways unique example of an early religious settlement, preserved because of its relative inaccessibility.

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Skellig Michael – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The rock was home to a small group of ascetic monks who withdrew from civilization to found their monastery. Buildings constructed include the monastery itself, a hermitage, and, later, two lighthouses.  The monastic community appears to have moved to the mainland by the 13th century.

The Office of Public Works has held the monastic remains in state guardianship since 1880.

Sceilg Mhichíl is also renowned as one of the most important sites in Ireland for breeding seabirds.  It is designated as a Statutory Nature Reserve and Special Protection Area.

 

Brú na Bóinne

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Knowth – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Designated in 1993, Brú na Bóinne – Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne is a complex of Neolithic mounds, tombs, standing stones, and other prehistoric structures.  Human settlement at the site dates to at least 6,000 years ago, with built heritage dating from about 5,000 years ago.

At Brú na Bóinne, three large passage tombs known as Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth dominate the landscape alongside an additional 90 monuments.  The tombs contain the largest group of megalithic art in Western Europe.  The tombs fell into disuse around 2900 BC, but the area continued to be the site of activity including the building of large earthen embanked circles, pit circles, and pit and wooden post circles (henges).

UNESCO Site: Brú na Bóinne / Skellig Michael

World Heritage Ireland: Brú na Bóinne / Skellig Michael

Heritage Ireland: Brú na Bóinne / Skellig Michael

Discover Ireland: Brú na Bóinne / Skellig Michael

ICOMOS Ireland

More Maps: John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine

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Photo Credit: Cambridge University Library; Creative Commons License

Back with more historic maps which may be useful for generating class discussion on how such sources illustrate perceptions and views of the British and Irish in the wider world.

Today we’re highlighting the first atlas to cover the British Isles as a whole, as well as the first work to make comprehensive plans of many English and Welsh towns available in print. English historian and geographer John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine was published in 1611/1612, with a print run of approximately 500 copies. Each of the English and Welsh counties and the four provinces of Ireland was separately depicted, along with a larger view of Scotland.

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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Speed used previously compiled sources to inform his Theatre, but he made the maps and other elements himself.  The maps are rich with details of local history, fashions, and features, all of which would be useful in the classroom to provide a view of life in the Tudor and Jacobean eras.

With the publication of the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, Speed was well on his way to becoming the best-known mapmaker of his era.

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Photo credit: Cambridge University Library; Creative Commons License

Cambridge University Library has a remarkable digital resource utilizing one of their five proof copies of Speed’s atlas.  It can be found here.

Additional Sources:

Annie Taylor, “A Theatre of Treasures,” Cambridge University Special Collections.

Ashley Baynton-Williams, John Speed Biography Part I, Part II, and Part III.

“Mapping the Origins of a Masterpiece,” University of Cambridge.

The United Kingdom and Ireland from the International Space Station

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London at Night – photo credit: NASA/Cmdr Chris Hadfield (wikimedia commons)

As an historian of the modern era, it’s easy for me to get caught up in the details and events of the past that can easily be related to the current day without considering that I am only looking at a tiny slice of human history.  I’ve been thinking about different ways in which to perceive and wrap my mind around the vast scope of the history of humanity, and our current-day place in it.

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Dublin from the ISS – photo credit: NASA/Cmdr Chris Hadfield (wikimedia commons)

One way that came to mind was to look at the world from an outside vantage point – from space.  This might be a good way to present the scope of history to students as well, as a means to spark conversation.

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Thames Topsoil Flow – photo credit: NASA/Cmdr Chris Hadfield (wikimedia commons)

Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, who took over 45,000 pictures of Earth in his five months on the International Space Station, writes that seeing the world from a different angle helped him to understand the world better.

Those spectacular, two-thousand-mile views make you a lot more aware of the big picture.

Every landscape, whether man-made or wholly natural, has a backstory.  Going to space forced me to figure some of them out – and doing that has changed, irrevocably, the way I perceive the world.  For instance, I have a much deeper appreciation for the immensity of time.  Today, driving down the highway near my house, I pass a hill and register not just a hump of rocky soil, but also the glacier that clawed and bumped it into existence thousands of years ago.  I recognize the vast lakes and rivers near my home for what they really are: comparatively puny remnants of an enormous inland body of water, whose traces I saw from the ISS.

Being able to perceive the narrative line behind our planet’s shapes, shadows and colors is a bit like having a sixth sense.  It provides a new perspective; we are small, so much smaller even than we may have thought.  To me, that’s not a frightening idea.  It’s a helpful corrective to the frantic self-importance we are prone to as a species – and also a reminder to make the most of our moment on this beautiful, strange, durable yet fragile planet.

– Chris Hadfield, You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes (2014)

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Wales from the International Space Station – photo credit: NASA/Cmdr Hadfield (Wikimedia Commons)

Hadfield writes,

Europe’s multiple personalities, apparent even 240 miles above Earth, were shaped by the whims of geology and climate – but also because of millennia of cultivation by different groups of humans with evolving ideas about how to make the most of a relatively small continent.

Seeing the world from afar can help in understanding how geography and geology have influenced human movements and choices (and how humans have impacted the world).   It can highlight interconnections that we might not have noticed before, or barriers.  It illustrates change and continuity over the long scale of history that can be hard to grasp from the modernist perspective.