Ireland within British Imperial Culture

AHA Session 178
North American Conference on British Studies 3
Saturday, January 9, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room 303 (Hilton Atlanta, Third Floor)
Jill C. Bender, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Timothy G. McMahon, Marquette University

Session Abstract

This ACIS-sponsored panel is responsive to the 2016 Annual Meeting Theme of Global Migrations: Empires, Nations and Neighbors.

 The Irish imperial experience has been the subject of a recent stream of scholarship in Irish and British history.   Ireland’s evolving status within the British state invoked a broad spectrum of imperial influences over culture, politics, and identity formation.  The Irish imperial relationship was fertile, rich and diverse. Anger about their own political place within the United Kingdom coexisted with active, enthusiastic Irish participation in building, administrating, policing, soldiering and peopling the British Empire.  Opportunism thrived alongside of popular Irish anti-imperialism, linked to globally networked and ideologically sophisticated movements. In Ireland, many inclined towards political assimilation, meanwhile, saw the imperial relationship as a path to acceptance and influence, and even many Irish patriots saw value in the dilution of English influence, embracing imperial federation as an alternative to bloody revolution.    At the same time, conceptions of race and “whiteness” interacted with Irish eagerness to sympathize with other unwilling British subjects.  The Irish diaspora further contributed to the internationalization of the Irish experience of imperialism.   Beyond Ireland, the Irish independence struggle and their fractious rejection of imperial relationship influenced anti-colonial movements all over the world.  Exploring the history of the modern Irish experience of empire, therefore, brings together a number of strands within the study of empire, and affords scholars of the British Empire and western imperialism the opportunity to appreciate the broadest consequences and influences of imperialism.  Precisely because there was no Irish consensus on their own and others imperial experiences, but rather a vibrant collection of contested imperial perspectives, there is value to an AHA panel that explores recent insights gained from this important historical work. 

 This panel is composed of American-based scholars of British and Irish history whose research centers on aspects of the Irish relationship to empire.  It grows out of a series of projects, including a collection of articles edited by Drs. de Nie and McMahon expected to be forthcoming by the time of AHA 2016.  The papers will engage with a range of specific cultural and political impacts of empire.  Drawing on his publications that treat the Victorian empire, the press, and racial/cultural stereotyping, Dr. de Nie’s presentation will focus on popular representations of Islam in the Irish press during the period of the Egyptian and Sudanese conflicts of the early 1880s, with particular reference to broader British patterns.  Dr. Silvestri, a scholar whose work treats the Irish experience of empire in a  comparative and global fashion, will explore Dublin’s role as a training center for imperial policing that involved both Irish and “native” recruits from across the empire.  Dr. Barczewski will present on the historiographical advantages of an integrated  “four nation” understanding of British imperial history, with practical examples drawn from her own work.     Our commentator, Dr. McMahon, is well-prepared to contextualize and encourage an audience of non-specialists to consider the wider implications of these new perspectives.

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