About 350 million Americans consider themselves ethnically “Irish.” Yet a far smaller percentage of these citizens know much about their heritage. This course deals, in part, with what it has meant to be “Irish” over eight centuries. From the early struggles for power among Celtic chieftains down to the modern civil war between “Orange” and “Green” in Northern Ireland, to be Irish has been to struggle. Unfortunately, in this story of struggle, generations of Irish men and women have discovered that there is a very thin line between dying for Ireland and killing for her.
But this course is not merely a catalog of injustices suffered by an oppressed European people. It is, more broadly, a study of the “presentness of the past” in modern memory. Some cultures devote scant attention to what has gone before. But other cultures seem unwilling (or unable) to forget the past. As the great poet W. B. Yeats famously wrote, “Out of Ireland have we come / Great hatred, little room, maimed us at the start. / I carry from my mother’s womb a fanatic’s heart.” We will learn a good deal about fanaticism and its antidote in this course.
Through exposure to literature, music, film, and historical studies, students will discover what Yeats meant when he referred to the “terrible beauty” of Irishness. Although lectures will form the core of this course, students will not be treated as passive “consumers” of a story that begs for active interrogation. The formal (graded) components of HSTEU 376 will include a simple map quiz, an in-class midterm and an in-class final, plus a short (4-page) analytical paper on an assigned topic.