The 5 Titles series highlights books, music, and films in the library’s collection featuring topics related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and/or highlighting the work of authors from diverse backgrounds. Each post is intended to provide a brief sampling of titles rather than a comprehensive overview of the topic. This month, the five titles have been selected by Ciara Healy, Librarian for psychology & neuroscience, mathematics, and physics.
The Irish are a diasporic culture, though colonized by their nearest neighbors, the British, for almost 800 years. The urge to resist British rule lasted all of those years. Ireland became self-governing with the establishment of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922. Prior to the establishment of the Free State, the Potato Famine led to the deaths of 1 million Irish, 12.5% of the country’s population. In the years after – 1845 to 1855 – 1.5 million Irish emigrated, many of them to the United States, forming one of the largest émigré populations in the US. Difficult times, colonialism, lack of industrialization, violence, and indifference to the health and welfare of the Irish by the British contributed to the diasporic dreams of the Irish. In the titles below, both Irish fiction and nonfiction, emigration, travel, violence, oppression and family are common themes. The 5 titles below include these themes across a diverse variety of fiction, nonfiction/research, and a current podcast.
How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev (2009). “A Frenchman named Gustave de Beaumont traveled the country in the 1830s and wrote about his travels. He compared the conditions of the Irish to those of “the Indian in his forest and the Negro in chains. . . . In all countries, . . . paupers may be discovered, but an entire nation of paupers is what was never seen until it was shown in Ireland.” Initially, upon arriving to the U.S., the Irish were not considered white. Signs offering work read, “Irish need not apply.” Spoiler: How the Irish Became White is not a heroic coming to terms with their class, race or ethnicity.
Milkman by Clare Burns (2018). A novel set in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” (1968-1998), the narrator is a nameless young woman coming of age in a claustrophobic house in the violent, politicized city of Belfast. She unwittingly captures the attention of a man called the Milkman, putting herself and her family in danger. Her attempts to avoid all contact with the Milkman and the Troubles is thwarted by her frequent walking around town while reading. This mild eccentricity draws attention and puts her and all of her relationships in danger. The book details how deeply The Troubles insinuated itself into every aspect of life, with nothing left untouched by repression, violence and dread. Milkman is saved from being entirely ominous by the narrator’s insight and dark humor. There is some echo of our own current, divisive political situation. Burns’ book won the 2018 Man Booker Prize and the 2018 Nation Book Critics Circle award.
City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (2011). A speculative fiction novel set in 2053 in a Western city in Ireland is beset by violence, horrible fog, rival gangs and excellent descriptions of what everyone is wearing to the fight. This is a particularly delightful book to listen to via audiobook, read by the author. Surreal, stylized violence runs through almost every aspect of the novel. The action is fast paced and complex, with double-crossing, paranoia, rifts, grudges, treachery, murder and revenge.
Pints of Malt, a podcast (March 2019 to present). There has been a wave of Nigerian immigration to Ireland beginning in 2002-2006, and this podcast turns the diasporic Irish emigration narrative inward by discussing immigrants in Ireland and their Irish identity, among other topics such as race, popular culture, and growing up Black in Ireland. Per the Apple Podcasts description, “Pints of Malt Podcast is brought to you by four Nigerian/Irish lads. They share their experiences growing up and living in Ireland. The podcast is full of laughs from the get go: from childhood memories to day-to-day shenanigans, there’s never a dull moment on the podcast with Femi, Kenny, Charlie and Jibbz”.
Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland by Nancy Scheper-Hughes (2001). As the Journal Ethnography describes, “When Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland was published some 20 years ago, it was promptly made a classic of psychological and medical anthropology by academics in the United States and simultaneously broadly and heatedly criticized in the Irish press as an egregious violation of community and cultural privacy, a debate that has blown hot and cold over the intervening decades. Following a recent return to `Ballybran’ in the summer of 1999 which ended in her expulsion from the village, Nancy Scheper-Hughes recounts her attempts to reconcile her responsibility to honest ethnography with respect for the people who once shared their homes and their secrets with her, thereby offering candid and vivid reflections on balancing the ethics and the micropolitics of anthropological work.”
5 Titles is directed by the Research & Instructional Services (RIS) Department at Duke University Libraries.