Outline and structure of the course
The main focus of this course is to consider how life was lived through war and revolution.
To achieve this, the course will focus on key areas of life and ask how they may or may not have been affected by the turbulent political and military events of the 1912 to 1923 period. Over the next six weeks, we will explore people’s fighting lives, their political lives, their economic lives, their social lives, and finally their private lives. We will investigate the ways in which war and revolution may or may not have impinged on each of these areas of life.
Week 1: Introduction
The purpose of this introductory week is to allow you to become familiar with the broad sequence of events unfolding between 1912 and 1923. Apart from absorbing the chronology of the period, we also want you to begin to grapple with the internal complexities of the period which the dates often obscure. We also would like you to begin to explore some of the conflicting interpretations that have arisen concerning the significance of this period. You might also begin to tussle with the question that historians of every period and place have to ask: who do we choose to listen to and why and from whose perspective are we telling history from? To reflect these aims, Week 1 will take a very different form to the remaining weeks. In Week 1 only, you will hear a variety of accounts of the period, but the characters speaking are just that – characters. While the sentiments, opinions, positions taken and experiences described are real - they all appear in the historical records – we have presented them through these fictionalised voices to show how the same event can produce many different reactions. From Week 2 onwards you will encounter the actual historical records of real people’s lives.
Week 2: Fighting Lives
This week will engage with the violence and activism of the period at its most direct point by looking at those who fought and those who participated in a variety of forms. We will examine what mobilised or moved people to campaign, to fight at various points across 1912-23. Who fights, why, and what for? What did it feel like to fight? What forms did fighting take whether in the Great War, in guerrilla warfare or in civil war? What were the costs for those who did fight? This theme raises questions of a comparative nature: by setting Ireland’s case in the context of wider European events does it alter our understanding of the Irish situation?
Week 3: Political Lives
Most people did not take up arms or fight for any of the various causes in this period, but they did have and did express their political opinions in a variety of changing and increasingly diverse ways. This is the period of the broadening franchise – dramatic changes to local government in 1898 are followed by the extension of the franchise to most men and to some, but not all, women by the 1918 general election. But this week is not just about periodic expressions of political views at election times. We will also consider how political lives changed and radicalised across the period, and you will examine how politics played a part in ordinary people’s lives. How did people become involved in politics? How were political arguments made and views expressed? As historians do we pay too much attention to the violence of the period, when the most substantial and long-term changes were effected by much more explicitly political means?
Week 4: Economic Lives
Economic realities do not dictate everything, and it would be both callous and foolish to reduce people’s lives to the measure of the money in their pockets, but the economic effects of these years are striking. War brought a boom to the Irish agricultural economy, while economic problems may well explain why men continued to enlist when it was all too clear what the Great War promised. Considering economic lives across the period allows us to consider what costs people were asked and prepared to pay for whatever their cause. It will allow us to consider who profited and who lost. Did opposing sides wage their own kinds of economic wars? What did people value; what did people buy? How were the costs counted when the time for reckoning had come?
Week 5: Social Lives
This week you will consider some of the very diverse effects war and revolution had on Irish social life. Freedoms of movement and association were sometimes affected, so how people experienced a variety of basic, everyday activities was shaped and changed by the events of these years. That said, this is also a period when lives continued to be lived in diverse ways in spite of what was happening, and this survival of many unexpected normalities will feature very clearly in this week’s theme, not least to question your sense of how violent this period was. We will look at how dramatically war and revolution could impinge, not least in the use of social ostracisation, while also considering the combatants’ social lives. Where did people seek consolation? Just how ubiquitous did war and revolution seem?
Week 6: Private Lives
Though so often ignored by historians, private lives are just as much a part of history as public, political or economic ones. This final theme gives us the opportunity to reflect on a wide variety of issues raised across the course. It also encourages us to consider these issues in terms of the individual consequences of war and revolution, which is where, ultimately, the costs of both are most obviously borne. This is all part of understanding war and revolution’s reach. We will look at personal loss; the toll fighting took; the personal prices people paid, but also the things that may have shaped their lives beyond war and revolution at this point.
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