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Irish and Scottish in the limelight this month

12 March 2008

Irish and Scottish in the limelight this month

Full pubs in New Zealand on St Patrick’s Day are just one reminder that people worldwide fiercely celebrate their Irish and Scottish heritage – as are Scottish pipe bands, highland games and Guinness beer. It’s estimated that around half of New Zealanders have an Irish or Scottish heritage, says Victoria University’s Irish Scottish Studies Programme director Dr Brad Patterson.

Dr Patterson and others from the programme have teamed up with the University of Aberdeen to present a four-day conference on all things Irish and Scottish. The conference, entitled Nations, Diasporas and Identities, will have nearly 50 speakers from around the world and up to 150 attendees.

“Political and economic events over the last decade have begun radically to reshape the cultural identities of Ireland and Scotland. People around the world are becoming increasingly conscious of, and assertive of, their Irish and Scottish heritage,” says Dr Patterson.

He says this conference, from March 27 to 30, will question whether national identities are being transformed by feedback from their diasporas. General issues to be addressed: • What is a national history or a national culture in this world of mobile populations? • Are alternative ‘national’ identities developing that are quite different from the original? • Should the notion of the ‘nation’ be extended to encompass its diasporas or should it be narrowed down?

A selection of speakers:

Cairns Craig (University of Aberdeen) is Glucksman Professor of Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen, and is the Director of Aberdeen’s Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. He is the opening speaker of this conference, presenting a public lecture on the Thursday night entitled Exchanging Cultures.

“Many traditional conceptions of the nation are based on something like Benedict Anderson's formulation: ‘the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion’.

If true, would this not mean that a diaspora was, potentially, a continuing part of the nation? If false, does it mean that conflict rather than communion might be what holds a nation together? By bringing theories of the nation together with the analysis of diaspora, we can perhaps reformulate our conceptions of both: in the experience of exchanging cultures which characterises the experience of the migrant, there may be an alternative way of understanding the fundamental processes of the nation itself.

Rather than a nation being a ‘communion’, the lecture will argue for a concept of the nation as an ongoing site of cultural exchange.” Don Akenson (Queen’s University, Kingston) was a scholar in New Zealand in 1988 and wrote the first major book on the Irish in New Zealand. He is an internationally acclaimed scholar and author who is considered the world’s foremost authority on the Irish Diaspora. His talk is entitled Ever more Diaspora: Advances and Alarms.

Jeremy Cresswell (Victoria University of Wellington) is talking about his Master’s topic: Printing Paddy in the provinces. “Comparative cartoon evidence from the eighteen sixties reveals the Irish to be an integral part of the formation of a white New Zealand identity. Unlike their counterparts in England, Canada and the United States the provincial Punch periodicals that appeared in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, New Plymouth and Wellington show a marked lack of hostility towards the Irish.

When compared to the abundance of hostile images in Atlantic world periodicals the absence in New Zealand periodicals indicates that the Irish were an integral part of New Zealand settler society…Compared to other host communities of the Diaspora the Irish were overrepresented in the New Zealand printing industry and related trades. While this overrepresentation is a factor in the lack of hostile imagery it also is evidence of Irish inclusion in colonial New Zealand society.”

Rebecca Lenihan is in the final year of her doctoral studies with the Irish-Scottish Studies Programme of Victoria University, and is a member of Dr Patterson’s Marsden funded research team investigating New Zealand’s Scottish settlers. Her thesis essentially asks ‘who were New Zealand’s Scots’, addressing such issues as who came (age, gender, marital status and occupational profile of the migrants), from where in Scotland did they come, when did they depart Scotland (and when did they arrive in New Zealand), and where in New Zealand did they settle? Her talk is entitled New Zealand’s Shetland Immigrants. Luke Gibbons (Notre Dame) is major figure on Irish studies in the United States.

His research centres on Irish literature, film and post-colonialism. He teaches on the Irish Studies International Programme and is co-director of the Irish Seminar in Dublin. His talk is entitled Dislocating Modernities: Celtic Periphery as Cosmopolitan Fringe. Other speakers include Marjorie Howes (Boston College), Graeme Morton (University of Guelph), Tom Nairn (Melbourne) and David Wilson (University of Toronto). Further details including a programme can be found on the conference website: .


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