A Conversation with visiting Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Darragh Gannon
Dr. Darragh Gannon is Head of Irish Studies at University College Dublin, and was previously Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast. He is currently working on a project titled “Reading Global Ireland from the Hilltop to Capitol Hill.” Supported by the Fulbright Commission, he will be teaching Irish History at Georgetown University in the 2022 Spring semester while spending the year in Washington, D.C. to complete his research. This interview took place in October, 2022, and was conducted by Mary Turkot (M.A. in English ’23, and Program Assistant for Global Irish Studies)
Can you tell us a little bit about your research to date?
“I study early 20th Century Irish history, really focusing on the Irish Revolution and the Irish diaspora. I’m interested in interrogating the conventional ‘island story’ of modern Ireland and reconceptualising it in terms of a global Irish history. When writing my dissertation for my PhD at Maynooth University, my research centered on Irish nationalism in Britain from 1900-1922, which culminated in a book to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2023. After that, I pivoted to working at the National Museum of Ireland for 18 months–this was during the 1916 centenary, which made the experience really enriching, and it broadened my horizons in many ways. It was during this time at the National Museum that I worked on a big centenary exhibition funded by the Irish State: ‘Proclaiming a Republic: the 1916 Rising’. This became the subject of my first book: Proclaiming a Republic: Ireland, 1916, and the National Collection (Irish Academic Press, 2016). This period took me in an interesting direction. as I began focusing on material culture, the way objects inform our historical understanding and collective memory of the past. These ideas inform my teaching in creative and collaborative ways. Following this, I took up a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Queen’s University Belfast on the AHRC-funded Global Irish Revolution project. This research sought to integrate the Irish diaspora into historical narratives and public commemorations of the Irish Revolution, addressing transnational themes such as race, multiculturalism, migration, and postcolonialism. These areas of enquiry later mapped perfectly onto the research focus of the faculty here at Georgetown.”
You have led us perfectly to my next question already—what are you currently working on that brings you to Georgetown and D.C?
“Well, when first visiting Georgetown in 2019 I was really taken in by the beautiful hilltop, I was fortunate to have taken it in during all of its fall splendor, similar to how it looks now. During that short visit, I experienced an extraordinary meeting of minds which left a deep impression on me, intellectually and academically. The Georgetown Global Irish Studies Initiative has set the agenda for decentring Irish Studies–asking fundamental questions of our field, such as does Irish Studies (as the possessive case suggests) belong to scholars of Ireland alone? As a scholar who collaborates with Irish Studies communities around the world, I am very aware of the privileges which we enjoy by working on Irish Studies on the island–access to sources, extant teaching programs, annual funding streams, academic visibility, and the de facto recognition of our subject of study. In the United States, by contrast, scholars have to effectively communicate to university, political, and community stakeholders why Irish Studies is worth studying–the GIS Initiative does this in powerful, transnational ways. The incredible breadth of research interests in the Department of History, secondly, really set Georgetown apart from every other institution in my mind. Over coffeed conversations with colleagues, I have begun to explore the Irish Revolution as part of an Age of Revolutions–Egypt, Mexico, Russia, China, etc–these comparative discussions will become the basis for a major international symposium to be hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Global History in the spring.”
What is the most exciting part of your current project?
“I would say the proximity to archival collections has been a particularly exciting part of doing my research here, having access to these resources that I only fleetingly could access before. Having the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Special Collections at Georgetown Library on my doorstep has given me the time to research the history of Irish-America in the early twentieth century, and the space to think reflexively about how we, as scholars, engage with archives and libraries. There is currently a lot of interesting discussion about ‘decolonizing the archive.’ My archival experiences in DC to date, however, have led me to question the scope and limitations of the Irish historical record in a different light. National archives, by definition, establish and curate hierarchies of historical experience based on the nation-state–the papers of governments, national institutions, political figures. Beyond the state, Irish migrants are not represented adequately or empathetically in the national record–what I have elsewhere termed the ‘double marginalisation’ of the Irish migrant. The archival collections which I have consulted in DC suggest alternative sources by which we might restore the lived experiences of the Irish migrant to the historical record–material culture, print culture, visual culture. This multidisciplinary approach to archival culture, I believe, will offer a more reflective (indeed reflexive) way of thinking about the history of modern Ireland.”
Has anything you have encountered in your research surprised you?
“In terms of the Global Irish Studies Initiative, it has been a surprise to see how wide-ranging it is. I have been able to attend events with poetry, drama, medical humanities, cultural geography. It is really refreshing to see these intersections in an Irish Studies Initiative. As a program I’ve found that it has strong ways to connect to departments across the campus, and I find this all really positive, enriching, and exciting. Students are given agency and a greater degree of freedom to pursue new avenues of research. These new avenues seem more critical in their thinking, borne of the diverse programs here, and maybe also the distance from those established narratives and empirical hierarchies which we have back in Ireland. The scholarship of our young GIS Fellows, in particular, is pushing the boundaries of Irish Studies in innovative, and interdisciplinary ways. It’s an exciting time to be an Irish Studies scholar at Georgetown!”
Will you be teaching while you are here?
“Yes, I will be teaching in the spring—two modules. One will be a lecture-driven series capped at around 70 or 80 students, called ‘Modern Ireland: Cultural Americana, Britannica, or Europeana?’ I don’t have the answer to that question. I’m leaving that to the students. It will be a survey of modern Ireland with all of its transnational complexities. My other module, ‘Global Irish Revolution: 1912-1923’ is more research-driven, and will be integrating archival research from around the world, from my own last 5 years of my project, then moving all of this into the classroom and giving students the first-hand experience to research, write, and reflect on those critical issues. Through this teaching I hope to encourage a new generation of scholars to ask questions of Irish history, where previously there were answers.”
How do you plan to spend your time in D.C. and the USA outside of research and teaching?
“Colleagues at the Northern Ireland Bureau and the Irish Embassy have been very receptive to the possibility of future collaborations–I look forward to working with them on a range of commemorative events. Politically, it’s a momentous time to be in Washington D.C. I’ve attended some fascinating events at Politics and Prose and embraced the life of Josh Lyman for an evening (The West Wing) when invited to an election party for the Midterms! The Smithsonian Museums are a national treasure–I had the incredible privilege to examine an original copy of the Bill of Rights at the American History Museum during my lunch break. At the moment I’m trying to get to as many Wizards games as possible and am looking forward to the return of baseball season in the spring (Go Nats!). The United States has so much to offer coast to coast–I’m going to enjoy the opportunity to travel, and experience life, across this continent, when and where possible. I’ve always been fascinated by America–its cultures, its peoples, its places–the Fulbright Program has given me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience it all; I’m most grateful.”