I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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The Big Picture

Sara Goek
Transnational Perspectives on Modern Irish History, edited by Niall Whelehan, Routledge Studies in Modern History, 256 pp, £85, ISBN: 978-0415719803 In a 1916 article titled “Trans-National America” Randolph Bourne espoused the promise of multiculturalism and concluded: “We cannot Americanize America worthily by sentimentalizing and moralizing history… The inflections of other voices have been drowned. They must be heard … It is the vague historic idealisms which have provided the fuel for the European flame. Our American ideal can make no progress until we do away with this romantic gilding of the past.” Heralding the demise of the “melting pot” in favour of a new cosmopolitanism and (though he does not use the word) multiculturalism, he argued that immigrants could contribute to American society; their dual allegiances presented no obstacle. He saw in myopic nationalism a destructive force that had led to the First World War. Bourne took a stance in a debate that extended not only over the present and future, but also over the past. Far from denying the value of history in creating a national identity, he argued for recognition of its diversity. In Dublin, a few months before Bourne’s essay appeared in Atlantic Monthly, a group of men and women rose up against the might of the British empire. About half the revolutionary leaders were born or lived outside Ireland and their ideological treatises included works on Hungary, the Congo, socialism, and English poetry. While their story has rightly entered the national story, it also belongs to a transnational one. At stake in our view of the past is the consciousness of the nation and the inclusiveness of its borders. Local and national perspectives dominate modern Irish historiography, while the history of the diaspora is written largely from the outside. Meanwhile, successive governments have seen no apparent contradiction in canvassing the diaspora for money while emigration continues and those who leave are denied a vote. Ongoing public debates over the “decade of commemorations” have raised questions about the continuance of this insularity and exclusivity: how do we understand the Easter Rising in the context of the First World War or European nationalism? What influence did ideas from abroad have on Irish social and political movements? How did emigrants and foreigners interpret events in Ireland? A growing number of Irish historians insist on our need to consider these questions and others like them. The term for this trend is…

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