As many of you will know I am an archaeologist by profession, and have spent much of my working life engaged in archaeological and historical analysis of the Irish military experience. I have been fortunate to examine many different areas over the years, be it Elizabethan-era battlefields, 17th century massacre sites, 19th century military fortifications or 20th century memorialisation and remembrance. It has been pretty clear for the past four years or so that the Irish experience of the American Civil War has utterly captivated me. I feel a need bordering on obligation (maybe obsession?) to explore, understand and disseminate the experiences of these Irish emigrants in as many ways possible.
To that end I have recently embarked on a part-time PhD at nearby University College Cork. Carrying out detailed research while still working is a challenge, but I felt the time was right to formalise and focus my study of the Irish in this period. If all goes to plan it will take me some six years to complete (of course, completion is by no means guaranteed). As someone who spends much of their time dealing in online history, it seems appropriate to undertake the degree as part of a structured Digital Arts & Humanities programme, which has a stated aim of enabling students to ‘carry out research in the arts and humanities at the highest level using new media and computer technologies’. I am based in Ireland, thousands of miles from many of the major relevant historical repositories, so it is true to say that without computer technologies I would never have been able to explore the American Civil War in anything like the detail that the digital age has made possible. Therefore it seems appropriate that part of my work is focused on the further use and application of these tools when it comes to the Irish experience of the Civil War.
So what exactly am I going to be looking at? Even a cursory glance through the history of the posts on this site will see how it has become centred on the social impact and consequences of the war, told through ‘personal stories.’ It is still early days in the formulation of my research questions and thesis outline (so expect some changes!) but I want to work on assessing the real cost of the war for individual Irish people. When a few dozen men were killed or maimed at a particular battle, what were the consequences of that event in the years that followed? What was the psychological impact on men and their families? What type of pensions and supports did they receive, were they adequate? How did they remember their experience in later years? My most probable focus will be on the men of the New York regiments of the Irish Brigade and their families (63rd, 69th, 88th New York) but this may narrow and expand depending on developments. When I have finalised my thesis outline in the coming months I hope to launch an appeal on the site, asking you the readers if you have any primary source material relating to relevant men and their families that might contribute to this analysis. My work will also require a digital component, and aside from digital analytical and visualization tools that I hope to utilise, I am also keen to continue a process of dissemination and collaboration with others interested in this area (which to some extent this blog facilitates). Ideally I am hoping that I can create a new interactive resource that will be freely available to all and will be based on the above research. We will have to wait and see if that can become a reality.
There is much work yet to do, and it would be naive of me to think that this work will not impact on the frequency of posting on the site. However, I do intend to maintain it as an integral part of my research and I also hope to post the occasional update on progress. A daunting road lies ahead, but I do hope it proves to be a fulfilling one!