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Book review: Fergal Donoghue, Crime in the city: Kilkenny in 1845 (Dublin, 2015)



On the 10 September the latest books in the Maynooth Studies in Local History series were launched at Maynooth University. This series -edited by Professor Raymond Gillespie and published by Four Courts Press- has been producing valuable local history studies since 1995 and has accumulated a total of 122 pamphlets. These cover a broad geographic spread across the whole of Ireland. The pamphlets normally focus on a particular aspect of their respective area’s history. They offer an informative, enjoyable and accessible insight into the history of selected local areas. Of particular worth is the ability of the series to connect the local to the national and demonstrate how wider national trends played out in a local setting. In addition, the relatively short nature of these publications means that they are ideally suited to those with little time on their hands.

This year six books were published, namely: Gerard Dooley, Nenagh, 1914-21: years of crises; David Doyle, The Reverend Thomas Goff, 1772-1844: property, propinquity and Protestantism; Adrian Empey, Gowran, Co. Kilkenny, 1190-1610: custom and conflict in a baronial town; Pierce A. Grace, The middle class of Callan, Co. Kilkenny, 1825-45; Ann O’Riordan, East Galway agrarian agitation and the burning of Ballydugan house, 1922; Fergal Donoghue, Crime in the city: Kilkenny in 1845.

Typical of the high calibre of the series is Fergal Donoghue’s Crime in the city: Kilkenny in 1845 (Dublin, 2015). The book provides a fascinating insight into the nature and punishment of crime in Kilkenny city in 1845. The book begins by providing much context in terms of the social condition of the city in the period. It demonstrates that well-known generalisations such underemployment and the lack of a wage economy created a significant underclass in the city. In doing so the book also highlights the conditions in which this underclass lived. The author is also careful to guide the reader through the nuances of the locality and demonstrates that there were two sides to the city: one living in poverty alongside another living in relative wealth. The second chapter places justice and punishment in the city in a national context and gives the reader a good understanding of how the justice system in the Kilkenny operated in 1845.

The final chapter of this short book is a testament to the great efforts of the author to garner as wide a picture of crime and its punishment in the city as possible. The author demonstrates not only the effects of the famine on crime in the city but also through careful and insightful analysis of the statistics highlights how the study of sentences can provide an insight into the fears of the city’s elite.

Overall this short book offers a fine contribution to not only our understanding of crime and punishment in Kilkenny city but also to the wider national history of this subject. In doing this the author provides a valuable insight into the motivations and fears of those responsible for the punishment of crime in mid-nineteenth century Ireland.

This book (priced €8.95) and the rest in the series are available via the Four Courts Press website at: http://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/browse/history/maynooth-studies-in-local-history/


Adrian James Kirwan, co-editor of Holinshed Revisited, is an Irish Research Council funded Ph.D. candidate at the Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His research focuses on the interaction between society and technology, more about his research can be found here.


Book Review: Frank Cullen, Dublin 1847: city of the ordnance survey (Dublin, 2015).


Customs House, Dublin (1792), available at Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Customs_House_Dublin_1792.jpg?uselang=en-gb)

By Adrian James Kirwan
For anyone interested in Dublin city and its history this book will provide much enjoyment to both those familiar and unfamiliar with the city’s history. The book begins with an introductory chapter which provides an overview of the ordnance survey of Dublin and the social and economic context of the city’s development up to 1847. The blending of these two topics is testimony to Dr Cullen’s knowledge of both.

The rest of the book, taking the ordnance survey (O.S.) five-foot to one mile maps (1847) as its basis, is divided into forty-five sections. These focus on selected areas of the mid-nineteenth century city. Each contains the relevant extract from the five-foot O.S. map and some have one to two contemporaneous images of the area, street, square (or prominent buildings within the selected area). In addition, each section contains an accompanying text that elucidates the readers as to how and why the topographical developments on the map took place. While readers will no doubt find the map extracts and accompanying images of interest, it is the text which is the real brilliance of this work. These short –never over a page- overviews of sections of the nineteenth-century city are insightful and well written. The research and understanding of the city that this work is a product of is well hidden behind easy to read and enthralling prose. The real appeal of this book is that, due to each section being self-contained, the reader can take up the book and read at their leisure, as an individual section only takes a few minutes to read. In the same instance, the combined work provides a good introduction to the historical development of Dublin’s topography as it stood in 1847.

For example, section 13, Sackville Street, gives an overview of the development of this street as part of the work of the wide street commissioners and highlights its gradual transformation of the street from a residential to retailing district. Another get section is number 2, Blue Coat Hospital and Smithfield, which gives the reader an introduction to two Dublin institutions that have sadly disappeared since.

This is a must read for anyone with an interest in Dublin and its historical development. The easy to access book makes it very appealing to those who wish to learn about the city without having to engage with a substantial history of the city, as well as those with a particular interest in the cities topographical development.

This book is an ancillary publication of the Irish Historic Towns Atlas project and was launched in conjunction with the IHTA’s Dublin, part III, 1756 to 1847 (Dublin, 2014) by Rob Goodbody. As the atlas stops its investigation of the city’s topographical development with the ordnance survey of 1847 this accompanying publication of the city in that year is a welcome addition, providing as it does a boarder contextualisation of the topographical information contained in the atlas.

This book and indeed the entire range of IHTA publications can be purchase at: http://ria.ie/research/ihta/publications.aspx


Adrian James Kirwan, co-editor of Holinshed Revisited, is an Irish Research Council funded Ph.D. candidate at the Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His research focuses on the interaction between society and technology, more about his research can be found here.


Book review: Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York, 2005)

When historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was asked why she undertook to produce a biography of perhaps the most documented political figure in American history, she cited the explanation offered by twentieth century writer Ida Tarbell. According to Tarbell, researchers like to spend so much time with Lincoln because he was so ‘companionable’. What sets Team of rivals apart is this acknowledgement of Lincoln as a being whose political legacy was predicated on his ability to forge working relationships with old adversaries to help preserve and then repair a disintegrating Union. This study offers a refreshing depth of focus on the careers of Lincoln’s peers, with Goodwin convincingly demonstrating that Lincoln’s political success was less determined by his own talents and ego, which could be matched by many of his contemporaries, than by his genius for handling the talents and egos of others. This book is really a collection of biographies of the many politicians who opposed and worked with Lincoln,  their contributions to the age in which they lived and the foundations each of them built for the many changes that were effected during the Lincoln administration. In this Goodwin is replicating a successful formula from her Pulitzer prize-winning study of the personalities of the F.D.R. administration- No ordinary time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The home front in World War II.

Team of rivals chronicles how Lincoln, the epitome of what a self-educated man could achieve in a more fluid nineteenth century mid-western society, relied on his folksy homespun style to both charm allies and disarm adversaries, lulling them into a false and often fatal sense of superiority over the former labourer. As a former Illinois congressman who returned to practise as ‘prairie lawyer’ having served briefly in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lincoln’s career was certainly less starry than those of his three main rivals for the 1860 Republican Presidential nomination: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates. However Goodwin painstakingly documents how Lincoln positioned himself for success by securing the commitment from Republican delegates that he would be their second choice for nomination. As there was greater division between the supporters of Seward, Chase and Bates, who reflected different interests and wings of the Republican party, Lincoln emerged as the acceptable compromise candidate, who expressed himself with greater moderation on the burning political issues of the day. Lincoln’s bold step of constructing a cabinet of rivals is chronicled with Goodwin using extensive primary source material to illustrate how Lincoln’s wartime cabinet initially expected to be able to manipulate and pull the strings of the sixteenth president only to ultimately grow to respect and even revere Lincoln’s judgement.  Goodwin shows how Lincoln managed to exact rivalry from many (but not entirely all) of his former rivals by astonishing his often wayward cabinet members with his insistence on taking full and public responsibility for their often disastrous missteps.

What is most satisfying about this book of biographies is that Goodwin allows the primary material to take centre stage and speak for itself. The vast collections of letters, diaries, newspaper articles, government reports, memoranda etc., featured in the book serve to remind us that the politics of Civil War era American was driven by the clash of both the political convictions and the personalities of the people who produced them. An impressive piece of wide-ranging scholarship that provides an new perspective on Lincoln’s shrewd political acumen and most of all, his stage management skills to create a more rounded, nuanced and honest biography of Honest Abe and the people who shaped his presidency.

Resources for Historians: Maynooth Research Guides in Local History


Maynooth Castle in 1885, available at Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maynooth_Castle_1885.jpg) (accessed 6 Feb. 2015).


By Adrian James Kirwan

This month’s ‘Resources for Historians’ is a change from our usual review of useful websites. Instead the resource under scrutiny is a series of publications whose purpose is to guide readers through various source materials that would be of potential use to historians. While the series title points out that these are primarily geared toward local history there is much in the series that is of use to the study of a wide range of subjects.

The books follow a set format with the first chapter giving an introduction to the context of the sources’ creation and the uses to which they were put. This chapter is in essence a history of the sources. This gives the historian an insight into the available sources and the limitations imposed by their creation. This is followed by a chapter on accessing the sources, providing an overview of the various archives that hold the material under investigation and how to access them. The final chapter normally provides hints as to the potential uses to which the sources under investigation can be used. The books are normally finished with appendices that give an overview of the resources that are available.

An example of the material covered by these books is Jacinta Prunty’s Maps and map-making in local history (Disclaimer Jacinta Prunty is the author’s Ph.D. supervisor). The book provides an introduction to the world of maps and provides the reader with the essential knowledge needed to read, understand and use maps as historical sources. It guides the reader through the nature of maps, the manner of their creation with particular reference to map-making in Ireland. The book then provides all the information needed to locate and assess the main body of maps needed for a local or national study of Ireland.

Other very useful guides in the series are C.J. Woods, Travellers’ accounts as source material for Irish historians; in addition to an introduction the book has annotations of over 200 accounts and a bibliography. Indexes of travellers and places at the end of the book allow the reader to trace either individual travellers or allow one to enquire into any traveller accounts of a particular area. The same format is seen in Raymond Refausse’s, Church of Ireland records which provides a guide to published catalogues, editions of archives and manuscripts of the Church of Ireland as well as a guide to the main repositories for Church of Ireland records (a second edition of this book was published in 2006).

 Other books in the series include Business archival sources for the local historian; A guide to sources for the history of Irish education, 1780-1922; Medieval Gaelic sources; The big houses and landed estates of Ireland: a research guide; Exploring the history and heritage of Irish landscapes; Sources for the study of crime in Ireland, 1801-1921; A guide to Irish military heritage; Counting the people: a survey of the Irish censuses, 1813-1911; Medieval record sources, Pre-census sources for Irish demography.

These guides are a highly recommended starting point for students, amateur historians or even experienced historians who are seeking to expand and understand the range of potential resources that are available to them.

Further reading:

See the complete series of Maynooth Research Guides in Local History available at Four Courts Press:



Book review: Roland Wenzlhuemer, Connecting the Nineteenth-Century World: The Telegraph and Globalization (Cambridge, 2013).


The Eastern Telegraph Co.: System and its general connections. Chart of submarine telegraph cable routes, showing the global reach of telecommunications at the beginning of the 20th century (A.B.C. Telegraphic Code 5th Edition, 1901), available via Wikicommons (click here).

By Adrian James Kirwan

The first thing that is obvious on reading this book is the author’s training as a social scientist. Much of the introductory and first chapter of the book is taken up with the social theory of technology. While this is an essential task for a history of technology study, in places the author’s use of detailed explanation and examples in striving for clarity can be excessive and detract from the empirical and narrative flow of the book. This makes the book an excellent starting point for students seeking to understand the sub-discipline that is the history of technology, as well as providing an excellent source of further readings. But it does make reading certain sections difficult and would deter the average readership without a strong interest in the history of communications.

The central aim of Wendzlhuemer’s book is to examine the role that the telegraph played in the process of globalisation during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The book begins with the now near-obligatory comparison between the telegraph and the internet. This section concludes that there were similarities and differences between both technologies, in particular the ability of both technologies to ‘dematerialise’ information, i.e. physically separating information from a physical carrier. The book argues that to understand the development and application of these technologies we must look beyond the socio-, or technological-determinist understanding of technological development to what has been termed a ‘post-humanist’ approach. Thus, while technological systems are socially ‘shaped’, the technology has agency and impacts on its use. Bearing this in mind the book aims to understand how the forces of globalisation ‘shaped’ the global telegraph network and in turn how the availability of this network was utilised by those involved in the formation of a global economy.

The book is very successful in tracing how the development of global communication impacted upon temporal distances; that is the time it took to communicate between different regions of the world. The author through detailed research and analysis, using social network theory, is able to demonstrate that important financial and mercantile centres such as London developed significant links to regions like the east coast of the United States and India and this allowed rapid communication. However, in contrast, as these regions were becoming temporally closer other parts of the globe, due to poor telegraphic connectivity, were bypassed. In chapter six the book traces the development of international telegraphy and the author attempts to correlate the development of telegraphic connectivity with increases in trade, however while he maintains that this was the case in some regions it did not happen in others. The author, aware of the limitations of reliance upon telegraphic and trade statistics alone, is quick to point out that a study of the wider economic and structural factors behind these is needed to integrate the benefits of telegraphic connectivity within wider commercial interests.

As well as a global study of telegraphic development the author dedicates a chapter to the development of the telegraph in Britain and another to India. Again the use of social network theory allows an analysis of the use of this technology.

While the product of a substantial amount of work which provides a considerable amount of data of use to historians of the telecommunications this book at times presents this information without enough contextualisation. It is here perhaps that the book is too ambitious and by concentrating purely on international telegraphy could have allowed itself room to explore the wider factors influencing telegraphic development and its impact on globalisation in more detail.

In conclusion, for anyone researching globalisation, telegraphy and international trade in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this is a must read, but the density of statistics would deter the average reader.


Book review: Mark Mazower, Governing the world: the history of an idea (London, Penguin, 2012)






A student of the history of internationalism is often confronted with volumes that are theoretically complex or devoid of solid empiricism. It is often difficult to secure a traditional historical investigation into the competing dogmas of internationalism that emerged long before the existence of international organisations themselves. Rather, in our increasingly multi-disciplinary world, historians of internationalism are engaging more and more with the interpretations of political scientists. This cross fertilisation does little damage the practise of international history and certainly adds a new dynamism into a subject often stereotyped as fusty and slow to adapt to new methodologies. However it is my firm opinion that while a historian can be inspired by the theories expounded by other disciplines, an armchair historian, seduced by hypotheses and waylaid from the hard evidence of the past, will fail to make a valuable contribution to the field. For the history of internationalism is a minefield of competing theories closely married to and coloured by the opposing political ideologies of the left and right. Scholars of internationalism may unwittingly stumble into and rely on undiagnosed biases and agendas while failing to gain exposure to any exercises in primary research.

Thankfully, any student approaching the evolution of internationalism has an excellent starting point and example before them with Governing the world: the history of an idea by Mark Mazower, award winning historian and Professor of History at Columbia University. As with his previous contributions Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century and Hitler’s Empire: How the Nazi’s ruled Europe, Mazower retains his astonishing capacity to embrace a massive theme without sacrificing empiricism, detail or cohesion. Mazower draws on a wealth of international sources to demonstrate that internationalism was not one idea, born from pacifism or war-weariness but rather an assortment of competing proposals which emerged from both national pragmatism and international idealism. The book chronicles the ‘battle of ideologies’, tracing the rivalry of internationalists such as Marx and Mazzini, Lenin and Wilson. Mazower also teases out the libertarian anxieties awakened by internationalism and by ever-growing technocracies and international bureaucracies. He traces the not necessarily opposing relationship between nationalism and internationalism, multilateralism and imperialism. Mazower uses the various political embodiments of internationalism to demonstrate that while organisations such as the League of Nations may have retained a Eurocentric approach while perpetuating an Anglo-French hegemony, once inaugurated international institutions and the idealism they inspire are difficult to restrain and often lead to something far different than what their founders intended. Mazower’s book is not only an excellent investigation into the figures, groups and movements that jostled for the realisation of their own specific and alienating brand of internationalism, it also draws out the context and underlying conditions that shaped those ideologies and which has hamstrung organisations from the Concert of Europe to the United Nations.  What lends Mazower’s account legitimacy as a work of objective scholarship is his insistence that history ‘does not proceed in straight lines’. For instance while idealistic liberal internationalists were keen to portray the transition from the League of Nations to the United Nations as the story of human progress, Mazower demonstrates the reactionary and regressive forces at work in the creation of the U.N. Security Council which was for Mazower, a return to nineteenth century Concert of Europe -style diplomacy. For any historian struggling with the great patchwork of internationalism, seeking to find coherency and clarity in the globalisation of world politics, the interconnection of world trade and social policy and the aspirations for a ‘post-political mingling of peoples’, Mazower provides  the perfect launchpad. This book would also make an excellent textbook for any history module introducing undergraduates to the evolution of internationalism and the development international organisations.



Emma Edwards, co-editor of Holinshed Revisited, completed her PhD on international history (NUI Maynooth) in 2013. Her research is broadly concerned with the ethos and practise of the League of Nations and with the evolution from pre to post-war internationalism.

Book Review: A Scott Berg, Wilson (London, Simon and Schuster, 2013).

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

Over the years biographies of the twenty-eight president of the United States have wavered between hagiography and contempt. Common to both versions, Woodrow Wilson looms as a tragic figure who was either, depending on the competing historiography ascribed to, an idealistic prophet of the New World betrayed at the Paris Peace Conference by the vengeful political realism of his European contemporaries and congressional adversaries; or a blinkered academic who sought to impose a new international order without taking domestic constraints into account. Into this debate steps A. Scott Berg the American Pulitzer Prize winning biographer who tries and succeeds to inject some much needed historical nuance into the tired narrative of the Princeton professor who climbed down from the Ivory Tower to define a new direction for the modern Democratic Party. In his 700 page-long magisterial tome, Berg offers a painstakingly comprehensive portrait of Wilson, gleaned from his extensive mining of the Wilson archives. Berg is also the first biographer to be given access to the records of Wilson’s personal physician and to the private papers of his middle daughter, Jessie Wilson Sayre. The result is a highly personal account of a president that offers original insights into the motivations and inspiration behind his national and international policies. Berg insists on the importance of Wilson’s southern pride: though he only spent his infancy in Virginia, Wilson continued to hold fast to his association with a state that has produced more presidents than any other. Berg reminds us that Wilson was a child of Civil War/Reconstruction Era America; he had seen what defeat, humiliation and retribution could do to his ‘country’ and as Berg convincingly shows, these memories helped shape his approach to the Peace Treaty. Berg also uses personal papers, letters and correspondence to dispel the image of an enigmatic holy ascetic (in the Wasp rather than Roman mould) but rather presents us with a man who enjoyed limericks, golf and who courted and married his second wife, the vivacious Edith Galt, during his first term of office. Now and then Berg appears a little in awe of Wilson’s talents and intellect; unable, at times, to resist the iconography of Wilson as the tragic hero, broken by his failure to secure a ‘just peace’ or American membership of the League of Nations and prevented by a debilitating stroke from halting the slide back into Republican ‘normalcy’. Berg’s account would have benefited from greater engagement with the Makers of the Modern World series devoted the Paris Peace Conference. The authors of this series questioned the accepted centrality of Wilson to the Conference and, importantly, demonstrated that the greatest contribution to the Covenant of the League of Nations came from Britain and her dominions rather than from the brain of the American president. While Berg is correct to emphasise that it was Wilson, above all other leaders, who assumed the rallying cry for the League, he does little to acknowledge that it was Britain’s Robert Cecil and South Africa’s Jan Christiaan Smuts who put the meat on the bones. However Berg certainly does not shrink from the controversies of Wilson’s presidency: acknowledging his undoubted racism and chronicling the conspiracy of Edith Wilson effectively wielding executive power on behalf of her incapacitated husband. Overall this book provides a valuable panoramic view of early twentieth century American politics and of a presidency, party and republic in transition, capturing the fluctuations but growing confidence of American foreign policy. An excellent read for anyone interested in American or international history.

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