Dealing with divided pasts: doing public history in Northern Ireland

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October 18, 2017
District Of Columbia, United States

Public lecture by Dr Olwen Purdue, Director of the Centre for Public History, Queen's University Belfast.

Northern Ireland Bureau, 601 13th Street NW, Washington DC, 20005

6.30-8.30 pm

The past can be deeply divisive, particularly when it enters the public sphere. As the ongoing controversy over confederate statues in the US demonstrates all too clearly, public memorialisation of past events has the potential to generate controversy and escalate political tensions. This is especially problematic in ethnically divided societies where ideas about historical events are inextricably bound up with ideas about identity, community, and nation.

On the streets of Northern Ireland, aspects of the past are appropriated and displayed in ways that represent and reinforce a very divided present. History is used, and abused, by different ethno-political groups as a reminder of past victories or past wrongs, and to reinforce present senses of alienation or grievance. The practice of public history in such a contested space is therefore a challenging, yet intriguing, prospect. How do we represent the past of a society where the historic narratives are so deeply divided? Is it possible to have an inclusive and yet meaningful representation of a ‘national’ history? Is there a place for community-run museums that represent a very unfiltered and partisan account of the past?

Taking Northern Ireland as a case study, this public lecture will explore the changing ways in which the past is represented in the public sphere, the impact of contemporary developments on the ways in which the past is represented, and the challenges of engaging in public history in a context where representation of the past in public, by the public, or for the public, remains deeply problematic.

Dr Olwen Purdue is Lecturer in Irish History and Director of eth Centre for Public History at Queen’s University Belfast. She also runs an award-winning postgraduate course on Public History in Northern Ireland

Contact Info: 

Kirsten K Fruit | Public Affairs & Outreach Officer |Northern Ireland Bureau| 601 13th Street NW, Washington DC, 20005 | O: 202 367 0463 | M: 202 702 0467

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