Monday, December 13, 2010

To make a horse follow you.

From the Choctaw Intelligencer of February 12th, 1851:

You may make a horse follow you in ten minutes.  Go to the horse, rub his face, jaw and chin, leading him about, saying to him, come along, a constant tone is necessary.  By taking him away from other persons and horses, repeat the leading and stopping.  Sometimes turn him around, and all ways keep his attention by saying, come along.  With some horses, it is important to whisper to them, as it hides the secret and gentles the horse, you may use any word you please, but be constant in your tone of voice.  The same will cause all horses to follow.
This, in a paper which advertises a remarkable number of horse thefts.

How do we talk about the IRA? How do we talk about the North?

One of my perennial problems with American tv shows with occasional British themes is the way in which Irishness is leveraged. Irishmen are either IRA terrorists or benevolent barkeeps. Irishwoman are almost universally objects to be had by charming American male leads. Stereotypes aside, for the time being, I have noticed a trend in recent portrayals of the 'nasty' IRA mode of Irishman. A recent episode of 'Human Target' featured an ex-IRA 'enforcer' who makes good by helping the British royal he once put a bounty on. Movies like 'Boondock Saints' feature thuggish men with northern accents who make good by ridding Boston of bad guys. Is the implication that (a) all Irishmen with northern accents are IRA men? and (b) that consequently all Irishmen with northern accents owe something to either the U.S. or Britain?

Narratives about Northern Ireland in the American press are few and far between. A botched car bombing in Derry in November got almost no attention in the U.S. press, marching day riots receive little but brief mention while the publication of the Saville report, arguably one of the more important news items vis-a-vis northern Ireland in recent years garnered three mentions in the New York Times, one of them in an op-Ed written by Bono. However, northern Irish characters seem to pop up regularly in American television, from Leverage to Lie to Me to Human Target to Burn Notice. These characters are a knowable unknowable - exotic enough to be a change-up from the normal thuggery, but familiar enough to make audiences receptive. Frequently, these characters find redemption in the end, or die protecting 'worthy' American or British allies.

In the most recent iteration of the Sherlock Holmes cannon, Moriarty is cast a dilettante Irishman, a modern day Oscar Wilde, but with a northern accent. Are we to learn that only non-northerners can be trusted? That northern Irishmen can only be redeemed through service to crown or American flag? Or is this simply a correlation/causation problem, based on the assumption that Americans can't recognize Derry from Dublin, let alone Ireland from Scotland?

If the myth of Irish-America is one of the 26 counties rather than the 32, how do we teach Irish-American or even Irish history in America? Put another way, if the only Irish that we accept in American popular culture are from the republic, how can we responsibly talk about the 6?

In terms of teaching Irish and British history, how do we undermine the othering of Northern Ireland without giving students the impression that we are advocating for violent republicanism?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Queen's Faces.

I've always been fascinated with British currency.  As a child, I think that I liked them because they looked more like treasure than American currency, but recently I've become interested in the social messages of coins.  One of the last items in the History of the World in 100 Objects series was a suffragette penny.   Suffragettes stamped 'Votes for Women' over the face of the Edward VII (leaving the female Britannia on the reverse side un-touched) and circulated the pennies.  Because the coins were of such low denomination, and because there were so many of them, the suffragette message spread relatively widely, and less violently than many other suffragette strategies of the time.  Currency as a combination of the symbolic and the practical is not a new notion - today's money is even symbolic of its worth, as no coin is worth its weight in metal, and Douglas Adams even went so far as to claim in his speech at Digital Biota 2 in 1998 that money was an artificial god.  But the current British currency makes reference symbolically to another practical process - that of the aging of the queen.

Until 1984, the image of Queen Elizabeth II on British coinage was a young one:

From 1985 to 1997 the image was of a slightly older queen:

And the image that has been in use since 1998 is older still:

It has been over a decade since the last image of Queen Elizabeth was commissioned, and I wonder if they will re-mint the coins any time in the future.  The aging Queen both reminds the people who use British coinage daily of the mortality of their monarch - older coins are still in circulation, so it is possible to come across all three versions of the queen in one transaction - but also reminds the Queen and her family of that same mortality.  I can't begin to imagine what it must be like to be the head of a constitutional monarchy, or in a position that a rising number of citizens think should be abolished altogether.  I suppose that all people in the public eye have the unique experience of seeing their histories written as they live it, but to have your aging process indelibly marked on metal, which will presumably be around longer than Daily Mail lambasts of celebrities, must be a disconcerting experience.

The financial crisis has sparked histories of money and capital, but I think that historians might also think about the incidental material culture of money, and what it means and meant to interact daily with coins and notes as objects.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Question of racism."

Even the Freeman's Journal has something to say about the question of the Irish "race": "The Times is remarkable addicted to Oriental analogies when Ireland is the subject of illustration."

The London Times never fails to disappoint for juicy quotes about the Irish, and the Freeman's Journal similarly never fails to disappoint for snark.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I don't think that I was aware that I had a teaching philosophy until I had to write one. Part of that came from the fact that in graduate school, I have been exposed to a certain kind of historical teaching, and had not really considered why professors were making certain decisions vis-a-vis their curricula. Now that I am designing syllabi of my own, I am struck by how many different directions one might go in, to teach something as basic, say, as British history. Do I assign new, but possibly unproven books, or classic texts? How do I balance the kinds of histories that I like - mostly social - with other approaches? How many, and what kinds of writing assignments teach the most without overloading students?

For undergraduates, I find that I am trying quite hard to create a connection with the past, and to lead students to consider people and events in the past not as denizens or artifacts of an unreachable foreign land, but approachable and accessible. In turn, students come to think about the past neither as a dull series of truths nor as a simple procession from cause to effect, but as deeply contingent and complicated as the world today.

While looking at the super-granny photospread, I came across these images by Russian photographer Sergey Larenkov.  

Larenkov takes old WWII photos and "carefully photoshops them over more recent shots to make the past come alive. Not only do we get to experience places like Berlin, Prague, and Vienna in ways we could have never imagined, more importantly, we are able to appreciate our shared history in a whole new and unbelievably meaningful way."  This is an incredibly elegant visual representation of what I try to do in class, and although the conceit seems as though it might become hackneyed with overuse, I wonder if and how I might use images like these to help students better understand their connecdedness to the past.

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Universes.

So, I am about one-third of the way through the ouvre of Agatha Christie, and while I am noticing plot-recycling like never before (Evil Under the Sun is basically the same story as Death on the Nile, for instance) I am also coming to appreciate the ways in which Dame Christie created a world for her characters to live in.  I am also watching the Dr. Who cannon in my relaxation/ sitting-up-with-the-dog-who's-eaten-chocolate-to-make-sure-he-doesn't-die time and I am struck by the same thing.  The writers of the Whoniverse have it relatively easier, they have been building on their world since the 1960s, and also have all of time and space to fool around with.  So if they want to reference a previous doctor, they can just pick an alien and be done with it.

I think that what Christie does is slightly different, insofar as she was working alone, and was limited (if you can call it that) by England between WWI, and the 1970s (although that was naturally limited further by whenever she was writing).  I have noticed a few times that AC includes incidental asides that have exactly no bearing on the case - which is notable for her, most seemingly unrelated quips are brought in at the end of the novel by Poirot/Marple/Tommy+Tuppence as a key moment of deduction - like in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, when Julia Olivera references Miss Van Schulyer, or in Appointment with Death when Nadine Boynton references Poirot turning a blind eye in the Murder on the Orient Express.

At first I thought these little references were a bit too coy and cutesy, a reward for the 'real' readers.  And they might have been from AC's point of view.  But I think that a lesson might be learnt from this style of writing.  One of my goals as an historian is to recreate the worlds in which people lived.  One of the most rewarding, and most difficult parts of writing my dissertation is imagining how 19th century Londoners, Dubliners, Corkonians, Mancuinians, Liverpudlians, Glasgwegians, New Yorkers, Cherokees and Choctaws would have experienced reports of the famine.  Were they shocked?  Did some people cry, upon reading reports of abject suffering?  Why did they donate so much money to famine relief?  At any rate, elegantly conveying through prose the world in which people lived, read, and reacted is a rewarding challenge for me, and reading AC recently has made me think anew about how I can employ prose to create that world for my readers.  Of course, I am even more limited than AC - I have to confine myself to the actual past, but as proponents of speculative history have reminded us, sometime when the sources aren't there, we have to do our best to critically imagine the worlds we are studying.  I am working on the Dublin chapter, and having done much of the theoretical work on Irish nationalism and the famine, I am now trying to describe what it was like for Dubliners to read about the suffering and death of their own countrymen.  It is a whole bunch of fun to write.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The new (new) Sherlock Holmes

Masterpiece Theater has been airing episodes of a Sherlock Holmes miniseries set in the present.  As I was watching the first episode, I wondered whether this was a reaction to the wild success of the Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. (soon to be with Stephen Fry, as Mycroft, if the message boards prove correct) and whether it also had something to do with there being another Afghan war on, giving Dr. Watson a plausible place in the future.  I am inclined to believe that the former is true, especially given similarities between the music and the Holmes-thought-process scenes in the movie and the miniseries.  Also, since Stephen Moffat wrote the series, Holmes occasionally slips into Dr. Who-dom.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but given that Benedict Cumberbatch is a skinny, eccentric white guy, and could plausibly play the Doctor, its a bit disconcerting to have these Whovian moments.

Updating a classic series is always difficult, and I think rarely successful.  The iterations of Alice and Wonderland movies/TV series, for instance, failed pretty miserably.  Although Alice wasn't originally written for film, so perhaps the comparison isn't fair.  Neverhteless, I still think that Christopher Lloyd's white knight is one of the best translation of Wonderlandia to the screen.  Since I'm on this tangent, I do think that Tim Burton's Alice's final scene with her uncle discussing expanding into China is an interesting bit of imperial culture.  One might extrapolate that living in Wonderland, and being something rather exceptional in Wonderland led her to think imperially, but that last scene seemed more like an attempt to root the whole film in Britishness than it was any meaningful commentary on the impetus of empire.  Not that everything has to be meaningful commentary, but I think that if one brings up the empire, in a venue where it had no place being, some explanation is needed.

I have the opposite issue with Sherlock.  There is simply not enough empire, or really, other things that were common in the nineteenth century but seem unseemly now.  I have used the scene where Sherlock and Watson meet to teach with.  In this particular passage, Watson is recounting his time in the army: 
On landing at Bombay, I learned that my corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in the enemy’s country. I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Candahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties.The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but for me it had nothing but misfortune and disaster. I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. I should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, my orderly, who threw me across a pack-horse, and succeeded in bringing me safely to the British lines. Worn with pain, and weak from the prolonged hardships which I had undergone, I was removed, with a great train of wounded sufferers, to the base hospital at Peshawar. Here I rallied, and had already improved so far as to be able to walk about the wards, and even to bask a little upon the veranda, when I was struck down by enteric fever, that curse of our Indian possessions.

I have used this bit as an introductory lesson to analyzing texts.  Giving them a piece of fiction is always something of a risk, but it is useful to point out that things that are not strictly "true" can serve as primary sources, and windows into a time.  But the point about this piece also is how much the empire pervaded British life in the 1880s.  In the recent iteration of Sherlock, by virtue of the time shift, that empire is all but invisible.  I think that it was an important part of the original stories, from the Orientalist bigotry in the Adventure of the Creeping Man to the notion that too much interest in the east affects mania in The Specked Band, the imperialism and anxiety about imperialism of Doyle's time pervaded the original stories.  I am not sure what could fit into the slightly uncomfortable place of nineteenth-century imperial bigotry, but by removing that valence from Holmes, and by also making him a recovering smoker instead of a cocaine addict, the creators of Sherlock smoothed the character out a bit.  That he comes across as Whovian, rather than a loose cannon takes something away from the Holmes that many readers know and love.  For what it's worth, the authors seem to try to counteract this smoothness both by suggesting that Holmes is gay and by having both supporting characters and Holmes himself refer to the detective as a 'high functioning sociopath,' but it comes across more like a cocktail party quip than something threatening.  Maybe subsequent episodes will develop the darker side of Holmes - I certainly hope so - and if not, the series is certainly enjoyable, but it lacks a certain something.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Philosophies of teaching

One of the components of my applications is a teaching philosophy.  I have been struggling with this thing for awhile now, and its not that I don't have ideas about teaching, or examples about ways in which I've implemented those ideas, but it is hard to both write about teaching eloquently and to limit myself to two single-spaced pages.  I think that critical thinking is important - but what is critical thinking?  I think that good writing is important - but what does good writing consist of?  I want to get students to love history as much as I do - but how do I explain that, let alone teach it?

I had been toying with including somethings in my TP, but have decided that it are a bit too 'out there' for a professional document.  The core issue is the similarity between historical work and the work of detectives in detective fiction.  I suppose a similar comparison might be made to scientists and the scientific method, but the romance of a detective novel is more compelling for me than the sterility of a lab.  In Death on the Nile, Poirot is having a conversation with Colonel Race, a sporadically recurring character in the Agatha Christie universe.  Race remarks "It often seems to me that's all detective work is, wiping out your false starts and beginning again."  Poirot counters "Yes, it is very true, that. And it is just what some people will not do. They conceive a certain theory, and everything has to fit into that theory. If one little fact will not fit it, they throw it aside. But it is always the facts that will not fit in that are significant." I think that this is one of the best accidental descriptions of the historical profession that I have come across.  We live in a world of constant revisions in the face of new archives or theories, and the best historians re-work and re-think their arguments until they are the best means of explaining all of the probable facts.  However, I think that it might be a little bit of a faux pas to quote Dame Agatha in my teaching philosophy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Mechanic is the Teaching

Brenda Brathwaite designs games.  She has worked on a lot of games, and won a bunch of awards, and should be generally lauded, but I am particularly interested in a set of six non-digital games that she has created, which seem like they would be an innovative and powerful tool for teaching history at a range of levels.

Her Mechanic is the Message series "captures and expresses difficult experiences through the medium of a game" - and the difficult experiences that Brathwaite has chosen to capture happen to be historical ones, and many of them are problems that have come about as a consequence of European imperialism and Atlantic systems.  In her talk at the Art History of Games Symposium , Brathwaite said that her first impulse to create these games came when her daughter came home from school after studying slavery and noted that once upon a time a lot of people from Africa took cruises to America.  Being a game designer, Brathwaite's educational impulse came not in the form of books or movies or a stern talking to, but in the form of what might look and feel like a board game, but which is actually an "interactive installation" which is "capable of a higher form of communication, one which actively engages the participant and makes them a part of the experience rather than a passive observer."  The games in the series are
  • The New World (on the Atlantic slave trade)
  • Síochán leat (on Cromwell's invasion of Ireland)
  • Train (on concentration camps)
  • Mexican Kitchen Workers (on illegal immigration and exploitation of illegal immigrants)
  • Cité Soleil (on Haiti)
  • One Falls for Each of Us (on the Trail of Tears)

As someone at the early stages of her teaching career, and who is currently writing a 'teaching philosophy,' I have been thinking a bit about how to teach traumatic events in a way that both conveys their gravity and doesn't reduce crises to numbers.  I recently ran into this problem when I was TAing for a class that asked students to look at the Slave Trade Database.  Although the students were initially blown away by the scope of the project, and although the scope of the slave trade registered with them, they felt like the STD did a bad job of conveying the humanity and tragedy of Atlantic slavery.  They wanted stories.  The teacher and I didn't want to reduce the slave trade to a collection of narratives, because scale is incredibly important.  I have run into the same problem trying to teach the Irish famine.  I can give statistics about the number of deaths, evictions and emigrees and  I can talk about what percentage of Ireland's staple crop was lost between 1845 and 1852.  I can also show what are now standard images from the Illustrated London News and read passages from Asenath Nicholson.  One approach gives the scale, the other gives the 'human interest' and neither satisfies my expectations.

Back to the games.  Brathwaite's games seem like they might be able to unite problems of scale and narrative in a form that people don't expect to be educational, and which might consequently open up doors for learning.  It is possible that these games (I feel like I should call them art installations, but she calls them games, and that is how they are conceived, but I need to de-couple the idea of games a la FAO Schwarz from game as a concept) will never be widely available.  The one she talks about in the link above, One Falls for Each of Us consists of over 20,000 wooden pieces, and is currently more of an art piece than a commercial entity.  However, were they every to become widely available, I would buy them and use them in classroom situations.  I worry that the connotation of 'game' might cause students to take issues less seriously, but if these games force them to conceptualize slavery, Indian removal, immigration, the Holocaust, and Haiti in a new way - or at all - well, that seems like a good thing.

The idea of making students feel complicit in historical systems, another way of reminding them of historical baggage that we all carry around, seems radical, but I also think it would be very powerful.

In her talk at AHGS, Brathwaite has some really interesting things to say about what we are and are not comfortable with.  I remember the first time I saw Puerto Rico The Game being appalled that you got 'slave' tokens every turn, which helped you to accomplish tasks.  I do not remember being appalled the first time I played, say Civ.  She is an incredibly smart woman, and has some great things to say about our conception of history.  So, also, read her stuff.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A History of the World in 100 Objects - or - Colonialism still at work

Parthenon Frieze.  Courtesy of the British Museum

The BBC has been running a programme called 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' since the beginning of this year.  From Monday to Friday for 100 days Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum delivers a 15-20 minute podcast on "how we humans over two million years have shaped our world and been shaped by it."
He tells this story "exclusively through the things that humans have made, all sorts of things, carefully designed, and then, either admired and preserved or used, broken and thrown away."
He talks about "just 100 objects, from different parts on our journey.  From a cooking pot, to a golden galleon.  From a stoneage tool to a credit card. And in each program [he's] going to be talking about one object, from the British Museum's Collection" (Emphasis mine)

 When I first started listening to this podcast, I was impressed by how varied the objects were, both in terms of use and in terms of provenance.  The first object is a stone chopping tool from Tanzania, and subsequent objects include Chinese coins from the 8th century B.C.E. , a maize god from the Mayan empire, an early writing tablet from Mesopotamia and an entrance plaque from ancient Iran.  Of the first 85 objects, only 14 are European in origin, which suggests an attempt by the podcast makers to focus on the actual centers of historical power, not popular views of the importance of the west.  Especially in a time of Islamophobia in the US, and to a lesser degree in the UK, it is refreshing to see so many examples of the "history of the world" drawn from the middle east.  Last week's podcasts were devoted to the interaction of religions in the seventeenth century, and those that dealt with Suni and Shia Islam and Hinduism emphasized religious tolerance, while those that discussed Christianity emphasized bloody conflict.  So, all in all, this podcast is doing a quite good job of de-centering Europe in the imagination of westerners.

However, as much as the overall project is an admirable one, the fact that all of the objects are drawn from the collections of the British Museum, and are consequently artifacts of colonialism seems to undermine that project.  Supporters of the British Museum - and particularly of the BM's insistence that the Elgin Parthenon Marbles belong in London, and not in the Acropolis Museum in Greece - say that the BM can better house and protect artifacts than could local museums in Iraq, Iran, North America, Peru, China, Nigeria, or anywhere else (this is explicated in the 'What is the British Museum's Position?' section of the Parthenon Marbles website).  Further, supporters argue, by centralizing these artifacts, the BM is actually doing these places of origin a favour, by exposing their history and culture to tens of thousands of visitors each day, people who might otherwise know nothing about Imperial China or Mughal India etc.   By framing the podcast as "a history of the world" through the collections of the British museum, its makers continue a tradition which suggests that Britons, and in particular Britons associated with institutions of higher learning (the BM, the BL ... ) are the natural curators of world history.  As much as the 'History of the World in 100 Objects' works to privilege non-western narratives, its very context and impetus reinforce colonial naratives about the central importance of the west.  The official mind of imperialism may be long dead, but its ghost seems to be haunting the British Museum.

I don't want to suggest that this podcast, and associated programmes for school children and museum visitors isn't a step in the right direction.  However, Friday's podcast closed with a preview of next week, which is all about the enlightenment and the world.  The teaser line promised an investigation of the"eighteenth-century enlightenment's desire to know, to map and to control the wider world."  It seems to me that the 'History of the World' project abley continues that desire to know, to map and to control the wider world.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Family historians

Family history is often dismissed by historians in the academy as something less than, but I've been thinking for awhile that the particularized approach that family history takes is a valuable tool, and might provide valuable lessons for historians.  One of the best assignments I've ever had to do was for a course on immigration, in which we were given the name of a person in Chicago from a particular background at a particular time (in my case, from Ireland and living in Chicago in the 1880s) and asked to find out as much about them as possible, and to write about what that person could and couldn't tell us about other immigrants from that background.  You can find out a lot about a person just by tracking where they live, when they married, who their neighbors were, and how those things change over time - and a representative sample of, say, people of Irish ancestry living in Chicago in 1880 can begin to describe the broader population.

Some things, however, are peculiar and particular.
Say, for instance, my own family.  On Sunday I rediscovered a 1937 Parker Vacumatic inscribed  J.W. Shrout.  I could have called my father and asked who J.W. was, but since it was a grey day and I had just finished a draft chapter, I dipped into to trace the Shrout line back to a J.W.  It turns out that J.W. was my great-grandfather, and that has digitized his marriage certificate

and his draft card.

I find it very strange that documents so personal to me are out there on the internet for anyone to find, but that's another post.

It also turns out that this Shrout is the great-great-grandson of Johan Peter Shrout, who happened to be executed in Hardy County, VA in 1804 for "the crime of killing his wife, which deed he committed by choking her with a broom stick handle. Shrout was executed at Moorefield according to the method of executing a criminal at that time, which provided the accused should sit upon his coffin, borne by about 6 men to the place of execution, usually a tree with an appropiate limb. The prisoner was allowed to signal when he felt that he was ready to take the step into that bourn from whence no traveler e'er returns. It is said that Shrout , instead of dropping the stick, threw it defiantly into the air." (Christman, Gamble-Montgomery: History and genealogy and connected families, 1979.  p. 251)

I think there is a story here about gender relations on the frontier in early America, about trials and capital punishments, and about how people treat, create and obscure memories of their pasts.

But for now its just family history.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On red herrings.

Events have been confluencing on me lately.  I am working my way through the oeuvre of Agatha Christie, from The Mysterious Affair at Styles to Postern of Fate (which, for those keeping score, was published before Curtain and Sleeping Murder, but was written after) on ipod, and reading Agatha Christie's autobiography as counterpoint.  (This, by the way, is subway and before-bed-reading activity, some part of the day needs to not be about work) Separately, and perhaps growing out of my love for Blackadder I am keeping track of references made to the "pink" or "red parts of the map" with regards to the British Empire.  Christie uses the phrase on page 84 of the 1993 Harper Collins addition of An Autobiography:
The Boer War, I suppose, was the last of what one might describe as the 'old wars', the wars that did not really affect one's country or life.  They were heroic story-book affairs, fought by brave soldiers and gallant young men.  They were killed, if killed, gloriously in battle.  More often they came home suitably decorated with medals for gallant feats performed on the field.  They were tied up with the outposts of Empire, the poems of Kipling, and with the bits of England that were pink on the map.  It seems strange today to think that people - girls in particular - went around handing out white feathers to young men whom they considered were backward in doing their duty by dying for their country.
This foreshadows Christie's experiences as a nurse during WWI, and also her subsequent disaffection with the army in the person of her first husband, Archie Christie, whom she divorced after discovering his longstanding infidelity.  Christie's famous (famous enough to be featured in Dr. Who) disappearance is speculated to have been a consequence of Archie's betrayal, although Christie herself never explained it.

But as to confluences, Christie's off-the-cuff allusion to "the bits of England that were pink on the map" seems to indicate that the phrase was in common use.  The OED dates the first uses of pink and red in this way to 1898 and 1891 respectively, but as these references are made by the Royal Geographical Society and Self Culture magazine, it seems that by the late 19th century, pinky/red was already the accepted colour for "England" (a la Seely's Expansion of England).

The OED, one of my favourite reference works defines red herring as
A clue or piece of information which is or is intended to be misleading, or is a distraction from the real question.
and this little investigation is certainly a distraction from the real question of international humanitarianism and the Irish famine, but I would still like to know.