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MCCC History Professor Padhraig Higgins Returns to Ireland
to Study the History of Poverty in Dublin


MCCC Associate Professor of History Padhraig Higgins spent the fall semester in Dublin, Ireland at his alma mater, Trinity College, on a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. 

Higgins applied for the fellowship so he could build on the research he began when he wrote his first book, “A Nation of Politicians: Gender, Patriotism, and Political Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century Ireland” (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2010).

During his fellowship at the Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute, Higgins researched social policy related to poverty in 18th century Dublin. 

MCCC Associate Professor of History Padhraig Higgins spent the fall semester in Dublin, Ireland on a fellowship. He is pictured with his son, Seamus, in Galway.

He was able to study historical documents such as newspapers and manuscripts to get a better sense of how society handled the large number of vagrant poor in that time period.

“You can often judge a society by how they treat their poorest and most vulnerable members,” said Higgins, adding that a lot of his findings on Irish society 300 years ago are still relevant today.

One interesting piece of history that Higgins discovered was how the state attempted to “organize” the poor.  Along with setting up workhouses, the government required beggars to register for a “license to beg.”  According to Higgins, “The beggars would use the badges in ways the state hadn’t anticipated, such as selling them in ale houses in exchange for alcohol.”

Higgins added that while the safety net for the impoverished today is much more elaborate, the poor are still demonized as they were in the eighteenth century and there is still a clear lack of sympathy for the downtrodden.  “Instead of examining the societal reasons as to why poverty exists, we still tend to put the blame on the poor for their situation,” he said.

While in Dublin, Higgins gave public lectures and seminars on his findings over the semester, as well as on material relating to his book, which focused on a period of Irish history that has received minimal scholarly attention – the time frame from 1778 to 1784.

“I hope that this research will really enhance my teaching in the coming years,” Higgins said of his fellowship, adding that he plans to utilize his findings in the classroom, specifically his Early Modern History and European Women’s History courses at Mercer.

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