MCCC History Faculty Member Padhraig Higgins to Speak about New Book at UPenn March 15


West Windsor, N.J. -- Growing up Catholic in Dublin and London during the 1970s and 1980s, Mercer County Community College Assistant Professor Padhraig Higgins, of Philadelphia, was well aware of the bombings, hunger strikes and armed militants in Northern Ireland as a result of Protestant vs. Catholic sectarian strife. He vividly recalls the Irish Republican Army's bombing campaign in England. This time of heightened political factionalism fueled his intense interest in Irish history, self-identity and politics, he says.

Making his mark as an Irish history scholar, Higgins has drawn upon years of research to publish his first book, A Nation of Politicians: Gender, Patriotism, and Political Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century Ireland (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2010). In his book, Higgins focuses on a period of Irish history that has received minimal scholarly attention - the time frame from 1778 to 1784. Higgins will present a talk on his book at the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore on Monday, March 15 at 7 p.m. The store is located at 3601 Walnut St - University Square in Philadelphia.

MCCC Assistant Professor Padhraig Higgins
with new book

"I am particularly fascinated with 18th century Irish history because it symbolizes the emergence of a vibrant style of vocal politics which overcame sectarian divisions," explains Higgins, who teaches Western civilization, world history, European women's history, English history and honors courses at MCCC, which has campuses in West Windsor and Trenton, N.J. "I wanted to draw attention, first, to the richness of the political culture of the time and the type of symbolism used by a group of grassroots political organizers known as the Volunteers.

"This emergent group -- women, lower-class Protestants, farmers, shopkeepers, and other members of the laboring and agrarian classes -- was traditionally excluded from the Irish political sphere," Higgins observes. "They became politically empowered collectively via various methods of communication ranging from petition campaigns, sermons, songs, ballads, toasts, celebrations, rumors and gossip."

Higgins' intent was to increase awareness of the unifying political contributions of many "forgotten men and women" of Irish history. Traveling to such places as the National Library of Ireland, the Royal Irish Academy and Ulster Museum, he poured over data. For him, it was a labor of love, which began while preparing for his doctoral dissertation as a graduate student at Penn State University.

"The Volunteers shaped many important aspects of Irish nationalism in the 19th century. Even today, many things associated with Irish identity - the harp, the shamrock, hard drinking and pubs - were first adopted as symbols of 'Irishness' by the Volunteers. They were the first to try to promote St. Patrick's Day as a unified national celebration that overcame sectarian divisions," Higgins says.

Throughout his journey, Higgins reflected on what he loved most about his hometown aside from family, friends and childhood memories -- the historical richness of Dublin, and Trinity College, his undergraduate alma mater. "Dublin is a very 18th century city with such structures intact as the original parliament building, statues of great politicians, and the cathedral associated with Jonathan Swift, just to name a few. At Trinity College, I studied under some of the best 18th century historians so that also influenced the direction of my studies," said Higgins, who plans to conduct research next on the history of the working class poor in 18th century Dublin.

Higgins' zeal for research and lively intellectual discourse spills over to the classroom. Teaching at MCCC for the past four years has been a high point in his life, he says. "My students are great; they always challenge me to think about the material in new ways."

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