This exhibition of books and manuscripts begins with Shakespeare’s source for Ireland’s history, Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577, 1587). This choice, in which Ireland and the Irish are depicted through the eyes of Elizabethan English conquerors, immediately creates a focus on “rebels” and “rebellion,” words that frequently appear on the title pages of the Penn Libraries books on Ireland. The writing and rewriting of Irish histories from both English and Irish perspectives proliferates from this point.
Fynes Moryson’s attention to the “bodyes” of the Irish – their dress, manners, customs, beliefs, poverty, and conduct in warfare—is a theme this exhibition followed through four centuries, a reminder of both the human cost in sickness, suffering, and death of centuries of conflict in Ireland and the extraordinary contributions of Irish culture—language, literature, customs, and beliefs—to modern literature, music, science, and art.
In his Scholars & Rebels in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, Terry Eagleton traces the ways in which history is made available for art, citing Standish O’Grady’s slogan “Archeology culminates in history, history in art.” This exhibition begins with contested histories and culminates in art. Eagleton writes, “Like warfare, culture is politics by other means. ... Culture is the medium of nationalist struggle.” At the close of the twentieth century, poets Eavan Boland and Seamus Heaney are still engaged in that struggle.