Alive and kicking! Contesting History: Opposing Voices

Published in Issue 4 (Winter 2004), News, Volume 12

Rumours of history’s demise as a subject of popular interest and debate have been, not for the first time, greatly exaggerated—to judge at least from the immediate success of the new extra-mural course in Irish history piloted by the Department of Modern History in Trinity College, Dublin. Contesting History: Opposing Voices is a radical departure from conventional public lecture courses. Instead of one speaker per session, it presents two experts in a particular historical period who take sharply different views or apply strongly contrasting perspectives to the same topic or the same set of events. The audience—that is, those who have been enrolled on the course—have already been prepared for this debate by means of an elaborate pack of source materials and historical commentaries, which has been supplied to them—on paying their fee—electronically or in hard copy. The second half of the two-hour session thus takes the form of an intensive discussion between the speakers and an audience fully informed on the relevant facts and interpretations.

 
Already the first three topics in the course—one on the role of Revisionism in Irish historical interpretation, a second on the aims and achievements of the Great O’Neill and a third on the Cromwellians in Ireland—have stimulated terrific debates, not only between the audience and the speakers but among the members of the audience themselves. The aim of the course’s organisers, however, is not simply to generate controversy but to bring to light the complexity inherent in every major event in Irish history, and thereby to deepen our understanding of history as a whole.

 
The course, which has inevitably been more expensive to organise and maintain than more conventional ones, is being supported both by fees of €300 for the year and by generous sponsorship from Kopikat, the Shelbourne Hotel, The Dubliner and History Ireland.

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