Stephen O’Neill: TCD SPECTRESS Fellow in São Paulo

I arrived in São Paulo in the middle of September to begin my three month stint at USP to research ‘A Cultural History of Irish Partition’, which is my tentative postdoctoral project. I had the little matter of my doctoral thesis to finish first, however, and once that unfortunate nuisance was out of the way, I was able to focus on my future research plans. The time I spent in Brazil helped me to sharpen some of my thoughts on the fairly provisional topic of culture and partition, and to sketch out more concrete plans for future research. In particular, reading partition through the lens of cultural trauma was a useful exercise during my time here, not least because one of the foundational articles, Jeffrey C. Alexander’s ‘Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma’, uses the later troubles in the north of Ireland as a case study of defining trauma.

 

Aside from this introduction to fresh theoretical concepts and frameworks, my time in São Paulo also introduced me to a number of researchers in contemporary Irish literature and culture. I was based at the Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH), where my very generous mentor Prof Laura Izarra and her colleagues were also. In particular, my fellow visiting researcher from Trinity Prof Ruth Barton’s Irish Cinema classes on Mondays were informative, and the depth of knowledge and critical understanding of Ireland at FFLCH was eye-opening.

 

In October, I delivered a paper on my doctoral research, entitled ‘The Country and the City in the Irish Novel, 1922-51’, at the bespoke postgraduate conference at FFLCH, III Encontro de Pós-Graduandos em Estudos Linguísticos e Literários em Inglês – EPOGELLI. I also had regular meetings with the University’s postgraduate reading group, where they introduced me to Roberto Schwarz’s work on the nineteenth century novel and Brazilian society in his Misplaced Ideas. In my second meeting with the postgradute group, myself and Dr Daniel Faas from Trinity gave presentations, with my own being on my current project. I also gave the group a copy of a chapter of Peter Leary’s work on the border in Ireland, which provided for some interesting discussions and perspectives on the impending border controls or regulatory alignment.

 

Away from the academy, I stayed in the trendy Pinheiros district during this time, which was near the more famous areas of Jardim Paulista and Vila Madalena. I was near the Beco de Batman (Batman Alley), a world renowned alley which has become a canvas for graffiti artists, and an unlikely meeting space for Pele, one of the best footballers of all time, and  erstwhile Beatles drummer (as well as Thomas the Tank Engine creator) Ringo Starr:

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Around the corner from the touristic efforts in the glamorous Beco, I found a noticeable point of contrast in this celebration of Pele as a national cultural icon with a much simpler mural painting around the corner. Here ‘Football and Carnival’ are distractions from the everyday reality of Brazil:

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The political energies of the backstreet murals were also reflected in the major cultural institutions of the city. In my first few weeks, I visited the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in Paulista, where I was very impressed by the depth of collections they had – Van Gogh, Goya, Botticelli – and also with the unique way in which they were presented. On the bottom floor of the museum I particularly enjoyed the Guerrilla Girls exhibition, not least because it featured a number of posters critiquing the Irish academic and artistic establishments for their lack of gender-diversity, with the line ‘Irish Museums are Boy-Crazy’ a particular stand-out.

Some of the problems I had anticipated before coming here – pollution, noise, traffic – were always visible. In particular, the unstable political situation was almost as alarming to me, a visitor, as the devastating levels of poverty which were evident on a daily basis. Although the city often suffers in comparison to Rio (which city wouldn’t?) I found São Paulo to be an energetic and welcoming place, particularly for one of the few Irish people around here.

 

I was grateful for the opportunity provided by the SPECTRESS Project and I’d like to thank Laura Izarra, Eda Nagayama, as well as Trinity’s Ruth Barton and Daniel Faas for making me welcome in Brazil.

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Rosemary Byrne: TCD SPECTRESS Fellow in New Delhi

It is hard to look anywhere in the main campus at JNU and not encounter the spectacular mural posters painted by student organizations and their powerful political messages.  Coming from European universities, where one needs to search to find visible mobilization over issues of social justice, I was struck by a dynamism in the academic life at JNU and its significance extends far beyond the confines of the campus. Politics matter.

 

What drew me to Delhi was the opportunity to research India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes  (Prevention of Atrocities) Amended Act. This instrument addresses caste based violence and was introduced in 1989 in response to massacres and other atrocities committed against Dalits and tribal communities.  While it was a model piece of legislation on paper, in practice it was poorly implemented, providing scant justice for victims and their communities, and hence was amended in 2015.  Mr. Krishnan, the former Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who was the architect of the original act, and one of the foremost experts on Dalit rights and criminal accountability for caste based atrocity shared with me his writings and insights into the law. I was seeking to understand the reasons for the disconnect between the formal law and the stark realities on the ground. A number of leading Dalit activists were very generous with their time, and shared their insights into both the PoA and the context in India that has obstructed its effective realization.

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As an international lawyer, my interest in the SPECTRESS project’s thematic work on cultural trauma emerged from working on prosecutions for atrocities and international criminal law.  Prof. Jyoti Atwal arranged for me to give a seminar at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies that Prof. Josh generously chaired.  I spoke on the International Criminal Court (ICC), and had the pleasure of engaging with graduate students on how the narratives of international criminal justice and the movement for accountability from the Global North and South diverge and why this is so.  As a lawyer placed in a history department, I benefited from conversations with postgraduate research students. Prof. Aditya Mukherjee kindly invited me to meet with his supervisees, where I learned about their field research, that was mostly focused on understanding their historical questions through direct encounters with people about whom they were writing. Their work was engaged and impressive and was concerned with ensuring that the lived experience of their sources was captured in their analysis. I also had the pleasure to visit overlap with another SPECTRESS colleague, Kosta Bovan from Croatia, where I enjoyed learning about his work and discussing shared research interests.

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Laura Cleaver: TCD SPECTRESS Fellow to New Haven

The SPECTRESS project enabled me to spend a month in New Haven at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University.  I trained as an art historian and my research concentrates on medieval manuscripts, so my time at Yale enabled me to engage with ideas from outside my own discipline.  I very much enjoyed the opportunity to learn from my host Ron Eyerman and the lively and welcoming community at the Center.   My research project asked whether Cultural Trauma theory, which has largely been developed through an exploration of modern and contemporary case studies, could be of use in the study of the distant past.  I took as a case study the White Ship disaster of 1120.  On the 25th of November the ship carrying the heir to the English throne and many other members of the nobility sank, apparently causing the death of all but one of those on board. This event was recorded in histories, poems and images (and continues to inspire fictional accounts in contemporary literature).

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[https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=46338] Henry I and the White Ship disaster, in a manuscript made in the early fourteenth century. British Library, Royal MS 20 A II f. 6v.

Historians have used these sources to attempt to establish what happened, and the consequences of this event.  Cultural Trauma theory prompted me to re-examine the primary source evidence to explore when, where, and how the disaster was recorded, with particular emphasis on the accounts produced during the period when consequences of the death of the heir to the throne led to civil war.  In conducting this research I was able to use the exceptional facilities of the Beinecke Library and the Sterling Memorial Library, and I am extremely grateful to the staff for all their help. photo 2

While I was in New Haven I also enjoyed the chance to explore the fantastic collections in the University Art Gallery and the Center for British Art.  I was also inspired by the public lectures and Women’s Faculty Forum events, and enjoyed meeting some of the many visiting fellows from around the world.

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Jyoti Atwal: JNU SPECTRESS Fellow in Dublin

Dublin, during my secondment period (May-August 2016) was full of commemorative mood, celebrating a hundred years of the Easter Rising of 1916. The site of the rebellion, General Post Office in the heart of the city, was renovated and a brilliant year long exhibition of 1916 had been set up inside to recreate the stages of the Rising.

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Dublin’s GPO

The colours of patriotism – green and the orange brightened the waters of River Liffey at night and reminded the onlooker of Ireland’s commitment to Catholic and Irish unity. The internationalization of the city is amazing. Apart from the American citizens (who come in search of their Irish roots), people have begun flocking in from different parts of the world.

I was conveniently housed by the Cultural Trauma project director and a generous host, Dr Jennifer Edmond, inside Trinity College Dublin. This gave me access to the National Library of Ireland next door at Kildare Street. The  library of the Trinity College helped me prepare for a course on Irish Women’s History. After I returned to Delhi, I framed the course, got it formally passed and it is now officially placed in the JNU course list. This will enable more exchange of JNU with Irish University teachers as they can come to teach in the course from two weeks to two months.

As part of my field work in Ireland, I visited Boyle (County Roscommon); Carrick On Shannon District Historical Society invited me to give a lecture on my ongoing work on the life of an Irish suffragette – from Boyle Margaret  Cousins(1878-1954). She had made a significant political contribution to the women’s and freedom movement in India (photo with members of the Society is attached).  I am grateful to Dr John Feely, Ms Mary C Dolan, Dr Heather Laird and Bush Hotel owner, Ms Rosie Dolan for their warm hospitality. This region of the Protestant West had many Churches of Ireland.   I also visited the very well preserved Killmainham jail in Dublin. My visit to Cork jail  further enhanced my interest in the anti colonial memorabilia. Ancient celtic graveyards, Churches and towers form a very significant landscape of countryside Ireland.

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Carrick-on-Shannon

Prof Jane Ohlmeyer, an outstanding historian of Ireland and director of the Long Room Hub, also organised a two day workshop on India – Ireland (23-24 June 2016).  The workshop explored the theme of the anti colonial movements across Ireland and India; memories of partition; Irish presence in India as both  colonial and  anti colonial. The conference was also enriched by papers from the other visiting faculty from JNU.

I very much appreciate the time and support given to me by Prof Ohlmeyer, Prof Eunan O’ Halpin, Prof J. Lee, Prof John Horne and Prof Barbara Wright. Without the support of Ms Deirdre Byrne and Sarah Dunne at LRH, I could not have run my life smoothly during my Secondment.

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Tais Leite de Moura: USP SPECTRESS Fellow in Estonia

A snowy January day in Tartu

A snowy January day in Tartu

My name is Tais Leite de Moura, I am a Master Degree student in Brazil at São Paulo University, and my exchange experience from the SPeCTReSS project was in Tartu, Estonia. My dissertation is focused on the novel The God of Small Things (1997), from Indian writer Arundhati Roy, and the transgressions of the small characters in the plot. I use Cultural Trauma on my research by analyzing the post-independence period in India, and how this social change affected (or not) the Dalit population, causing a trauma in this group and then causing a rebellious attempt to overcome it.

From December 27th, 2016 to January 28th, 2017 I studied and did research at Tartu University. My activities included: meetings with lecturers, participation and a short presentation at a miniseminar on Memory and Trauma, attendance at “Places and Processes of Pilgrimage, Past and Present” Symposium and at “Living Memories” Seminar. Besides that, I’ve researched books and articles at the library database and visited museums and places of memory in Tartu.

Tartu University Administration building on a foggy day

Tartu University Administration building on a foggy day

I was very well received in Tartu: by the faculty employees, professors, and one student in particular who even invited me to spend the New Year’s Eve with her! These people guided me through the snowy streets of this charming city; lent me university books; took me to the theater to watch an Estonian play; all in all, helped to make my stay enjoyable and pleasant. Besides, the locals were always helpful and most of them spoke English, as it is a second language there. Although it is a small country compared to Brazil, Estonia has a lot of history and culture to offer.

After meeting lecturers whose research is focused on Cultural Trauma in the country, visiting places as the Estonian National Museum – with expositions dedicated to memory – and the archive of the Estonian Literary Museum, and talking to Estonians, it was possible to understand how their own Cultural Trauma (the deportations of thousands to the Russian gulags in 1941, and being under the power of the Soviet Union power for decades) has, and still is shaping their society and history.

Testimony of Estonians from the Estonian National Museum

Testimony of Estonians from the Estonian National Museum

My experience in Tartu was incredible, interesting, and has certainly added much content to my research. This experience was even prolonged in August, 2017, when the lecturers I had met earlier that year (Ene Kõresaar and Kirsti Jõesalu) came to Brazil for the SPeCTRess event “Rethinking Cultural Trauma from Transnational Perspectives”, visited the school where I work, talked to my students in English and explained a little about the Estonian history and culture. It was simply amazing, and the perfect ending for an unforgettable trip.

Ene and Kirsti, Estonian scholars, visiting a Brazilian school

Ene and Kirsti, Estonian scholars, visiting a Brazilian school

 

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Alessandra Rigonato: USP SPECTRESS Fellow in Bochum

My SPECTRESS Secondment took place in Bochum, Germany, and was wonderful for two main reasons. First of all, the people I have met, researchers that were always kind and open to discuss themes related to my PhD research; second of all, the University structure, the libraries provides a resourceful environment to do research. My routine consisted mostly in working on the libraries, and I also could breathe the town’s culture. Bochum has many green areas, and cultural festivals of arts, music and gastronomy.

Living in Bochum was memorable. I had already lived abroad before, however never in a county where I could not speak the local language. Particularly, this experience has made me aware that verbal language is not always essential. I could “hear” or “read” throughout gestures and contexts, which was very enriching. Moreover, not knowing the language brought a sense of mystery and magic to my perception of the place. A place that seemed a little Brothers Grimm’s fairytale. In the end of my secondment, I was enchanted by the colours of Bochum, by its parks, by its history and by German culture.

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Dhananjay Singh: JNU SPECTRESS Fellow in Dublin

In January 2015, I had been teaching a course on Irish literature at the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, for six years. What was different this time, though, was that Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer, Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College, Dublin, who was visiting the Centre for Historical Studies, as a Visiting Professor, came to my class and delivered a talk on early twentieth century Irish history leading up to the Easter Rebellion. I talked to her about my current research interest in Seamus Heaney, reading his poetry, poetics and politics from a Buddhist perspective. It was then that she not only informed me about SPECTRESS, but also motivated me to apply for the fellowship under its auspices.

 

Using the philosophical framework of the Mahayana Buddhist epistemology, I have been trying to trace in Heaney’s language the phonic consciousness of Ireland, and the meanderings of a flickering poetic voice through Irish history, mythology, and political violence, that still conceals aspects of Irish subjectivity that has escaped critical analysis. My study seeks a critical vocabulary that makes possible the articulation of the poet’s selfhood as an “inner émigré” contra his political and religious identity socially inscribed in the scenes of collective victimhood.

 

I was the beneficiary of the collaboration between JNIAS, JNU, and Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, which offered me a Visiting Research Fellowship to visit Dublin during May-July 2017 to pursue my research. A significant part of my fellowship funding came from the Research Secondment I was awarded under the European Union’s Marie Curie International Research Exchange Scheme to the Project “Social Performance, Cultural Trauma and Re-establishing Solid Sovereignties (SPECTRESS).

I reached Dublin on July 16, my first arrival in the Joycean city, and I longed to tread the paths immortalized by Leopold Bloom. The next morning, my first at the Long Room Hub was Wednesday, and the time 11 am. As I entered the ground floor of the wonderful wooden building, I could hear voices upstairs, questions and answers, dialogues emanating from a research presentation. Little did I know that it would be a regular affair every Wednesday at that hour, and one during which I myself would be making a short presentation on my research and receiving pertinent perspective on my work in such a friendly ambience. After the ‘Coffee Morning’ I met the staff, Dr. Catriona Curtis, Dr. Emily Johnson, Ms. Eva Muhlhause, and Ms. Aoife King, who were so kind and prompt with all their help within the first hour of my visit. I am so grateful to each one of them.

Subsequently, I was taken to Prof. Jane Ohlmyer, the Director of the Hub, and introduced to Dr. Jennifer Edmond, Director of Strategic Projects, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, also the Coordinator of the SPECTRESS project. They both welcomed me, and suggested a few names to meet and the resources at Trinity. Dr. Edmond gave me a short orientation on the SPECTRESS project, which was indeed useful. Thereafter, I met Ms. Deirdre Byrne, Project Officer at the Trinity Centre of Digital Humanities, who explained to me the practical aspects of my stay as the Research Fellow. She was always kind, every single time I approached with any problem.

My visit to Dublin as a SPECTRESS Research Fellow provided me a rare access to the works of Seamus Heaney both at the library of the Trinity College as well as the National Library of Ireland. For someone who has loved and admired the poetry of Heaney for a decade, it was a truly humbling experience going through the letters and diary notes of the great Irish poet in his own handwriting. I had a truly amazing experience of feeling the presence of the poet’s spirit unwinding through those pages as one read each letter and word with calm and measured attention as if one was reading the English letters for the first time and trying to make the original sense of the movement of the ink on the page.

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I was truly privileged to have met Prof. Nicholas Greene, who was kind to invite me to his chamber, and who engaged me in an unforgettable conversation on Heaney and Yeats. Dr. Tom Walker was kind enough to meet me in the Trinity Common Room and discuss Irish poetry over a cup of coffee.

I was most fortunate that Dr. Rosie Lavan who teaches Heaney at Trinity and who has been researching on the poet spared some valuable time for me, even though she was so busy, and gave me references of works that would prove crucial to my research.

I have been reading and dreaming of W.B.Yeats since my adolescence. It was indeed a dream come true to have got the opportunity to visit Galway and Sligo, and that too in the company of the one of the finest persons I have met in my life, the poet Martin Dyer, himself an excellent poet and a great human being, an avid conversationalist with an enormous knowledge of poetry. The tower Thoor Ballylee brought memories of several of Yeats’s poetry alive in my mind. Martin explained to me the significance of each part of the tower and its surroundings, and I realized the difference between reading about it and experiencing it with one’s own eyes helped by the commentary of a great friend Martin. I am grateful to him for spending the whole afternoon with me taking me to the beautiful places in the Galway city, talking of Ireland and poetry.

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Sligo to me was no less than a spiritual pilgrimage, visiting Yeats grave under the brow of the Ben Bulben. Walking on the shores of the Atlantic, I could experience the Yeats’s childhood voice returning with the waves that hit the rocks and the sand.

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SPECTRESS made possible almost the impossible for me, a literary and cultural experience of Dublin, Galway and Sligo. I returned to New Delhi not only with literary and critical resources outside and inside my mind, but also the feel of Ireland that has made me love the country and its culture even more.

 

 

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