"You often think your nationalism emanates from some sort of heartland, that it comes out of the soil, like a tree. But when you go back in the history of countries, you find that nationalisms often develop outside of countries."
New York City has two very different St. Patrick's Day parades. Upwards of 250,000 people take part in the famous Fifth Avenue procession that has marched in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral for 247 years. Everyone is Irish on March 17, the saying goes — everyone, that is, except self-identifying gays and lesbians, who are not allowed to participate.
Since 2000, the St. Pat's for All parade has welcomed everybody to celebrate their Irish spirit on March 1 in Queens. Diverse communities not always associated with the Emerald Isle bring their individual versions of Irish pride. Chileans, for example, often honor Bernardo O'Higgins, the Irish founder of Chile. For Adrian Mulligan, associate professor of geography and a specialist in political geography, the comparison between the cosmopolitan, multicultural version of Irish nationalism on display in Queens and the traditional version on Fifth Avenue provides insights into how space contributes to nationalism, and could even inform efforts to improve race relations in modern day Ireland.
"I'm interested in the role that spaces play in inculcating and fostering a sense of nationalism, and the uses to which that can be put," he says. Mulligan recently introduced students to that concept when he co-taught the Bucknell in Northern Ireland program with Associate Professor of Psychology Bill Flack. The course concentrated on the peace process, with Flack bringing in the psychological aspects of dealing with trauma and moving people forward while Mulligan focused on the geographies of forging peace and how safe spaces might be built into the new landscape.
"If you have two nationalisms in one place, it gets tricky," Mulligan says. "Geographers thinking about this stuff can hopefully help us to realize some ways in which we can share space and still have different nationalisms coexisting side by side without it necessarily flaring up into conflicts."
Mulligan also looks at historic identities. In the late 1840s, the 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass went on a speaking tour of the United Kingdom, including Ireland. After the trip, Douglass returned to the United States with significant financial backing for the abolitionist cause. Mulligan has examined how the tour helped to develop both African-American nationalism and abolitionism outside of the United States. "You often think your nationalism emanates from some sort of heartland, that it comes out of the soil, like a tree," he says. "But when you go back in the history of countries, you find that nationalisms often develop outside of countries."
Forty years after Douglass' visit, Ireland was immersed in a land war. For two years, the Irish revolution was led by the Ladies Land League, a group of women who took the reins when the men were arrested. Mulligan has looked at the intersection of gender identities with a national identity that dictated that a woman's place was in the home.
Despite the Ladies Land League's substantial successes, they have been largely written out of history. "You don't get to see these wonderful examples of women in Irish history doing anything other than staying at home," he says. "And those are examples that we need to begin to recover."
Posted Sept. 9, 2009