The history of the Great Irish Famine has been mired in debate over the level of culpability of the British government. Most scholars reject the extreme nationalist charge of genocide, but beyond that there is little consensus. In Human Encumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine , David Nally argues for a nuanced understanding of "famineogenic behavior"--The history of the Great Irish Famine has been mired in debate over the level of culpability of the British government. Most scholars reject the extreme nationalist charge of genocide, but beyond that there is little consensus. In Human Encumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine, David Nally argues for a nuanced understanding of "famineogenic behavior"--conduct that aids and abets famine--capable of drawing distinctions between the consequences of political indifference and policies that promote reckless conduct.Human Encumbrances is the first major work to apply the critical perspectives of famine theory and postcolonial studies to the causes and history of the Great Famine. Combining an impressive range of archival sources, including contemporary critiques of British famine policy, Nally argues that land confiscations and plantation schemes paved the way for the reordering of Irish political, social, and economic space. According to Nally, these colonial policies undermined rural livelihoods and made Irish society more vulnerable to catastrophic food crises. he traces how colonial ideologies generated negative evaluations of Irish destitution and attenuated calls to implement traditional anti-famine programs. The government's failure to take action, born out of an indifference to the suffering of the Irish poor, amounted to an avoidable policy of "letting die."Acts of official wrongdoing, Nally charges, can also be found in the British government's attempt to use the Famine as a lever to accelerate socioeconomic change. Even before the Famine reached its deadly apogee, an array of social commentators believed that Ireland's peasant culture was fundamentally incommensurable with Enlightenment values of human progress. To the economists and public officials who embraced this dehumanizing logic, the potato blight was an instrument of cure that would finally regenerate what was seen to be a diseased body politic. Nally shows how these views arose from a dogmatic insistence on the laws of political economy and an equally firm belief, fostered through centuries of colonial contact, that the Irish were slovenly, improvident, and uncivilized, and therefore in need of external disciplining. In this context, Nally recasts the Great Famine to look less like a natural disaster and more like the consequence of colonial oppression and social engineering.David P. Nally is University Lecturer and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College at the University of Cambridge, England."A landmark and terrifying study of how the Poor Law administration became a bureaucracy of population control in the 1840s. Nally speaks of 'political violence,' but the inescapable conclusions of his research are more extreme: that many British reformers embraced policies designed to starve the poor off the land." --Mike Davis, University of California, Riverside"A significant work both for Irish Studies and for the larger related field of colonial studies, David P. Nally's Human Encumbrances has the potential to be the most important interpretive history of the Famine since Woodham-Smith's The Great Hunger. One of the sustaining strengths of the book is Nally's insistence on a comparative study of colonialism that sets the Irish experience in the context of colonial famines and governance. With an exhaustive range of citation from diverse contemporary writings, he shows the ways in which the mass deaths and clearances of the Famine years and their immediate aftermath were continuous with the ways in which the Irish poor were regarded and categorized as a redundant population and transformed into the objects of governmental forms of management and control." --David Lloyd, University of Southern California"David Nally has done something quite remarkable. He has breathed life into a subject that is at once of enormous significance--the last great subsistence crisis in the western world--and an object of considerable scholarly and journalistic attention. Human Encumbrancessees the great famine as an act of political violence and as a crisis of government. The Irish Famine, like most great subsistence crises, is complex and composite in a way that makes culpability and responsibility hard to identify, and its operation opaque. It is to Nally's great credit that he has shed new light on how the Irish famine was the product of structural violence--a great forcing house constituted by politicians, legislators, landowners, utopian economists and creditors. This is a real tour de force." --Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley...
|Title||:||Human Encumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine|
|Number of Pages||:||376 Pages|
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Human Encumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine Reviews
Pretty interesting...I had never read any other histories of the Irish Famine, so maybe other arguments might temper my admiration for Nally's work. But this is well done. Nally argues (this is apparently a common argument these days - see Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts) that famines are political, not natural. The 19th century British would have you believe that the deaths caused by the potato famine were simply an act of God and that's that. After all, it's the POTATO famine. No potatoes = famine. But Nally argues that what actually happened was that the British government saw the growing crisis as an opportunity to modernize Ireland. The Irish were seen as a backward people, who needed to be dragged into the modern age, and basically forced to be rationally farming food producers for Britain. If lots of Irish died of hunger, well, that's what you get for the subsistence farming of potatoes. As one British economist wrote: "Hunger and cold are the punishments by which she [nature] represses improvidence and sloth." So the famine, along with a laissez faire response to the famine, would be "an instrument of cure" that would regenerate Ireland. Small farmers would emigrate or otherwise disappear, and Ireland would enter the modern age. One problem I had with this book was that Nally chooses to illustrate it with drawings from period newspapers that are clearly propagandic. Not that what happened in Ireland wasn't awful, but Nally is treating these drawings like they are photographs and can simply illustrate what he is writing about. It seems pretty clear that the Illustrated London News, where almost all of them come from, was using these drawings to try to build sympathy for the Irish and attack British policy. Again, I'm not saying that is inappropriate, but Nally should acknowledge that these images are pretty partisan. These are not the only available images of Ireland. Also, he devotes a whole chapter to a couple of visits to Ireland by Thomas Carlyle, and Carlyle is supposed to basically stand in for British attitudes in general I think. Which is not really fair. Still a thought-provoking book.
Reading Human Encumbrances today makes one understand how famine isused as a political weapon, shedding new light on current debates aboutthe famine in Somalia and Eastern Africa. Many of the quotes andfigures bring to light this horrible tragedy. I didn't know, forexample, that priests played important political roles in critcizingthe British Empire in its racialization of the Irish. Nor did I knowthat beef and whiskey continued to be exported when the grain neededto support that export economy could have gone to feed people.Rigorously researched, Nally's work does not stray to either anationalist reading of the famine as genocide or a British apologeticreading as 'it was nature's fault'. A must read.
A brilliant survey of the early use of famine as a tool of social reconstruction. Takes Klein's Shock Doctrine back to the nineteeenth century