Making Peace with the Past? Memory, Trauma and the Irish Troubles, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2007
This 180,000-word monograph is the most significant outcome to date of a long-term research project on cultural memory and the Irish Troubles. This project originated in a series of seminar and conference papers following a research trip to Belfast, Dublin and Cork in November 1996, two years into the peace process. These issued in an essay, 'Memory, Trauma, Politics: The Irish Troubles' (in Leydesdorff et al, 1999/2004, see bibliography). A book proposal on this theme, offering an integrated approach to the field of competing political memories in Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain, with a particular emphasis on memories of 1912-23 in relation to contemporary conflicts and on the relation between public commemoration and forms of private remembrance, was accepted by Manchester University Press in 1998, shortly after the Good Friday Agreement. My research for this book was supported by grants from the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy, as well as research leave from the School of Historical and Critical Studies and the Faculty of Arts and Architecture, which together enabled me to make nine research visits to Northern Ireland and one to the Irish Republic in the period from July 1999 until August 2001.
As discussed in the Preface to Making Peace with the Past?, the discoveries made during these visits - through fieldwork in which I met and interviewed a wide range of memory-workers across the cultural and political spectrum in a number of locations in the North; through archive-work in which I was able to gather a much wider collection of relevant material than originally envisaged; and through the experience of living and travelling in the North at the time of the early conflicts over implementation of the Agreement caused a reorientation of my project. Its focus now shifted to the articulation of memories of the current and recent Troubles, as well as cultural memories of longer duration, in the context of the peace process within Northern Ireland.
Further shifts in focus and emphasis occurred during the writing of the book. This was supported by grants from the AHRB and my School and Faculty. Some of my wider ambitions for the scope of the study were abandoned in favour of more detailed micro-histories of the formation and contestation of memories in particular locations. To explore the richness and complexity of these processes, to do justice to the seriousness of the issues, and to respect the integrity of those whose lives I was representing, all required careful attention to the local and the specific. The two extended case studies that form the core of this book emerged through the experience of writing, and took time to evolve. The completed book will be published in August 2007, over ten years since the project began.
During this period I have published a number of essays in edited collections and refereed journals that develop particular aspects of the study. These include my Outputs 2, 3 and 4. Empirical material, analyses and arguments from such essays have informed, and in some cases have been incorporated into, the monograph. Over the duration of the project I have also co-edited three books on related themes of trauma (with Leydesdorff and Rogers, 1999/2004), war memory (with Ashplant and Roper, 2000/2004), and contested spaces of conflict (with Purbrick and Aulich, 2007), enabling development of the theoretical perspectives which have informed my work on the Irish Troubles.
Pre-publication quotations used on dust jacket:
"This is a mesmerising and important book. Graham Dawson offers a powerful, moving reconstruction of the shifting practices of memory generated within both the Catholic and Protestant communities during the long years of the Irish Troubles. It provides an illuminating model for those concerned with the question of how to write the history of memory. But it carries too a passion and urgency, reflecting on the forms of remembrance which finally will allow the much-vaunted spirit of reconciliation to become a reality."
(Bill Schwarz, Queen Mary, University of London)
"This book is a brilliant, fascinating and wonderfully researched investigation of how cultural memory has been produced and functions in Northern Ireland. Dawson demonstrates, through the use of overview and specific case studies, how the legacy of the Troubles has made a deep impact on the peoples of Northern Ireland, and what strategies have been employed to cope with such trauma. Most importantly, Dawson argues that any definite sense of closure for Northern Ireland (as was attempted in South Africa) will be hard to achieve, and positions an open ended and developing relationship with the personal and shared cultural memory of the troubles as the most fruitful way of healing wounds."
(Professor Mike Cronin, Boston College)
"Dawson's writing style is clear, concise and elegant. This book should find a mainstream audience amongst the British, Irish and Irish-Americans. It provides valuable perspectives not usually found here in America. Its interpretations are rooted in a human rights ethic which is the only useful way to examine the past and create a future in this war zone. I shall carry its inspiration with me into the working-class communities of Belfast on both sides of the peacelines, and draw on its ideas in my own recommendations for reconciliation projects as I meet with American government officials and think tanks."
(Carol K. Russell, independent human-rights monitor)