Celtic Studies

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Celtic Studies: Past, Present & Future

HomeCeltic Studies: Past, Present & Future

farmyard[Note: The following document was distributed at the first meeting of the "New Directions in Celtic Studies" Working Group held on Tuesday, October 24, 2002. It is included here for the sake of the historical information it contains, even though some of the more recent information is now out of date. The Working Group was funded by the UW–Madison Center for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation.]

Thriving programs in Irish Studies and Celtic Studies have been a notable feature of the American academic scene since the 1970s. These programs have generally been oriented toward a burgeoning audience of undergraduates, have usually been marked by the building of strong ties with Celtic or Irish organizations in the surrounding local community, and have often presented opportunities for advanced studies at the graduate level. Helping to lift all such boats has been the tremendous growth of interest in Irish, Irish-American, and Celtic cultural matters in North America in recent decades, a phenomenon that has extended far beyond any of the obvious ethnic boundaries. In this upsurge of interest and inquiry virtually all the major levels and types of cultural production and consumption in the humanities have been affected. This Celtic cultural renaissance has been evident in the fields of literature and poetry, theater, cinema, music, art, history, and politics. The publishing industry at both the popular and academic ends of the spectrum has caught these gusty winds. The University of Wisconsin Press has recently established one new publication series in Irish literature and a second in Irish and Irish-American history, with the goal of publishing up to six books in each series annually.

This local publishing initiative is part of a larger set of recent developments on our campus. During the last academic year (2001-02) a small group of faculty members with professional interests in Celtic Studies began meeting to discuss how to give more structure and coherence to existing academic offerings at UW-Madison while at the same time establishing tighter links with nonacademic programs and resources in this general area in the local community. From an early stage we were also interested in widening our discussions and planning to embrace the numerous other members of the faculty and academic staff whom we knew to share our interests in significant ways. We surveyed ways in which we might form collaborative links with other universities in our state or region. We soon came to have large ambitions. These crystallized around the goal of establishing an undergraduate certificate-program in Celtic Studies as well as a graduate minor in Celtic Studies, as two arms of a fully-fledged Celtic Studies program. While modelled in part on successful programs of this kind at other universities, as well as on comparable ethnic-studies programs now functioning on this campus, the Celtic Studies program that we have in mind would be so designed as to draw on the particular academic strengths of UW-Madison as well as the resources of the surrounding community. We recognized, however, that we had to learn to walk before we could run, and we also appreciated the need to consult with a broad range of colleagues and students so as to exploit all available expertise and make such a program as responsive as possible to perceived needs. We therefore applied successfully to the campus Center for the Humanities for the status of a Working Group titled "New Directions in Celtic Studies," with funding from the Mellon Foundation that will allow us to stage a series of special lectures and colloquia during the current year. These events will provide ample opportunities for consultation with interested persons while we prepare formal proposals to the Letters and Science Curriculum Committee for an undergraduate certificate in Celtic Studies and to the Graduate School for a Ph.D. minor in that field.

Efforts to establish a Celtic Studies program on this campus build on a long history of distinguished scholarship and teaching in related disciplines at UW-Madison. At the same time that a chair in Scandinavian Studies was founded here in the late 1930s, the state legislature made possible the creation Myles Dillon of a chair in Celtic Studies, the first holder of which was the illustrious Celtic scholar from 1937 to 1946. A prolific writer on the history and literature of early Ireland (before the Normans), and later for many years a senior professor and director of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dillon did a remarkable job in building up library resources at UW-Madison across the whole gamut of Irish history and literature during the decade of his tenure of the Celtic Studies chair. Language instruction apparently began under Dillon, and even after the lapse of the chair courses in Old and Middle Irish continued to be taught in the Linguistics Department until the 1970s. Currently, Dineen Grow, an academic-staff member in Memorial Library, offers informal but expert instruction in modern Irish.

Until their recent retirements Professors David Hayman (Comparative Literature) and Phillip Herring (English) were among the most distinguished Joyce scholars in the world, and their teaching gave us unusual strength in courses dealing with modern Irish literature. Though we no longer have the same degree of strength, we can draw on the expertise of both Professor Anne McClintock (English and Women's Studies), who has a special interest in Irish colonial and postcolonial writers, and Dr. Kevin Reilly, the Chancellor of UW-Extension, whose advanced academic training is in Joyce, Yeats, and modern Irish literature more broadly. Other members of the English Department have the potential to make contributions to this area of a Celtic Studies program because of their related scholarly concerns. This group includes Professors Richard Begam (Joyce and Beckett), Michael Hinden (Yeats, O'Neill, and modern Irish drama), Lynn Keller (contemporary Irish poetry), Cyrena Pondrom (Irish women's poetry), Eric Rothstein (Swift), and Thomas Schaub (Yeats). In the long run, however, there is great need for a major appointment in modern Irish literature. Offering some hope that this gap will eventually be filled is a generous bequest already made to the UW Foundation for an endowed professorship of Irish literature (the Dorothy Deigan Odell Professorship), though it will probably be quite some time before that gift is realized.

In history our strength is very considerable. Professor Thomas Archdeacon is a nationally recognized authority on the Irish-American experience and the history of American ethnicity more broadly. With his strong interest in colonial America, he is also extremely knowledgeable about the "Scotch-Irish" (Ulster Presbyterians) in the colonies and the early republic. And he has developed an attractive undergraduate teaching interest in the Great Famine of the late 1840s, an episode of enormous importance in Irish and Irish-American history. Professor James Donnelly has taught modern Irish history to large classes of undergraduates since the early 1970s. He has also trained a substantial number of graduate students in the field, making UW-Madison a nationally recognized center of graduate study in Irish history. A former president of the American Conference for Irish Studies, Donnelly is currently the co-editor of Éire-Ireland, the premier Irish Studies journal in North America. He and Archdeacon are the joint editors of the new UW Press series in Irish and Irish-American history.

Music has historically been a central medium of expression for the Irish at home and abroad, especially in relation to the opposed political stances of nationalism and unionism, and we are therefore especially fortunate to have on our campus and in our local community a vast reservoir of expertise, experience, and enthusiasm in the area of Celtic traditional music. The Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts (DLSA) is home to a group of accomplished musicians and teachers with keen interests in Irish and Celtic music. Leading this group is Professor Chelcy Bowles, a skilled performer on the Irish harp, who serves as Director of Continuing Education in Music and who has been one of the leaders in our recent efforts to bring Celtic Studies into the forefront on campus. She has developed a program of up to ten non-credit course offerings per year in Celtic music through the DLSA. Also highly involved with Celtic music on campus and in the community is Robert Newton, who plays several Celtic traditional instruments, and whose spirited musicianship has contributed to the acclaim of several locally based Irish bands for some two decades here in Madison. Besides offering non-credit Celtic music courses regularly through the DLSA, Newton taught a three-credit Celtic music course through the Folklore Program at UW-Madison last spring and currently teaches a Celtic music course at UW-Milwaukee. Bowles and Newton collaborated in the summer of 2001 on a successful arts study-abroad program centered on the Interceltic Festival of Lorient. Complementing Bowles and Newton is Alan Ng, an instructor in Celtic music in the DLSA, who possesses special expertise as an archivist of Irish traditional music. Also enthusiastically supporting our efforts is Andrew Sutton, professor of ethnomusicology in the School of Music. Beyond academic offerings in this area, we have other major assets that exert a significant cultural impact. For many years now, the Celtic Music Association of Madison, under the leadership of Bob Newton and others, has been bringing the best of Irish and Celtic musicians to Madison for public performances on campus and in the local community. And Judy Rose, in her series of weekly programs entitled "Simply Folk" on WHA radio, has always given prominence to Irish traditional music. Recently, WHA has added another weekly radio program called "The Thistle and Shamrock," which features music from all the Celtic areas and follows "Simply Folk" on the air.

Other significant contributions to a Celtic Studies program on the Madison campus can be expected from certain individuals who have well-established secondary interests in one or more aspects of this complex of related fields. On other campuses where Celtic Studies have flourished, the discipline of folklore has often made a major contribution—not surprisingly, in view of the impact of Irish professional folklorists and Irish folklore studies on the early development of the field. Professors Keith Busby (French and Italian) and John Niles (English), who are leaders of the group promoting the development of a Celtic Studies program on campus, both have significant folkloric scholarly interests within their common wider concern with medieval literatures. Busby is learned about the Celtic aspects of the great Arthurian romances, while Niles integrates Old Irish and medieval Welsh legends, as well as modern Irish storytelling, into courses that he offers on the early cultures of northwest Europe and on the folklore of the British Isles. In addition, a number of faculty members in the Department of Scandinavian Studies and in our Folklore Program are supporting our efforts because of their concern in part with Celtic folklore studies. This group includes Professors Susan Brantley, Thomas Dubois, Richard Ringler (emeritus), and James Leary of Scandinavian Studies. Leary serves as Director of the Folklore Program and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures and is an expert in Irish-American folk music of the Wisconsin region.

As a focus of scholarly attention from numerous disciplinary perspectives, Scotland has enjoyed booming interest over the last several decades. (After reading How the Irish Saved Civilization, we have recently been offered the well argued book, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, a work that rightly makes much of the world-historical importance of the Scottish Enlightenment.) Currently, this part of the Celtic world is less well represented on our campus, but we possess some solid foundations on which to build. John Niles has a research specialty in Scottish balladry and has also done extensive fieldwork with the "Travelling People" of Scotland, and he plans to draw on those areas of expertise when offering a new course in "Scottish Tradition," to be cross-listed (according to our plan) with English, Folklore, and Celtic Studies. In addition, Professor Charles Camic (Sociology) is a leading expert on the Scottish Enlightenment. Professor Laurence Dickey (History) has deep knowledge of the intellectual history and political economy of Scotland (and Ireland) in the eighteenth century. And Professor Rob Nixon (English) has a strong interest in contemporary Scottish writers.

Besides relying on the talents of scholars and teachers already mentioned, a Celtic Studies program at UW-Madison can also expect to benefit from the expert knowledge of faculty with well-defined interests in medieval studies. Professor Carole Newlands, a native of Scotland who is chair of the Classics Department and affiliated with Comparative Literature, has a special interest in medieval Latin literature, including that of Irish Christianity, as well as in Scottish literature from Dunbar to the present day. James McKeown, also of Classics and a native of Northern Ireland, has a scholarly concern with the early Celts. Nicholas Doane (English) and Sherry Reames (English) have an interest in the interrelations of Celtic and English literatures during the earlier and later medieval periods respectively. And Professor Jane Schulenburg (Women's Studies and Liberal Studies and the Arts) has long been concerned in her teaching and research with medieval Celtic history.

In view of this broad range of Celtic expertise among our faculty, past and present, and in view of the long history of Celtic Studies in various forms on our campus, it could be expected that our library holdings in this area would be generally strong. Indeed, it is probably no exaggeration to say that our holdings across the whole range of Celtic Studies are superior to those of all but a handful of institutions that now have Irish or Celtic Studies programs. In certain key disciplines within Celtic Studies our library holdings would rank among the very best in the nation. Certainly, this is the case in Irish history and literature. The real origins of our superb collections of Irish historical and literary materials long predate the arrival of Myles Dillon in the Celtic Studies chair in 1937. It was the Madison economist Richard T. Ely, who was concerned with the transfer of landownership in Ireland from the mainly Anglo-Irish landed elite to the occupying tenants, who was responsible for starting the systematic collection of Irish materials on the eve of World War I. In this endeavor Ely had financial support from the Wisconsin branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Already by 1915 the extent of our holdings justified the publication of a volume entitled The Irish Collection of Books and Paintings at the University of Wisconsin. Massive additions were made during the years of Dillon's tenure of the Celtic Studies chair. Subsequently, beginning in the early 1970s, Professor Donnelly has enjoyed outstanding cooperation from the Memorial Library bibliographers Erwin Welsch and Barbara Walden in making our collections of printed books and microfilmed material relating to Ireland since the eighteenth century among the most extensive in the United States. During the long tenures of David Hayman and Phillip Herring on our faculty our holdings in modern Irish literature kept pace with the explosion of scholarly publication in modern Irish literature since the 1960s. And because of our very old and continuing faculty strength in Classics and in medieval history and literature, the Celtic cultures of those periods are exceptionally well represented among our library holdings.

Adding a special dimension to educational opportunities in Celtic Studies at UW-Madison is our well-established summer study-abroad program at Trinity College in Dublin. Started in 1994 as a collaborative enterprise with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, this program has grown from small beginnings into one of the most popular and successful of our summer offerings in international education. The program provides a director of studies from one of the three collaborating institutions on a rotating basis, and it takes advantage of the teaching services of a stellar cadre of academic experts in the arts, humanities, and social sciences drawn from a range of academic institutions in Dublin and its vicinity. Over the course of an intensive six-week program of instruction students are immersed in a series of modular courses that cover all the major areas of Irish Studies. Complementing the formal coursework is an ambitious set of cultural events and field trips that help to integrate and broaden the experiences of participating students. Full advantage is taken of the rich cultural opportunities that the Dublin city-center location offers to students, especially in the areas of theater, traditional music, and literature and the arts. In a significant recent addition to this summer program, students now spend some time at Queen's University in Belfast learning first-hand about the distinctive history and culture of Northern Ireland, a region torn by conflict.

Closer to home the Irish and Celtic cultural interests of students and members of the local community are exceptionally well served by the many activities of the Celtic Cultural Center (CCC) of Madison. Among the recurrent activities of the CCC are its annual Irish Language Weekend, Children's Language Workshops, Celtic Film Festival, and St. Patrick's Day Eve Festival. The CCC also sponsors regular classes in music (ten this fall) and in the Irish language and has staged numerous special cultural events since 1995. It publishes a newsletter called the Celtic Cord to keep its members apprized of its activities, and in collaboration with the Celtic Music Association (CMA), the CCC maintains a Web site at www.celticmadison.org. With such flourishing cultural organizations as the CCC and CMA, there clearly exists large scope for the kind of mutually reinforcing interactions between the campus and the local community that have distinguished successful Celtic and Irish Studies programs at other universities and colleges in the United States.

Besides taking advantage of strong Celtic interests in the wider Madison community, we hope to forge links with other academic institutions in our state and region. Some neighboring universities already possess active programs in Celtic Studies. Among public institutions the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee is perhaps the most advanced. Under the aegis of its Center for Celtic Studies the Milwaukee campus offers an undergraduate certificate program, sponsors conferences, lecture series, and cultural events, and offers wide opportunities for international education through study-abroad options in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Celtic regions of continental Europe. The Center publishes a newsletter called Triskele and is developing an electronic journal entitled e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies. One of its most innovative programs is an experiment in Distance Learning in which a master class in dance will be beamed from the University of Limerick to the Milwaukee campus while a master class in music will be beamed from UW-Milwaukee to students at the Irish World Music Centre in Limerick. Given the proximity of the UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee campuses, it is possible that a program involving reciprocal teaching by interested Celtic Studies faculty could be arranged. Among private universities in our region the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul has made the most progress, with a well-endowed Irish Studies program featuring a center with a full-time director and an interdisciplinary journal (the New Hibernia Review) that is published quarterly. Marquette University and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities are among the other institutions in our region with significant course offerings and library holdings in Celtic Studies, and we intend to explore the possibilities of fruitful collaboration with them. These possibilities include the use of Distance Learning technology to provide academic instruction in certain areas where professional expertise may be lacking on our own campus, or where alternatively we may possess personnel assets not available on other campuses.

Our rich inheritance from the past, our very considerable current assets, and our strong potential for finding willing partners at neighboring (and perhaps quite distant) institutions combine to create the prospect of a very exciting future for Celtic Studies at UW-Madison.