View the h-histgeog Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in h-histgeog's November 2007 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in h-histgeog's November 2007 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the h-histgeog home page.
Date sent: 8 Nov 2007 REVIEW: H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-HistGeog@h-net.msu.edu (November 2007) William J. Smyth. _ Map-making, Landscapes and Memory: A Geography of Colonial and Early Modern Ireland, c. 1530-1750_. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. v + 584 pp. Maps, notes, bibliography, index. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-268-01781-6. Reviewed for H-HistGeog by David Nally, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge Uncivil Surveys In what is loosely defined as Irish studies, nothing is considered more dangerous or divisive than to use the adjective "colonial" to describe the history of Anglo-Irish relations. To detractors the term is either empirically unsound or too opaque to describe complex historical events with any real degree of cogency. Sometimes critiques of "the colonial model" (tellingly rehearsed in the singular) are expressed in more indirect ways. Indeed, it is often implicit in so-called revisionist scholarship that the historical legacy of colonization is a sort of false consciousness resulting from an unhealthy reliance on a small but vocal coterie of nationalist writers. The economic historian Liam Kennedy, for instance, critiques the nationalist mythology of "incomparable oppression," which tries to read Irish conditions as the result of a longue durée of British conquest. Some of this is useful, of course. History is not reducible to any single narrative or paradigm and few rational souls would want to challenge Kennedy's assertion that history ought to recall "not figments of pious recollection but real people who breathed, loved, hated, suffered, believed and died." Too often, the term "colonial" serves as loose shorthand for "oppression" and certainly there is value in pushing free of claustrophobic characterizations of the Irish experience. Kennedy, in particular, urges us to see the Irish experience within a European historical context that was also betimes "brutal, bloody and oppressive." However, serious problems arise when such accounts try to come to terms with--and find the terms for--the extraordinary levels of violence that characterize much of Irish history. Significantly, Kennedy's own book hardly mentions the Great Famine (it is not cited in the author's subject index), and his chapter on the "Union of Ireland and Britain, 1801-1921" virtually skips over the disaster. This is not mentioned as an arbitrary example. The historian Joseph Lee has described the Irish famine as "the greatest single peacetime tragedy in the history of any Western European country since the Black Death," while most recently the economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has argued that mortality rates during the Irish famine were higher than in any other recorded famine, anywhere in the world. Simply taking Kennedy on his own terms, a _comparative_ analysis of Irish conditions actually strengthens rather than weakens the case of exceptionality during this period of British rule. In fact, in the century prior to the Great Famine, the Irish experienced mass starvation in 1740-41 (known as "bliain an áir" or "year of the slaughter" which may have equalled the Great Famine in magnitude) and a series of "partial" famines in 1816-17, 1821-22, 1830, 1838, and 1842. The frequency and severity of such crises are an important indication of the _structural vulnerability_ of the Irish economy, an issue that cannot be treated separately from Ireland's political, social, and economic entanglements with Britain. The subject of this review--the new book by geographer William J. Smyth _Map-making, Landscapes and Memory_--tackles in a direct and pioneering way the nature and effect of these historical contacts and entanglements. Smyth applies the historical geographer's skill in assessing landscape morphology and social change, arguing that Irish society underwent profound transformations in the "early modern period" as a direct consequence of English and later British colonization. Indeed, some of the structural weaknesses of Irish society in the nineteenth century--including the land tenure system, reliance on vulnerable forms of monoculture, presence of an "alien" and largely absentee landlord class, intense demographic pressures, and the gradual collapse of domestic industries--might be framed as a material legacy of colonial expansion that differentiates Ireland from the European norm. The case for such an interpretation is made with great clarity and insight in this book. Smyth's book is divided into four sections, which indicate the author's main focus. Section 1, "Making the Documents of Conquest Speak," examines the role of maps, surveys, census materials, and narratives as crucial instruments of conquest, "part of the armoury of state--like guns, forts and ships" (p. 25). For instance, Smyth argues that William Petty's Down Survey made Ireland "the first European country to be entirely mapped by a systematic, almost island-wide _field_ survey" (p. 24). This and similar cartographic innovations facilitated the process of confiscation and the violent transfer of property from indigenous owners to the New English by 1659. The second section, "Regional Case-Studies," comprises three chapters exploring the rapidly changing social geography of Dublin, Kilkenny, and Tipperary counties between 1530 and 1750. Although aspects of the case studies have already appeared in print (the book is a product of several years' research and critical reflection), their inclusion in the book lends the debates on structural violence, political power, and social deprivation explored in the previous sections an important degree of specificity. Section 3, "A World Turned Upside Down," returns to the island scale to address more general patterns arising from the reconstitution of Irish society, including the endurance of Gaelic kinship networks and residual modes of living evident in folk memory, agrarian resistance movements, song and literature, and local place names (pp. 384-418). If nostalgia can be described as the imaginative retrieval of that which has been sacrificed to "progress," then memory (an important theme of the book) serves to highlight the unevenness of colonial dispossession and the fractured, residual nature of postcolonial life. Finally, section 4, "A Global Context," reconsiders Ireland's anomalous position in the Atlantic, a one-time European colony that was also an "active participant in the expansion of the Anglo-American English-speaking world" (p. xxii). Smyth insinuates that thinking comparatively and geopolitically about empire requires us to imaginatively bend the lines of longitude and latitude and resituate Ireland "not directly off the European mainland but halfway to the New World" (p. 422). Across the centuries, Ireland functioned as a sort of "social laboratory" where new models of expropriation and population control could be tried and tested: "it was in Ireland that the English moved first from ideas of an exclusively military conquest (which they found to be expensive and not at all successful) to the need for administrative and legal reorganization, which was partially successful, and to the notion of plantation (that is, the full-blooded colonization of the newly conquered land by loyal subjects under state direction and control)" (p. 425). The chapters are helpfully framed by a brief introduction and conclusion, which recapitulates the key concepts of the book--modernity, colonialism, and memory. Some of these themes will be familiar to scholars versed in postcolonial studies; however, Smyth's focus on the materiality of colonization is a unique and important contribution. It is sometimes alleged that postcolonial studies (understood broadly as the analysis of colonization _and_ decolonization) is too "literary" in thrust, focused more on text than context, and much more interested in theory than substance. Although Smyth deploys the grammar of literary theory--"hybridity," "contact zone," "acculturation," etc.--he always holds fast to the forced adjustments in landscape and lifestyle that followed military conquest and settlement. "The material culture and landscape was also dramatically transformed by the erection of new fortresses, towns, villages, and eventually great mansion houses, enclosures and gardens in countryside and city. This forging of the material world entailed a series of social changes--in forms the rhythms of work, and levels and networks of economic exploitation, in exposure to monetary and market forces, in learning new English words and technical skills. In short, in modes of living as a whole. Many of the formerly relatively self-sufficient communities and localities were drawn into a market and urban orbit, if only to find ways of paying the new rents to a mainly intrusive landlord class. These local circuits were connected by a series of strands and webs to the metropolitan core in both Dublin and London--the new great gainers in the transfer of surpluses from both the Irish countryside and the towns" (p. 4). The emphasis on the materiality of imperial formations is evident in the choice of archival documents (for example, poll and hearth taxes are used to record the "distribution, composition and relative wealth of the different populations") (p. 10), as well as the fine selection of maps and figures, which rather graphically depict the erosion and reformation of Irish culture. In line with its focus on the corporeal and territorial, the book also examines the plethora of techniques and practices used to wrest control of resources and secure political and economic hegemony. Smyth covers four methods in detail: military conquest, economic imperialism, property confiscations, and political centralization. The militarized nature of colonial society is repeatedly observed, as is the regular recourse of martial law and extrajudicial procedures. For example, the Cromwellian conquest and subsequent plantations would not have been accomplished without a "well drilled, well-fed and experienced New Model Army of 12,000 men ... over 100 ships and war chest of £100,000" (p. 153). Other episodes of contact were no less ferocious. The Nine Years War (1594-1603) is described as "one of the bloodiest and most devastating of all Irish wars" (p. 44). During the Desmond War, as many as seventeen thousand lives were lost, many of them civilians (p. 45). The ruin of land and the wilful destruction of harvests--a scorched earth policy was practised in Munster in 1582--led to between thirty-five thousand and fifty thousand famine deaths. Indeed, Smyth reckons the overall loss was close to one-eighth of the province's total population (p. 45). In the winter of 1644, as many as thirty thousand to fifty thousand Ulster Irish refugees fled southwards to avoid the destruction of the confederate wars (1641-53). Moreover, maintenance of law and order required constant use and threat of military violence. During the Cromwellian occupation, Ireland maintained a standing army comprising twelve thousand soldiers, a figure increased to fifteen thousand after 1769 (p. 456). Indeed, Smyth estimates that the military establishment cost between three to twenty times the sums spent on civil administration. From 1550 to 1800, the government's primary function was to pay, arm, clothe, and feed the English military establishment. In other words, for a sustained period the "government [was] acting as a kind of revenue wing to the military" (p. 456). Colonial war and occupation also required legal exceptions, particularly the abrogation of customary civil protections and the criminalization of native resistance. During the Cromwellian Wars, for instance, policymakers established "protected areas" beyond which were "fire free zones" in which English forces could destroy persons and habitations without provocation or cause (p. 157). Summary executions were not uncommon and forced transportations were part of official policy. A strategy of state surveillance accompanied these more punitive measures. To this end, Cromwell orchestrated a series of comprehensive local censuses within the governments "protected areas" in which the age, sex, and physique of every adult was duly recorded and kept on government file (p. 157). (We can only note in passing how this sophisticated form of population control parallels the current "war on terror" with its "green zones," "renditions," and a cavalier approach to international norms of due process.) Although the genesis of these conflicts were complex, Smyth is clear that the removal of incumbent populations and reallocation of forfeited lands was the endgame of differentiation. Between 1586 and 1700, Ireland received possibly as many as 250,000 immigrant/settlers (well in excess of the numbers who left Spain and Portugal from 1550 to 1650 to establish their imperial domains), whose settlement required mass confiscation and redistribution of ancestral lands (p. 431). A summary of this process of land appropriation will suffice: in 1600, more than 80 percent of Irish land was held by Catholic owners; by 1641, this figure declined to 59 percent; by 1688, after the Cromwellian Wars, Catholic ownership was reduced to 22 percent; and by 1703, only 14 percent remained in the hands of the old owners (p. 377). According to Smyth this sustained process of property confiscation and plantation was matched in "no other European country of the period" (p. 377). Indeed, one has to turn to the "scale and ruthlessness ... of Soviet Russia's land appropriations" (p. 196) for comparable purposes. Military occupation and land confiscation were accompanied by acts of economic imperialism (designed to extract surpluses and foster socioeconomic dependency) and state-led centralizing initiatives. In particular, Smyth details the imposition of a new writ-based legal order; the solidification of the county shiring system (which placed "county administration in the hands of a regular uniform group of state officials and bureaucrats who answered to Dublin and ultimately to London") (p. 353); the extension and consolidation of baronies under Elizabethan rule (which facilitated land assessment, legal administration, and collection of taxes); and the massive extension of urban charters and foundations between 1550 and 1700 (again Smyth finds the closest parallels not in France or England, but the creation of colonial townlands across Anglo and Latin America). These developments were an integral part of colonial state expansion and set in context a whole series of audacious experiments in centralized administration continuing well into the nineteenth century. The development and promotion of a capitalist economy across Ireland is the final cornerstone in the reconstitution of Irish society. Smyth details the promotion of an export economy (linked to the growth of markets, fairs, and port cities); dominance of English shipping and credit facilities; gradual erosion of the commons and institutionalization of private property (between 1530 and 1730, for example, Ireland's worked agricultural land was enlarged by 20 percent) (p. 101). The growth of a landed elite committed to agrarian "improvements" and the Anglicization of the Irish countryside are also discussed as is the imposition of punitive trade arrangements, including the infamous Cattle and Wollen Acts of 1665 and 1669 respectively. Smyth brilliantly rehearses the massive reduction of Irish woodlands for English commercial interests. The situation deteriorated to the point where in the 1730s farmers reportedly lost cattle during the winter months from a want of adequate wood to erect shelters (p. 100). The processes Smyth narrates add up to a powerful reflection on the nature of colonization and its specific manifestation in Ireland. While the book focuses on the "early modern period," the tactics of expropriation and control are considered to have consequences far beyond the period of study. Paradoxically, the commercialization of Irish agriculture--notably the development of "vast grazing farms across the middle of the country" (p. 462) and the promotion of new divisions of labor--facilitated the growth of a flourishing subsistence economy. By the nineteenth century, pasturage and tillage throughout Leinster and Munster relied heavily on cheap, boned hire from the subsistence sector forming a patchwork quilt of very large and very small farms "intertwined and mutually dependent." And, as surely as colonization affected the political, social, and economic conditions _within_ Ireland it also facilitated wider networks of trade _beyond_ it. As historian Christine Kinealy explains, the "pig and potato economy" fed a commercialized agricultural sector responsible for the maintenance of a growing industrial urban class in Britain. "The reliance both of potato production and tillage on low subsistence wages (literally a potato wage) and labour intensive methods, also proved to be a barrier to technological and agricultural innovation within Ireland. Nevertheless, in the decades after the Union, high quality corn was grown extensively in Ireland (predominately in the south-east). Like linen, it was grown primarily for sale and export, mostly to the bread-hungry towns of industrial England. By 1841, oats was the largest single-item exported from Ireland and, in total, Ireland was exporting sufficient corn to England to feed 2 million people. This high level of dependence on Irish agriculture led to the description of Ireland as the 'bread basket' of the United Kingdom. Ironically, it was the existence of the much despised potato economy which allowed English workers to enjoy cheap bread, probably ignorant of its origins." For these reasons, it is important to critically consider what Denis O'Hearn calls the fostering of a "negative path dependency" linked to colonial prerogatives and what has been described elsewhere as the development of underdevelopment. Taking seriously these claims means addressing the violence of early modern Irish society as it struggled to resist and adapt to English economic, political, and linguistic expansion. It also means thinking comparatively, for the processes Smyth so carefully and painstakingly documents are strikingly similar to what geographer David Harvey terms "accumulation by dispossession." Future work might consider the various typologies of capital accumulation as well as key differences in the degree and scale of coercion as one moves from the imperial center to the colonized periphery. Smyth concludes his study in 1750, but the evictions and confiscations associated with the Great Famine and the Irish "Land War" can be also viewed as an extension of this story over ownership and entitlement to land. In considering these issues of structural violence, future researchers will find in Smyth's work a useful and vitally important distinction between the immediate antecedents and the ultimate causation of poverty and social conflict. Notes  Liam Kennedy, _Colonialism, Religion and Nationalism in Ireland_ (Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, 1996), 217, 222.  Ibid., 222.  Joseph Lee, "The Famine as History," in _Famine 150_, ed. Cormac â Gráda (Dublin: Teagasc, 1997), 159-177; and Amartya Sen, _Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny_ (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2006), 105.  The classic account is provided in Oliver MacDonagh, _Ireland: The Union and Its Aftermath_ (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2003). For discussion, see David Nally, "From the Kraal to Knackeragua and Back: Colonial and Postcolonial Futurologies," _Irish Geography_ 39 (1) 2007: 172-176.  Joel Mokyr, _Why Ireland Starved: A Quantitative and Analytical History of the Irish Economy, 1800-1850_ (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983), 21.  Christine Kinealy, _A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland_ (London: Pluto Press, 1997), 33.  Denis O'Hearn. "Ireland in the Atlantic Economy," in _Was Ireland a Colony? Economics, Politics and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ireland_, ed. Terrence McDonough (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2005), 4.  David Harvey _The New Imperialism_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). Copyright (c) 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff: email@example.com.