Burns Scholar Jackson Is Irish Historian

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Alvin Jackson, the 1996-97 Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies, believes a certain amount of detachment is useful in his research area, the history of unionism in Ireland.

While the Irish political situation might render such subject matter controversial, Jackson is less interested in recounting unionism's clashes with the nationalist-republican movement than in exploring its complex nature. Jackson hopes to add to his expertise on unionists during his stint as the Burns Scholar.

"Many aspects of Irish history have contemporary resonance," said Jackson, a lecturer in modern history at Queen's University in Belfast. "But at the end of the day, a scholar has to be primarily responsible to his or her own professional standards, yet at the same time not be insensitive to the public. It means reflecting on the various source materials you use, being aware of the baggage you bring to your writing of history.

"You cannot understand how modern unionism or modern nationalism work without understanding their various strains," he continued. "Unionism, especially in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, emerges as wonderfully complex, encompassing groups from the working class of Belfast to the landed gentry in the south of Ireland. It was hardly a monolithic entity."

1996-97 Burns Library Visiting Scholar Alvin Jackson--"Burns Library is increasingly well-known throughout Western Europe, as well as Ireland, and it is easy to see why." (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

In addition to his work on unionism, Jackson will continue his research for a planned book on the history of Ireland from 1790 to the present. Already, he says, he has found the archive material at Burns more than lives up to its international reputation.

"This is a superb collection and its holdings of parish history books is particularly impressive," said Jackson, a Belfast native. "The books will be very useful for me in studying unionism at the local level. Burns Library is increasingly well-known throughout Western Europe, as well as Ireland, and it is easy to see why. There is no better place to work on a project like this."

"Alvin is a gifted, talented young scholar who has achieved a lot in a relatively short while," said Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill. "His appointment also reflects the aim of the Burns Chair to not only offer a diversity in research interests and disciplines, but in geography and traditions as well. His presence provides an opportunity for our students to learn about an aspect of Irish history to which they may not have had much previous exposure."

Jackson is teaching a course on Irish unionism from the early 19th to early 20th century, and in the spring will present a class on modern Irish historiography. He also is planning a lecture in November regarding the controversial debate over home rule for Ireland which occurred in 1912.

Jackson has served as an assistant and college lecturer in modern Irish history at University College Dublin and an instructor at the Institute of Public Administration in Dublin. He earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Oxford University, and his publications include Colonel Edward Saunderson: Land and Loyalty , Sir Edward Carson , and The Ulster Party: Irish Unionists in the House of Commons, 1884-1911 .

Established six years ago with a grant from the Burns Foundation of San Francisco, the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies chair is held by a person who has made significant contributions to Irish culture or intellectual life, and who will use the Irish Collection at the Burns Library for research. Past holders, affiliated with some of Ireland's most prestigious cultural and educational institutions, have represented the fields of history, literature, bibliography, language and art. In addition to research obligations, chairholders teach two courses and present two lectures each year.

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