Guy Beiner (Peter Julian)

Guy Beiner, whose academic and research experiences in Ireland have helped shape his career as an award-winning historian with a unique expertise in memory studies, has been appointed as the Craig and Maureen Sullivan Millennium Professor in Irish Studies at Boston College.

Beiner also will serve as director of the University’s Center for Irish Programs, which encompasses all Irish initiatives at Boston College including the Irish Studies Program, the John J. Burns Library Irish Collections, Boston College-Ireland in Dublin, and the Gaelic Roots Program.

A full professor of history at Ben-Gurion University in Israel since 2017—he began teaching there as a lecturer in 2003—Beiner served as the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies at BC for the 2019-2020 academic year. The Israeli native earned his doctorate from the National University of Ireland-University College Dublin and was a Government of Ireland Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin. He was also a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow with the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame, a Government of Hungary Scholar at the Central European University, and a Marie Curie research fellow at the University of Oxford.

“Guy is a remarkably innovative historian whose interdisciplinary skills will enhance Irish Studies at Boston College,” said Robert Savage, interim director of the BC Irish Studies Program.

Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., added: “I am delighted that Guy Beiner will be joining us here at BC, and look forward to him providing effective, energetic, and innovative leadership for Irish Studies in the years ahead. He will bring to Boston College important expertise in 18th- and 19th-century Irish history, a dynamically collaborative and interdisciplinary intellectual style, enthusiasm for teaching, and an outstanding reputation as a leading global figure in the field of Irish studies.”

The Craig and Maureen Sullivan Chair was established through a gift from G. Craig Sullivan '64 to support a professorial chair in either the History or English Department for a scholar in the Irish Studies Program.

Craig Sullivan, who retired as chairman of the Clorox Company in 2003 after 32 years with the firm, served in many capacities as a Boston College alumnus, including as chair of the advisory board for the Center for Corporate Community Relations at BC, co-chair of the Northern California Campaign Committee, and as a member of the Ever to Excel Campaign Corporate Council and National Campaign Committee, the West Coast Technology Council, and the BC Club. He died in 2017.

Maureen Sullivan’s charitable activities have included serving as a trustee of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and raising funds for the San Francisco Opera House. She and Craig were involved in Catholic Charities of San Francisco, particularly in its youth services: The Maureen & Craig Sullivan Youth Services Center provides childcare and family support services that strengthen family and community bonds.

"My own expertise in memory studies stems from a keen interest in folklore that has led me to appreciate the creative and complex ways in which local communities have remembered their past. I am particularly interested in investigating supposedly forgotten episodes that have been silenced, as such explorations can reveal insights into less familiar aspects of Irish culture."
Craig and Maureen Sullivan Millennium Professor in Irish Studies Guy Beiner

For Beiner, the Sullivan Chair appointment means not only joining another university but relocating thousands of miles—a transition he is happily prepared to make.

“At Ben-Gurion University, in Israel’s relatively remote Negev desert, I was the only historian in the country specializing in Ireland,” he said. “Moving to Boston College, a leading American university with a first-rate History Department and a distinguished Irish Studies Program, opens many opportunities to forward my research and to contribute to the global development of Irish studies.”

Beiner takes a sophisticated interdisciplinary approach to examine the Irish past in relation to an ever-changing present, and how popular conceptions of national and local history are shaped not only by collective memory but also what he calls “social forgetting.” His work draws on concepts and sources from folklore, sociology, ethnomusicology, anthropology, politics, art, literature, drama, and other facets of cultural studies.

“Official history, that which is published or otherwise viewed as authoritative, is noteworthy not only for what it recalls but what it doesn’t—events and details that are considered ‘inconvenient’ are often relegated to oblivion,” he explained. “Other kinds of vernacular history persist, however—like oral history or folklore—in which such details can be shared and maintained informally.

“The outcome is therefore a complex form of social forgetting, consisting of public silence alongside private remembrance.”

Beiner’s scholarly methodology is reflected in his 2018 book, Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster, which explores the contrasts in how the 1798 rebellion against British rule in Ireland’s Ulster province—a conflict marked by an unusual, if short-lived alliance between Catholics and Protestants—has been remembered by different Irish communities and constituencies. Whereas the uprising was fervently and publicly recalled in the Catholic/nationalist south, the Protestant/Unionist north—mindful of solidifying ties with Britain—gradually scrubbed it from official commemoration or record, until the events of 1798 lived on more through oral histories, personal memoirs, historical fiction, and folklore.

“Social forgetting, as I define it, is not total amnesia: It’s more akin to when a judge instructs a jury to disregard certain inadmissible testimony,” said Beiner. “Officially, the jurors are expected to discount that information, but since it’s been brought to their attention, in all likelihood they will still keep it in their minds. The memory is essentially retained under a façade of forgetting.”

Forgetful Remembrance was selected for four major international awards in the field of history-related research: the American Historical Association George L. Mosse Prize in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since 1500; the American Folklore Society Wayland D. Hand Prize for history and folklore; the Katharine Briggs Award for a distinguished contribution to folklore studies; and the National University of Ireland Irish Historical Research Prize, which recognizes the best new work of Irish historical research.

During his year as Burns Scholar, Beiner taught a course on history and memory related to “Bloody Sunday,” the 1972 killings of protestors in Northern Ireland by the British Army that became a landmark event of the Northern Irish conflict, and led the seminar Commemoration Fever: Heritage, Remembrance, and Forgetting in Contemporary Ireland. He also gave a lecture on how the insights of two largely neglected Irish historians can inform current discussions of Ireland and Northern Ireland’s places in Europe and the wider world.

Beyond BC, Beiner had the opportunity that year to speak at academic forums at various North American universities and meet with researchers who share his interest in critically rethinking elements of Irish studies.

“During my year as Burns Scholar, my research benefitted from consulting the outstanding collections of the Burns Library. I was stimulated by the intellectual caliber of the faculty and impressed by the quality of the graduate and undergraduate students. It was particularly thrilling to engage with the many eminent guest speakers who came to visit, with the support of the Irish Consul-General. I also enjoyed attending Gaelic Roots music events. All of this made it clear that Boston College is a thriving hub of Irish studies and a vibrant academic environment.”

Beiner foresees a similarly eventful first year as Sullivan Chair: In addition to teaching and research, he will collaborate with other faculty and McMullen Museum of Art staff on an exhibition of photographs by acclaimed British photojournalist Martin Parr. In addition, he and Savage will co-organize a conference to mark the centenary of the Irish Civil War as well as a program of events in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Boston College also will host the Sixth International Flann O’Brien Conference.

Activities such as these affirm BC’s longstanding eminence in Irish studies, “a diverse and dynamic interdisciplinary field, which is expanding and moving in many new directions,” said Beiner, who as Sullivan Chair will seek “to encourage cross-fertilization by facilitating inspirational engagements between innovative researchers.

“My own expertise in memory studies stems from a keen interest in folklore that has led me to appreciate the creative and complex ways in which local communities have remembered their past. I am particularly interested in investigating supposedly forgotten episodes that have been silenced, as such explorations can reveal insights into less familiar aspects of Irish culture.”

 Sean Smith | University Communications | August 2021