The Great Famine in colonial context: public reaction and responses in Britain before the “Black ’47”

Griffin, Carl J (2014) The Great Famine in colonial context: public reaction and responses in Britain before the “Black ’47”. Historical Geography, 42. pp. 111-129. ISSN 2331-7523

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Since the early 1990s the study of the Great Famine of 1845-52 has been subject to a critical and creative renewal, with historians and historical geographers alike producing detailed, nuanced and theoretically rich understandings of the causes and consequences of the blight made famine. Central to this renewal has been the focus on the policy and relief reactions of the British government, the direct colonial controllers of Irish policy. We also now know, thanks to the pioneering work of Christine Kinealy, much about government-sanctioned and regulated charitable relief efforts in operation from early 1847. What has not been subject to such detailed scrutiny is the reaction and responses of the wider British public before 1847, the period when the blight first appeared and changing British governmental responses acted to turn acute scarcity into absolute biological need. In so doing, it shows that initially public reactions were confused and complex, tending towards sympathy and indifference at once, informed by a deep-seated public understanding – themselves shaped by wider political discourses – that Ireland was a problem. Moreover, the major popular political movements of the Anti-Corn Law League and Chartism opportunistically exploited the emergent famine for their own campaigning ends. This is not to claim, however, that popular reactions were altogether unfeeling, the fear and threat of scarcity and famine in England and Scotland acting to foster shared concerns with the poor Irish victims of uncaring absentee landlords. When it became apparent that after the failure of the 1846 potato harvest and with the withdrawal of direct government relief people were beginning to die of want and from famine-related diseases, non-government sponsored subscriptions to relieve the famine Irish were readily and extensively entered into.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Geography
Subjects: D History General and Old World
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
Depositing User: Carl Griffin
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2016 08:25
Last Modified: 03 Jul 2019 02:49

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