Historic Landscape Characterization Essay

Interpreting Historic House Museums

Edited by Jessica Foy Donnelly. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2002; 326 pp., illustrations; clothbound $70; paperbound $24.95.


The editor of a book of essays faces a great challenge: bringing together many contributions into one coherent volume. The difficulty of the task is increased when the contributions were originally presentations at a conference. The leap from spoken to written word can be dramatic. The coherence of Interpreting Historic House Museums is all the more impressive considering that the papers were presented at separate conferences held at the McFaddin-Ward House in Beaumont, Texas, in 1995 and 1998.

The variety of the essays is one of the strengths of this volume. The 14 essays range from the historical to the managerial and to hands-on interpretation, but its two universal themes are the necessity of planning and research. Jessica Foy Donnelly, curator of collections at the McFaddin-Ward House for 12 years, has shown herself to be highly skilled at editing such collections. Interpreting Historic House Museums is the third volume to emerge from a series of symposia at the McFaddin-Ward House. American Home Life, 1880-1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services, was co-edited with Thomas Schlereth, and The Arts and the American Home, 1890-1930, was co-edited with Karal Ann Marling. Donnelly edits and introduces the present volume, and does so very capably.

Patrick H. Butler III, a trustee of the Historic Alexandria Foundation and an all-around museum hand, provides a broad context for the essays that follow. He begins the collection with an essay considering the place of the house museum within the museum community. He first recounts the history of the historic house museum, interweaving it with the history of the historic preservation movement. Butler then considers in greater detail issues facing present and future historic house museums, suggesting that museums can continue to grow and improve while reminding us that pinched financial times raise the question of sustainability as never before.

Several of the essays deal with interpretation planning. Barbara Abramoff Levy, who has worked as director of education and interpretation at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, stresses the importance of advance planning, including analysis of the site, the selection of the planning committee, and how the work should be scheduled. She emphasizes the ongoing nature of research at historic house museums, acknowledging that interpretive work is a continuous process. "In some ways," she notes, "the most difficult aspect of interpretation planning is choosing what not to interpret."

Sandra Mackenzie Lloyd, who has co-authored with Levy a book on developing tours, shows how such ideas can be applied in her essay "Creating Memorable Visits." Lloyd discusses the planning process at Cliveden, a National Trust property in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where she served as curator of education. She describes the interpretation when the house first opened to the public in 1976, which emphasized the great Georgian house, the Battle of Germantown with which it was associated, and the house's collection of decorative arts. Lloyd then explains the process for developing new themes, which included a historic structure report and a National Endowment for the Humanities planning grant. One of the great strengths of Lloyd's essay is her discussion of the roads not taken and why they were not chosen.

Rex M. Ellis, vice president for the historic area at Colonial Williamsburg, discusses how curators can bring African-American history and culture into their interpretation. He speaks with authority, having been behind "The Other Half Tour," Williamsburg's first initiative to interpret the lives of the enslaved population. He emphasizes the importance of interpreters who are armed with "the best information and interpreting skills possible" and of outreach programs such as Monticello's program to compile oral histories from the descendants of those who were enslaved on Thomas Jefferson's estate. Ellis insists that museums must proactively plan for controversy and, "instead of shying away from controversy…museums should embrace it for the lessons it can teach." At the same time, interpreters should address universal topics and good stories to which all visitors can relate. In the end, though, the most important lesson for Ellis is recognizing that the number of smiling faces leaving the site cannot be the measure of a historic house's success. Sometimes history is disturbing, and a visitor who is not disturbed in some way clearly has not gotten the message.

Perhaps the most ambitious essay in the volume is by Debra A. Reid, who teaches history at Eastern Illinois University. "Making Gender Matter" is an extended analysis of whether the traditional concept of women as rulers of "the domestic sphere" might actually minimize the complexity of women's relations with the world beyond the home. This question is of considerable import for historic house museums. Reid thoroughly assays academic writing on the subject, but also discusses strategies at many historic sites, including Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts and Conner Prairie in Indiana. She explores strategies for incorporating women in sites generally seen as dominated by male historical figures, such as military sites like Fort Ticonderoga in New York.

Catherine Howett's essay meditates on the necessity of interpreting the landscape setting of historic houses, and on the difficulty of such interpretation. Howett makes a case for the landscape as an essential primary source, expressive of the values of those who shaped it. Howett cautions that no one historic period's design should be privileged to the point that it compromises the integrity of significant design features from other eras. She also notes that criticism of the historic preservation movement in general and Colonial Williamsburg in particular has led to a sort of "Williamsburg paranoia," a demand for rock-solid evidence for landscape restorations, lest the landscape architect be accused of indulging in romantic fantasy.

Nancy E. Villa Bryk, curator of domestic life at the Henry Ford (previously known as the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village) outside of Detroit, Michigan, explains how a curator can infuse a historic house with characters and activity. Bryk acknowledges that curators run up against a dearth of documentary evidence, and she takes on the challenge of explaining not simply how to create a furnishings plan, but how that plan must be intimately connected to the interpretive schema. Bryk proposes that a "moment-in-time installation" can often meet this need, using as examples the historic houses at Greenfield Village, most notably the New Haven, Connecticut, household of the lexicographer Noah Webster.

Even the very best historic house installation is useless if visitors cannot get through the door. Valerie Coons McAllister, who has worked at Old Sturbridge Village, Winterthur, and Colonial Williamsburg, tackles the relationship between accessibility and historic preservation. She provides a brisk summary of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and explains that its section on historic buildings was based on the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. McAllister then discusses several techniques used at Old Sturbridge Village, including new road surface treatments that improve wheelchair accessibility in bad weather, and recounts the rationale behind using a wooden ramp at the Salem Towne House and an earthen incline at the Asa Knight Store. Other issues, such as access to second-floor spaces, are not so easily resolved, but McAllister offers a number of ideas.

Another veteran of Old Sturbridge Village, Margaret Piatt, discusses how to engage visitors through effective communication. Her essay deftly blends autobiographical stories with communication theory. She recounts her adventures as "a tour guide prodigy"—giving her first tour at age five—and her three summers as a teenage tour guide. Piatt discusses how to improve vocal skills, use gestures, and even ways to relax tense tour guides, before providing a succinct eight-point checklist on how to organize the content of a tour.

The three final essays directly address educational programs that take full advantage of research and planning. Jamie Creedle, director of museum education at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, Ohio, provides a catalogue of "programs that work" with a refreshingly wide variety of locales and budgetary ranges. Meggett B. Lavin, retired curator of education and research for Drayton Hall near Charleston, South Carolina, discusses seven tools that any historic house should have in its "tool kit for interpreters." And Patricia Kahle, director of Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, documents the evolution of educational programming at Shadows, including programs on the everyday life of a 19th-century child, on architecture, and on local African-American history using oral history research.

Authors of such essays often achieve little more than reporting on how things are done at their museum. Happily, the contributors to this volume have such a broad frame of reference and such a wealth of experience that the discussion is never provincial or prosaic. This volume is profitable reading for museum administrators, curators, educators, interpreters, and students who hope to work in a historic house museum.

Kenneth Hafertepe
Baylor University


1This contribution on landscape research in Ireland is written with a historical bias, as it comes from a historical geographer1. It begins by outlining different perspectives of Irish landscape studies in the past with reference to the founding fathers of historical geography in Ireland. It continues by discussing future landscape research in Ireland on the basis of new source material and a changing perception of history, as well as a changing attitude towards the environment. In an appendix the growing interest in Ireland towards its material heritage and its cultural and economic potential is discussed in relation to planning legislation, which will largely influence the future of the Irish countryside.

The development of landscape studies in Ireland

In the tradition of the founding fathers

2Before we can talk about the future of landscape studies in Ireland we should briefly acknowledge the work on which our present studies build. Two people in particular have actively shaped the foundation years of Irish historic settlement studies. These were E.E. Evans and T. Jones-Hughes, who held the first appointments of Geography at Queen’s University Belfast (1928-1968) and University College Dublin (1950-1987), respectively. As the discipline of geography only became established in Irish universities with their generation, it is not surprising that these men came from across the Irish Sea, from Wales2. What is more significant for us is that their research focused on rural settlement and society, while T.W. Freeman, the first geographer in Trinity College Dublin (1936-1946), was primarily a population geographer, whose work on pre-famine Ireland is an important contribution to the historical geography of nineteenth century Ireland. Pierre Flatrès’ book, Géographie rurale de quatre contrées celtique (Rennes, 1957), looking at Ireland as part of the Atlantic fringe of Europe, had a great influence in his time, because it stressed the European dimension in the interpretation of the Irish landscapes.

3Evans’s work was based on field-work and focused on traditional rural settlement patterns and house-types along the north-western Atlantic fringe of Ireland, while Jones-Hughes’s research explored nineteenth century documentary sources and was focused on questions of power in society as mediated through landholding. In their students we see the emergence of two different strands of settlement studies. One developed at Belfast with scholars like R. Buchanan, D. McCourt, and B. Proudfoot, whose work on the traditional rural landscape was based primarily on field work, and the other emanated from Dublin with scholars like W. J. Smyth, S. Smith, P. Duffy, W. Nolan, K. Whelan and P. O’Connor, whose research is focused on the importance of institutions and cultural factors for the formation of the Irish landscape.

4The earlier impetus for Evans’s work had come from archaeology, which might have influenced his fascination with origins and cultural diffusion3. The landscape was his main source of evidence. Written documents played little part in his research. The focus of his research was on the small clustered settlements in the north of Donegal, which following the Scottish example he called «clachans». The «clachans» were surrounded by arable land, which was periodically redistributed, according to a system called «run-rig» or «rundale».

5One of the past problems of Irish settlement studies, which J.H. Andrews had the courage to address, was that E.E.Evans and his students put forward the idea that «clachans» and their associated field-systems were features which had been part of the Irish landscape since prehistory until they were finally mapped by the Ordnance Survey in the early nineteenth century. But, evidence for the existence of «clachans» and «rundale» before the 18th century is very scarce. Why were the Belfast geographers at the time so determined to go beyond hard evidence? Probably it was because they believed in the concept of the cultural continuity from Irish prehistory to the present. They also did not hesitate to assume that the settlement patterns which they found in Ulster was also typical for the rest of the country and that land-use systems from the prehistoric period continued more or less unchanged to the present day! Today we have a stronger belief in the independence of the past.

6Jones-Hughes always deliberately distanced himself from the landscape school. His main interest belonged to the agrarian society of nineteenth century Ireland and his source materials are the nationwide government surveys of that period. They include the population Census (every ten years after 1800), a statistical survey of landownership called after its director Griffith Valuation (1849-65) and the first six inches to a mile Ordnance Survey maps (1833-46), which were produced for the whole country in order to provide a basis for taxation.

7The regional differentiation of Irish landscapes was of great interest for Jones-Hughes, less as expressed in different settlement patterns but rather in variations of place-names and personal names, which would offer an explanation for the different ethnic origin of population groups who make up the Irish people. Place-names studies make a real contribution towards a better understanding of the settlement history of Ireland. The most important place-name element in Ireland is the Gaelic «baile» with the corresponding English «town». These two place-name elements in connection with personal names are complimentary. For example in the north of the province of Leinster, where Anglo-Norman colonisation was very successful, place-names with the suffix «town» are frequent, while in the province of Connaught in the west of the island the suffix «baile» is widespread. One of the intriguing questions for which we still have to find an answer is why we find so many Gaelic field-names on nineteenth-century estate-maps in areas, which were once under strong Anglo-Norman influence, as for example in County Dublin?

8The topic, which fascinated Jones-Hughes most, is the influence of lordship on Irish rural society. The confiscation of land, which followed the Cromwellian Wars in the seventeenth century, allowed the formation of large estates in Protestant hands. The architecture of the elegant estate-houses in classical style surrounded by demesne land and estate walls has spread in amazing conformity from the east to the west coast in spite of regions with greatly differing modes of agricultural production. Jones-Hughes points out that the estate system was much more invasive in the agriculturally poorer regions of the west than in the richer regions of the east. He repeatedly draws attention to the cultural meaning of Irish market places in the nineteenth century. Near to the market place stood the courthouse, the school and the established church, usually paid for by the landlord. The Catholic church was located on the periphery of the town not far from the fair-green. The land-acts introduced by Gladstone at the end of the nineteenth century allowed the tenants to become the owners of their land.

9The big estate houses lost their function and many of them fell into ruins. It would be an important task for the future to establish a countrywide survey in how far these houses continue under new guises or are destined to lie in ruins?

10Fortunately for us Jones-Hughes also had a large number of students who continued his work. Their interest is mainly focused on the institutions, which were important for the formation of modern Ireland. After the emancipation of the Catholic Church at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was this church which had the greatest impact on the shaping of the landscape. New diocesan centres were established in the large populous county towns rather than in the old medieval diocesan centres. Therefore Thurles became the new Catholic diocesan centre in Tipperary instead of Cashel. In many instances the building of new Catholic churches in the nineteenth century led to the establishment of new villages, baptised «chapel-villages» by Kevin Whelan (Whelan, 1983).

11A problem of interpretation has arisen concerning Jones-Hughes’s work. Was he right in describing the landscape change brought about by the landlords in the nineteenth century exclusively as an expression of a colonial society or does this change represent at least in part a modernisation process? In fact, many changes in the cultural landscape of eighteenth and nineteenth century Ireland are not the result of landlord directives but are due to the initiative of the tenant farmers. The buildings of the eighteenth century Georgian squares in Dublin have been described by Jones-Hughes as the strongest expression of British colonialism in Ireland. The elegant Georgian town-houses are indeed built like their English counterparts, but the actual layout of the squares and the architecture of the monumental buildings in Dublin from that period are not particularly English but follow the mode of other classical buildings in Europe at that time. In the context of Irish history the concept of colonialism can obscure as much as it can enlighten.

History of cartography and settlement studies

12Another name of great importance for Irish landscape studies is that of John Andrews (formerly Trinity College Dublin), who bridges the generations4. Having an unrivalled expertise in the history of cartography in Ireland he has written a book on the history of the Irish Ordnance Survey with the intriguing title A Paper Landscape (Dublin, 1975) and on Irish mapmakers called Plantation Acres (Belfast, 1985). It is his hypothesis that in countries with dramatic changes in property ownership, which are imposed from outside, the production of maps has a much higher priority than in countries with greater social stability. That in a nutshell is the reason why Ireland is better endowed with early Ordnance Survey maps than England.

13Andrews set the standard for the rigorous examination of documentary sources in Irish settlement studies, which he himself applied particularly to the plantation period. Those who feel indebted to his research come from a very wide circle of scholars. His recent book on Shapes of Ireland, published in Dublin in 1997, is a treasure trove for settlement historians as were his previous books. In some way he has acted as the conscience of Irish settlement studies by asking critical questions about widely held assumptions, which appeared not to have been backed up by sufficient evidence from the sources5.

14Arnold Horner, an expert on Irish maps in his own right, has explored their potential for settlement history, as he did in his paper on two eighteenth-century maps of Carlow town (Horner, 1978). A. Bonar Law’s publication of The printed maps of Ireland, 1612-1850 (Dublin, 1998) will make more cartographical source material available for settlement studies. Jacinta Prunty has recently written a textbook on Maps and Map-Making In Local History, Dublin 2004, in which she introduces the local history practitioner to the world of Irish maps.

Reconstructing past settlements

15When Robin Glasscock, the founder of the Irish Historic Settlement Group, started his work in Queen’s University, Belfast in the 1960s he introduced the approach of the «British Deserted Medieval Village Research Group» (founded in 1952 by Beresford, Hurst and others) and of the «Moated Sites Research Group» (set up in 1971) to Irish settlement studies. Therefore the emphasis in his work was on the recording and mapping of relict features of former settlements in the landscape (Glasscock, 1971; Duffy, 1988). His students B.Graham, T. Barry and G. Barrett were trained in the method of reconstructing medieval settlement in Ireland with the focus on surviving structures in the field.

16The map of medieval settlement in County Meath compiled by B. Graham was, I believe, the first case study of an integrated medieval settlement landscape (Graham, 2000). His methodological approach was to combine the mapping of medieval relict features in the field with contemporary documentary evidence and to present an interpretation of the settlement pattern by linking it to the feudal system. He also applies this approach to his study of medieval urbanization. T. Barry’s work is largely based on the identification and mapping of medieval settlement structures and their explanation in a historical context6. G. Barrett brought the expertise of taking air photographs of medieval historic sites to her studies and so she succeeded in greatly extending our knowledge of known historic settlement sites.

17The encouragement to use contemporary documents for the reconstruction of medieval settlement came in the 1970s also from H. Jaeger from the University of Würzburg, whose work on settlement and environmental history is predominantly based on documentary evidence7. The use of medieval documentation was further supported by the Dublin Historic Settlement Group, a small interdisciplinary working group founded in 1975. The group facilitated interdisciplinary settlement research and comparative studies on a European level by inviting continental colleagues to lecture on their work. In this way a tradition of research was revived which I. Leister had introduced to Ireland as a lone pioneer in the 1960s with her book on the formation of the agrarian landscape in County Tipperary entitled: Das Werden der Agrarlandschaft in der Grafschaft Tipperary (Marburg, 1963).

18Important work has been done on Viking- and Anglo-Norman Dublin by H.B. Clarke as reflected in his map The Medieval town in the modern city (Dublin, 1978, new edition 2003) and the two companion volumes Medieval Dublin (Dublin, 1990), whose introduction contains an analysis of how the changing political climate in Ireland has influenced research on the early origins of the capital city. More recently, in 1998, a volume in the comparative studies of Early Viking Age settlement in Ireland and Scandinavia has been produced jointly by H.B. Clarke, M. Ni Mhaonaigh and R. OFloinn (Clarke et al., 1998). In 2002 Howard Clarke published «Dublin, Part I, to 1610» published by the Royal Irish Academy as part of the Irish Historic Towns Atlas.

19Familiarity with medieval Irish documentation made it possible for C. Doherty to reconstruct Gaelic settlement and society in Ireland before the Anglo-Norman invasion and to establish the contemporary European context. M. Herity brought the recording skills of the archaeologist to the study of early-medieval settlement in Ireland and contributed to the topic of the layout of early-medieval monastic sites. The enigma of the «rath», the most ubiquitous early-medieval Irish settlement form, has been explored by M. Stout, on the basis of statistical analysis and primary source material. He provides a model which succeeds in integrating the «rath» with the other settlement features of the time.

20The excavation on Viking sites in the centre of our present-day towns, Dublin and Waterford foremost, facilitated important research, which is reflected in a growing body of publications. The Dublin excavations are published jointly by the Royal Irish Academy with the National Museum. The volumes by P. F. Wallace on the Viking houses in Dublin and the volume on plants and environmental indicators in Viking Dublin by S. Geraghty are of special interest for settlement studies (Wallace, 1992; Geraghty, 1993; Duffy, 2003). The archaeological excavation reports on Patrick, Nicholas and Winetavern Streets published in 1997 in the volume Dublin, edited by C. Walsh provide an excellent contextual insight into these rescue excavations, as does the volume on the Waterford Excavations edited by M. Hurley et al. in the same year. The proceedings of the Friends of the Medieval Dublin Symposia, edited by S.Duffy, now comprise four volumes with excavation reports from different Medieval sites in Dublin.

21Research has been done on medieval manors as reflected in A. Empey’s work on medieval settlement in County Kilkenny and A. Simms’s reconstruction of the former Augustinian grange at Duleek in County Meath and of the former royal manor of Newcastle Lyons in County Dublin on the basis of manorial extents whose Latin texts have been published (Empey, 1982, 1983; Simms, 1983, 1989). Also, with emphasis on contemporary documents as source material for settlement studies M. Hennessy undertook his work on the geography of the Anglo-Norman colony in Tipperary (Hennessy, 1996a, 1996b).

22T. McNeill’s recent book on: Castles in Ireland: Feudal Power in a Gaelic World (London, 1997) is an excellent overview of this important special field of research. Contact with the internationally organised Château Gaillard group allows for the comparative perspective. R. Stalley’s The Cistercian Monasteries of Ireland (New Haven, 1987), is a significant contribution to the study of high-medieval monastic settlement in Ireland. Tadgh O’Keeffe’s book on «Romanesque Ireland: Architecture and Ideology in the Twelfth Century», published in Dublin in 2003, helps us to understand the built fabric of early medieval Ireland.

23Studies on the Plantation period inevitably focus on the establishment of new settlements, such as the work by P. S. Robinson on The Plantation of Ulster (Belfast, 1984), by R. Gillespie on Colonial Ulster. The settlement of east Ulster, 1600-1641 (Cork, 1985) and by M. McCarthy Morrogh on The Munster Plantation: English migration to southern Ireland, 1583-1641 (Oxford 1986) contain substantial information on the settlement patterns of the time. The small volume by R. Loeber published in the series of the Irish Historic Settlement Group addresses the topic of The Geography and Practice of English Colonisation in Ireland from 1534 to 1609 (Athlone, 1991) It is complete with a distribution map of English settlements in seventeenth century Ireland and their classification into garrisons, forts and settlements. J. Andrew’s article on «Plantation Ireland: a review of settlement history» contains maps of sixteenth and seventeenth-century plantation schemes (Andrews, 2000).

24Despite its importance settlement historians have neglected the eighteenth century. A. Horner gave a good lead with his work on Carton in County Kildare as a case-study of the making of an Irish demesne and P.J. Duffy on the evolution of estate properties in South Ulster (Horner Carton, 1975), L.J. Proudfoot’s monograph on Urban Patronage and Social Authority. The Management of the Duke of Devonshire’s Towns in Ireland, 1764-1891 (Washington, 1995) is an attempt to present the landlord influence in a theoretical framework. On the basis of a major funded project B.J. Graham and L.J. Proudfoot have explored the influence of the landlords on planning and urban growth in the eighteenth century and published the preliminary results in the series of the Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement under the title Urban Improvement in Provincial Ireland, 1700-1840 (Athlone, 1994) (Graham & Proudfoot, 1992). In a highly analytical article on settlement in eighteenth century Ireland K. Whelan stresses that pre-Famine Ireland was not an undifferentiated mass of unrelieved poverty but that class was an important factor (Whelan, 2000).

25Louis Cullen has written on the growth of Dublin between 1600-1900 and E. Sheridan has discussed the social topography of eighteenth-century Dublin. J. Bradley and A. Simms have explored the fragmented identity of Irish provincial towns in the eighteenth century (Cullen, 1992; Sheridan, 20018; Nolan, 1992; Bradley, 2002; Simms, 2002).

26W. Nolan has explored settlement and society in the glens of Wicklow in the eighteenth century.Because of the rich source material for the nineteenth century the rural settlement for this period has been particularly well researched. The work by T. Jones-Hughes on society and settlement in nineteenth century Ireland set the scene (Nolan, 1992; Jones-Hugues, 1965).

Key texts (1970s to 1990s)

27The student of settlement studies in Ireland in the 1970s was fortunate to have as his companion three major textbooks. For many of us T. Orme’s Ireland, (London, 1970), while part of an international series on regional geographies, was the first encounter with settlement history. T. Orme succeeded in contextualising the major phases of settlement development in Ireland. Frank Mitchell’s book The Irish Landscape (London, 1976), focused on the environmental history of Ireland based on scientific evidence as for example pollen analysis. The new edition of this book, prepared jointly with Michael Ryan, has the title: The Shell Guide to Reading the Irish Landscape, (Dublin, 1986). Fred Aalen’s book Man and the Landscape in Ireland (London, 1978) was a first statement on the contribution of the historical geographer to the understanding of the making of the Irish cultural landscape through time.

28Alan Gailey’s Rural Houses of Northern Ireland (Edinburgh, 1984) is a good example of work on vernacular housing. Henry Glassie’s Passing the Time in Ballymenone: Folkore and History of an Ulster Community (Dublin, 1986) is probably one of the best books ever written on the rural local geography of Ireland and includes substantial passages on settlement, in particular on the social and cultural significance of house types and land use.

29The publication of the volume An Historical Geography of Ireland (Dublin, 1993) edited by B. Graham and L. Proudfoot, provides a more recent bench mark for the presentation of historical settlement studies in Ireland. Geographers and historians contributed to the volume, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of Irish historic settlement studies.T. Barry’s book The Archaeology of Medieval Ireland (London, 1987), provides a valuable survey of the contribution of archaeology to settlement studies in Ireland.

30We must now turn to recent Festschrifts. The first two were dedicated to E. E. Evans; one was edited by N. Stephens and R. E. Glasscock, Irish Geographical Studies in honour of E.E. Evans (Belfast, 1970) and the other by R. H. Buchanan, E. Jones and D. McCourt, Man and his habitat: essays presented to E.E. Evans (London, 1971). Almost twenty years later came the volume of essays collected for T. Jones-Hughes on the historical geography of Ireland. This book, edited by W.J. Smyth and K. Whelan and published in 1988 in Cork under the title Common Ground demonstrated a far-ranging use of source material by geographers from the medieval period into the nineteenth century. The next two volumes reflect the interdisciplinary character of settlement research in Ireland as it had become by the 1980s. One entitled Settlement and Society (for F.X. Martin,O.S.A.) was edited by J. Bradley and was published in Kilkenny in 1988 and the other entitled Dublin, City and County: Prehistory To Present, ( for J.H. Andrews) was edited by F.H.A. Aalen and Kevin Whelan and was published in Dublin in 1992. The essays collected and edited by H. Murtagh in commemoration for N.W. English were published under the title Irish Midland Studies (Athlone, 1980). They presented a valuable regional study as does the volume edited by E. Rynne onNorth Munster Studies ( Limerick, 1967). The last volume to be mentioned is the collection of essays for Kevin Danacher with the delightful title Gold under the furze: studies in folk tradition (Dublin, 1982) edited by A. Gailey and D. O hOgain.

31Particularly enjoyable are the regional monographs. Among those E.E. Evans Mourne Country (Dundalk, 1951) has become a classic in the French mould of a distinctive region of hill country. W. Nolan’s Fassadinan, Land, Settlement and Society in South-East Ireland 1600-1850 (Dublin, 1975) is a regional study of a community which was involved in farming as well as in mining. P.J. Duffy’s Landscapes of South Ulster. A Parish Atlas of the Diocese of Clogher (Belfast, 1993) provides a good example of geography at the parish level. Two studies in particular recreate medieval landscapes. One is A.P. Smyth’s courageous book on Celtic Leinster: Towards an Historical Geography of Early Irish Civilisation, A.D. 500-1600 (Dublin, 1982) and the other is T.E. McNeill’s portrait of Anglo-Norman Ulster. The History and Archaeology of an Irish Barony, 1177-1400 (Edinburgh, 1980). And finally we must mention The Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape (Cork, 1997) edited by F.H.A. Aalen, K. Whelan and M. Stout, which has become a bestseller and succeeded in reaching a large group of people who would otherwise not read about settlement history.

Urban settlements in historical perspective

32In common with settlement studies in other European countries the emphasis in Ireland was until the 1970s very much on rural settlement research, with few exceptions as for example G. Camblin’s work on The Towns in Ulster (Belfast, 1951) and the volume which R.A. Butlin edited on The development of the Irish Town (London, 1977). J. Bradley and B. Graham were the first to work on the urbanisation of medieval Ireland, producing distribution maps and in Bradley’s case a long list of valuable individual case-studies (Bradley, 1985; Graham, 1979). The aim of considering medieval urbanisation in Ireland in a European context led to the publication of the two volumes: The Comparative History of Urban Origins in Non-Roman Europe (Oxford, 1985), edited by H.B. Clarke and A. Simms.

33The publication of Jacinta Prunty’s book Dublin Slums, 1800-1925, (Dublin, 1997) sets the social problems of the nineteenth century into a spatial context and provides a good counterpart to Mary Daly’s previous book on Dublin: the deposed capital (Cork, 1985).

34The study of the historical topography of Irish towns as expressed in town-plans was advanced, when in 1986 the first fascicle of the Irish Historic Towns Atlas series, which forms part of a European wide project of historic towns atlases, was published. The Irish atlas was set up through the support of the Royal Irish Academy. So far thirteen fascicles have been published providing a detailed data-base for future urban research and an interpretation of the history of individual towns. The atlas helps to redress the previous lack of research on Irish towns9.

35The two volumes on Irish country-towns (Cork, 1994 and 1995), edited by A. Simms and J. Andrews and one on Irish cities (Cork, 1995) edited by H. B. Clarke, were the result of three Thomas Davies lecture series on Irish towns on radio. They were designed to reach a wider audience of people. The Local History series emanating from Maynooth since 1996 with Raymond Gillespie as editor contributes to our knowledge of individual places10. The large number of case studies provided by the historical atlas, the country town’s publications and the local history series provides the material for future comparative work.

36The promotion of heritage towns by Board Faílte, the Government Tourist Board, has given research into the topographical and socio-economic history of Irish towns special impetus. And so in cooperation between the Geography Department in University College Dublin and Board Faílte a guide book called: Irish Towns: Guide to Sources (Dublin, 1998) was produced for anyone who has committed him or herself to explore the rich heritage of Irish towns (Nolan & Simms, 1998).

Challenges for the future research

A widening of the agenda

37We have come to see landscapes as representations of culture. If we learn to read their symbolic meaning, we will better understand the current debate on cultural identities in Ireland. Cole Harris encourages us to go into this direction with the following advice: «The challenge, it seems to me, is to retain our respect for the archives and our steeping in the complexities of particular places, while enlarging our ability to situate these studies in broader contexts of ideas» (Harris, 1991).

38Settlements are no longer looked upon as individual objects of study but «in a broad sense as a text, a multi-layered document, full of human intentionality, a culture code which embodies different levels of meaning» (Whelan, 2000). The operative word here is meaning. The intention is to understand the iconography of the landscape for what it can tell us about the politically, economically and culturally dominant group in society. Settlement is both medium and message, site and symbol, terrain and text.

39The study of the meaning of the Irish landscape, both rural and urban, reflects an increasing concern with issues of representation, contested space and identity. Nuala Johnson has looked at the question how monuments in the Irish countryside reflect nationalism and B. Graham has studied the Protestant representations of Ulster. In a collection of essays In Search Of Ireland (London, 1997) edited by him, Graham expresses the belief, that the political problems in Ireland are created by conflicts and confusions of identity, which find expression in the landscape11. The younger generation is keen to explore these questions in order to better understand the cultural and political environment in which they live. Y. Whelan’s book Reinventing Modern Dublin, (Dublin, 2003) presents a reading of Dublin’s iconography after independence.

The concept of continuity and change

40A major issue, which is related to the question of cultural identity, is that of continuity and change. There was a period when major changes in the history of Irish settlements were attributed solely to immigrants from abroad, from the Neolithic period onwards via the Celts, Vikings, Anglo-Normans to the English. The greatest long-term importance was attached to the Celts, as the cultural identity of the country was linked to their civilisation through language and material culture. In the final chapter of his book: Pagan Celtic Ireland, the Enigma of the Irish Iron Age (London 1994) B. Raftery poses the question how much distinctly Celtic evidence there is in the Irish archaeological material of the Iron-Age? The question arises whether instead of thinking in terms of larger groups of Celtic people immigrating into the country, we should think of a small élite group who came and influenced artistic style and language?

41Similar questions are asked for the period of transition from the Iron-Age to the Early-Christian period, where rather than focusing on a break in settlement structures continuities are regarded as an important element. G. Cooney writes regarding the continuity from the Iron-Age to the Early-Christian period: «It is perhaps ironic that at a time traditionally seen as bringing an end to a major phase of Irish settlement should increasingly be seen to continue trends in settlement form and location» (Cooney, 2000). The evolutionary model, suggesting the reuse of land through different phases of development in the landscape, clearly wins out.

42The question of continuity of settlement locations and structures becomes very important in the medieval period in the context of landholding, the formation of manorial settlement and the process of urbanisation. We are not alone in Ireland in raising the issue of the nature of continuity on settlement sites. C. Dyer wrote in 1990 in an article on the future of medieval rural history studies in England that archaeologists have come to deny the invasion hypothesis which implied that every change in culture was attributed to the arrival of new waves of immigrants from the continent (Dyer, 1990). This is a field, which needs more attention, and it is possible that place-name research might provide some of the answers.

43The study of place-names and surnames engages Ireland in its full diversity. Townland names have recently been referred to as «culturally metamorphic rocks in the landscape». W. J. Smyth suggests for example that on the basis of place-name analysis the Norse must have had a stronger impact on rural settlement than we believed hitherto. He considers that the seventeenth century is at the heart of understanding modern Ireland and that settlement historians should make more use of the Irish sources for that period (Smyth, 2000).

The landscape of Gaelic Ireland

44There is a growing consciousness that our discourse of the medieval settlement history of Ireland is strongly influenced by the availability of Latin sources for this period favouring settlement which was established under the Anglo-Normans in contrast to the scarcity of Gaelic language sources on settlement in those regions of Ireland which remained under Gaelic control. In 1996 Tadhg O’Keeffe tried to address this problem in his article on rural settlement and cultural identity in Gaelic Ireland in the medieval period. In 2001 a book was published with the title Gaelic Ireland, whichexplored how research into post-Norman Gaelic Ireland, and in particular issues of settlement, landscape, territoriality and social organisation, might be advanced (O’Keefe, 1996; Duffy et al., 2001).

45In September 1997 Rolf Loeber with the support of the Department of Medieval History in Trinity College Dublin called together a group of people with the aim of discussing how we could increase our knowledge of the landscape of Gaelic Ireland? On this occasion Katherine Simms pointed out that the student of Gaelic landscape history was faced with the problem, that there were few contemporary physical structures of institutional life, as business was carried out in the open. The literary nature of all written sources provided little information on settlements except for land grants and boundaries. Most secular records were kept by members of the bardic school, who got their elementary training in poetry. Nevertheless the Brehon law tracts, published in six volumes, give some information and so do the bardic poems and hagiographical texts.

The long neglected late-medieval period

46Curiously we know more about the early origins of towns than their later development. With the exception of some studies as for example A. O’Brien’s work on Dungarvan we know very little about economic life in medieval towns and the late-medieval crisis (O’Brien, 1987). This theme was discussed in a European context in 1996 at a conference in Birmingham, where H.B. Clarke reported on decolonisation and urban decline in late-medieval Ireland (Clarke, 2000).

New bodies of source-material

47The publication of whole archive-depositories as for example Guide to Sources for Irish History 1485-1641 in British Archives by B. Donovan and D. Edwards, published in 1997 by the Irish Manuscript Commission, open up new sources. Many of the Commission’s previously published texts to-date throw light on settlement history and should be explored under that aspect.

48A welcome new development is the publication of the Ordnance Survey Memoirs for Northern Ireland by the Institute of Irish Studies in Belfast and for the Republic of Ireland by Michael Herity as editor. The publication of an archaeological inventory for the country is an important primary source for settlement studies. For eleven counties the work has been published and for the others it is in preparation12.

49The National Monuments Branch has carried out a site and monuments record for the whole of the country. The availability of this record (SMR) on a searchable digital database is a great help in studies of prehistoric and early historic settlement. There is less material available for later settlements and it would be desirable to update the record. J. Bradley was commissioned to carry out the Urban Archaeological Record. It is an important resource for research on medieval towns in Ireland and it is regrettable that the material has not yet been made available in print.

50The Buildings of Ireland series provides detailed information on the architectural history of individual buildings in Irish towns. So far two volumes have been published, one on north-west Ulster (1979) by A. Rowen and the other on north-west Leinster (1993) by C. Casey and A. Rowen.

Comparative studies

51The old saying adapted from Kippling «What should they know of Ireland who only Ireland know» is still very true. No doubt Irish settlement historians could learn from comparisons with the evolution of settlement in other parts of the Atlantic world, in particular with Scotland and Wales, as P. Flatrès showed in the 1960s. L. Cullen initiated comparative work with France, which should be extended (Cullen & Furet, 1980). The comparison of medieval colonisation in Ireland with other colonisation movements in medieval Europe has been attempted (Simms, 1988; Bartlett, 1989). But there are many aspects of common European heritage that still need to be explored.

52The Irish County Histories, for which Willie Nolan acts as general editor, present interdisciplinary essays on the history of Irish counties. They are the Irish equivalent to the English Victoria County History13. These volumes contain most valuable contributions to the settlement history of particular regions through time. It is a challenge to use this material in order to construct major settlement zones over the whole of the country, which would have cultural meaning.

53The two volumes, already mentioned, on The Comparative History of Urban Origins in Non-Roman Europe (Oxford, 1985) edited by H.B. Clarke and A. Simms focus on the origin of towns in early medieval Europe and urban colonisation in high-medieval Europe. The volume with collected essays on Medieval Frontier Societies (Oxford, 1989) edited by R. Bartlett and A. Mackay) explores culture and politics in its regional dimension in Europe. The volume on Irland und Europa; Ireland and Europe, vol. 1, Stuttgart, 1984,edited by P. Ní Chatháin and M. Richter links major cultural regions of Europe and contains valuable material on the settlement history of early medieval Ireland. The volume edited by L.M. Cullen and F. Furet on Ireland and France, 17th -20th centuries: towards a comparative study of rural history, Paris, 1980 focuses on historical aspects of landholding in these two regions of Europe. –Under the patronage of the British and Irish Academies two volumes were published which allow a comparative analysis of English and Irish settlement of comparable scale. The first one was edited by P. Clarke and R. Gillespie under the title: Two Capitals: London and Dublin, 1500-1840, Oxford, 2001. The second was edited by P. Borsay and L. Proudfoot and carried the title: Provincial Towns in Early Modern England and Ireland. Change, Convergence and Divergence, Oxford, 2002.

54Further comparative studies of Irish settlements with comparable settlements in other European regions would greatly enhance our understanding of Ireland in a European context.

Environmental history

55And finally we come to the issue, which might very well be the most important one. In the past the focus of research in the medieval and early-modern period was very much on landholding and spatial organisation of society. The major study so far on the environment of Ireland in a historic perspective is Frank Mitchell’s book on the Irish landscape, which we have mentioned already. He was interested in the human situation of early communities in an environmental setting.

56In archaeology environmental studies have become a strong sub-discipline. A good example is B. Raftery’s research on wetland sites. He excavated massive oak track-ways at Corlea in County Longford. G. Cooney worked on the environment of Neolithic settlements and M. Monk researches prehistoric vegetation change. Dendrochronology and pollen analysis have yielded information on environmental change in historical periods. It would be desirable in the future to co-ordinate these results with documentary evidence of environmental conditions.

57We should revisit our sources and explore how much they can tell us about the environmental transformation of the Irish landscape through time. F. Kelly’s book on Early Irish Farming (Dublin, 1993) demonstrates how the Irish law tracts of the seventh and eight centuries can yield information on domesticated animals, hunting, flowers, dye-plants, farmhouses, trees and woodland. T. Bolger has investigated the Calender of Archbishop Alen’s Register, c. 1172-1534, a record of land held by Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin under this aspect, and found interesting information on the management of forest land, the use of turbary and the fertility of the land (Bolger, 1998). The seventeenth century Down Survey maps give a lot of information on environmental conditions with their frequent references to «red bogs». Ingeborg Leister has given a lead in her Tipperary book with a map showing the distribution of forest and its degenerate forms based on the Civil Survey (Leister, 1963).

58Real understanding of the processes which brought about environmental change in Ireland can only come from the cooperation between the disciplines of archaeology, geography and history on the one hand and the palynologists and paleo-environmental researchers on the other hand. Combining these different elements was the strength in the work of the late Frank Mitchell. We must continue his tradition.


59It appears that the question of the character of the Gaelic landscape and the nature of the transformation from the Gaelic to the Anglo-Norman landscape in Ireland still holds many unanswered questions. For example in the half century before the Norman arrival the term «castle» (castle or caislen) appears in Gaelic vocabulary, hinting that the Irish invented the stone-castle for themselves before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in 116914. It is not easy to determine how much the Normans built on their predecessors’ achievements and how much their institutions were a complete innovation for the country. The other major issue for future research must be environmental change, which would connect with the environmental problems of our own days. And last but not least there is the wide field of urban studies, where different aspects of the urban society should be studied in their topographical context.

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