Golden Ages and Barbarous Nations
Antiquarian Debate and Cultural Politics in Ireland, c.1750–1800
Paperback | 9780268037215 | September 2004
It is often said that all history writing is political. This book, the first major study of Irish antiquarian and historical writing during the turbulent second half of the eighteenth century, demonstrates the truth of this maxim. It charts the ways in which contemporary politics, notably the Catholic question, legislative independence and the gathering agrarian and political crises from the late 1780s, shaped articulations of the remote and recent past. Historical and antiquarian disputes mirrored political debate, so that Catholic and liberal Protestant interpretations of the past were pitted against conservative Protestant reiterations of earlier colonialist analyses. This study sets Irish writing in a broad European focus, examining the influence of key cultural developments, such as orientalism, primitivism and the vogue for Ossian. The intention is to show the complex ways in which Irish cultural politics in this period was open to, and interacted with, British imperial and wider European Enlightenment trends. Throughout the book, Scotland forms a particular point of comparison, since antiquaries there drew on the same Gaelic heritage in much of their work. Leaman criticizes the influence of Sufism on Islamic aesthetics and contends that it is generally misleading regarding both the nature of Islam and artistic expression. He discusses issues arising in painting, calligraphy, architecture, gardens, literature, films, and music and pays close attention to the teachings of the Qur’an. In particular he asks what it would mean for the Qur’an to be a miraculous literary creation, and he analyzes two passages in the Qur’an—those of Yusuf and Zulaykha (Joseph and Zuleika) and King Sullayman (Solomon) and the Queen of Sheba. His arguments draw on examples from history, art, philosophy, theology, and the artefacts of the Islamic world, and raise a large number of difficulties in the accepted paradigms for analyzing Islamic art.
Clare O’Halloran is lecturer in the History Department at University College Cork.
“. . . A groundbreaking study. . . .” ~Irish Literary Supplement
“. . . A pioneering study of a neglected aspect of Irish history.” ~Catholic Library World
“This is a highly interesting topic excellently handled. O’Halloran’s study cannot fail to become a standard work on the period 1760–1800.” ~Joep Leerssen, University of Amsterdam
“Clare O’Halloran places Irish antiquarianism in comparative context, identifies the issues and challenges faced by scholars, and argues that these beginnings of modern Irish historical study, conflicted as they were, had a profound and continuing influence on how we have understood the island’s past.” ~History: Reviews of New Books