THE QUESTION OF COMMUNITY…
The following are some points to consider in looking at the issues raised in past papers on Community.
There are problems in making a satisfactory definition of what community is – so, there is no "model answer" and no "right" answer; The list of points suggests that both sides of the argument should be considered.
There is no overwhelming reason for ignoring the pitfalls lurking within "neat definitions" and we must appraise every recommendation – even if it comes from the Venerable Finberg…
Gillespie – condenses them all to "those living together with something in common"
Finberg – his agenda highlights the third element, time…"the business of the local historian…is to re-enact in his own mind and to portray for his readers the origin, growth, decline and fall of a local community"
3 elements of "community" = People, Place, Time.
Members of a community share "a common interest"
Advantage for the historian is that the "human unit" is bonded as a clearly identifiable group – the tenants of the estate, members of the Catholic congregation, supporters of Repeal…
There is greater logic and homogeneity to the community defined within the parameters of common/shared interest than to the ruthless line on a map method.
Finberg : The interest can arise out of a concern at or for a particular time.
So, one can see the "origin, etc…" as a community emerges and fades.
Examples might be the Land League, "Ribbonism", Anti-Dump, Save Wood Quay…
Comparison may be made between the responses of contrasting communities to stimulus/ incident…Home Rule, building the by-pass, Catholic Emancipation… "…Cannibals", Spufford…
"Overlapping" interests: People have several interests that bind them to different groups – GAA, Ballroom dancing, Wine-making….
So, there are many other aspects to a community than simply its involvement as only tenants, voters, congregation….
"Conflicting" interests undermine "neat" definitions – Everitt in the Civil War study of Leicester; Bellews = Catholics, but members of the landed gentry class…
"Faction-ism" : Although affiliated to diverse religious/political/social groups, inhabitants of a village are understood to form a "community". Concentration on their differences promotes "separatism", fragmentation and leads to a misrepresentation of the community as one lacking cohesion or interdependence…
Extent : How many individuals are required to form a community? The historian must resolve what how large it must be to be worth studying…Patrons of "The Snug Bar" in Rockall???
Loyalty : As in the case of conflicting interests, there may not be equal or adequate commitment to "the cause" by those who apparently belong to the group – Johnny Cox? Michael Cleary? C.D. Bellew – which was he, "Catholic Irish" or "Loyal Ascendancy"?
Mutation : The common interests within a group/locality will change over time…so a particular common interest is not a reliable/final arbiter of what constitutes a community.
Gillespie – people take precedence over place
Historian must consider the People-Place interaction…
Man’s impact on the environment/ locality – Hoskins!
Environment influences human activity, thinking, social organisation…
Everitt ; Spufford ; Braudel ; Thirsk…
"Personality" as the expression of relationship between people and place [also a reflection of the "mental landscape" – Tower houses, Catholic Churches, Fairy forts…]…Evans
Important not to consider one locality in isolation; We must contrast, compare and link the unit of study with others
Argument is unresolved as to which does hold supremacy – people or place…Gillespie v Braudel….
Extent – Should the historian study a finite administrative region or an indefinite "human unit" based on some geological, climatic or other notional boundary? Barony of Tirawley, or Valley of the Moy…
Merging people and place in time may give rise to conflict between the eras from which each receives its own definition – the "Parish" history tells the story of people in a place since long before it was decreed to be a Parish/County/Townland…
Physical or Mental?
What relationship should the "community" have with its own place? Must a person live there, work there or simply feel attached to it?
Could M.Cleary be identified with Ballyvadlea?
We may not find an accommodation within the "place" for those who hold allegiance to it – e.g. Where do emigrants belong?
No particular place to go : Teachers are a community…where is their central place…chalk downs…Woods…? Or do they identify with any particular one?
Urban history? Most of the studies are of rural communities; Where do the residents of sprawling suburbs fit in to the tradition and the formula? In the agricultural society, it was easy to see the relationship between the people and place evolving. Can we contrast human urban units? How can we define the limits of city areas of study – administrative criteria?
Rural bias: The notion of people "belonging" to a particular place, responding to its uniqueness and creating its "personality" is more readily applicable to a rural community… Townland, Estate, Agricultural regions...But the definition of people in a place is challenged by the global trend towards urbanisation…
Finberg’s definition of the historian’s task accepts that a process of evolution is occurring and that a community will change over time.
The historian examines the community’s finite life-cycle of growth and decline.
This provides a logical framework on which to construct the portrait.
The time factor can be used to define the temporal limits of a study and allow the historian to concentrate on a certain phase of the life-cycle.
Two approaches to the time-span of a study are
Snapshot view over a brief period or at a particular moment – Montaillou, Bridget Cleary, Cannibals….
Longue durée examines the trends over an extended period – Languedoc, Mediterranean….
"Edging into the future backwards" is the attitude of communities to time itself – Evans identifies this as a feature of the Irish psyche and tradition of history; We tend to regret the loss of the past, "The Golden Age"…. "The Dream Time"…
What are the forces that promote change? People are responsible and we must examine their motivation…
Individual agents/ "brokers", such as the parish priest, politician [Pee], landlord…- is the change motivated by self-interest or the common good? "Improving" landlord, John McHale….
Groups may be responsible for change in a community – Land League, Planters, FF/FG/GAA organisations…
Central administration may enforce or promote new practices or attitudes – Resolution of conflict, payment of tithes, attendance at school, Corn Laws….
Non-human interventions may cause sudden, traumatic mutation too – Blight, The Big Wind, Flooding….
Why does the rate of change differ?
Here again we see conflict between people or place….
Geography may determine the peripherality, conservatism or isolationist attitudes that seem to be responsible for local resistance to change….Alain de Moneys….Cathars of Montaillou…
On the other hand, the centrality of The Pale and the proximity of Ulster to Scotland dictated trends in Irish communities.
The mentality of the people may not be determined purely by the environmental influences – Bridget Cleary was a threat to stability and the Ballyvadleans turned to cultural tradition for vindication of their rejection (and destruction) of her…
"the business of the local historian…is to re-enact in his own mind and to portray for his readers the origin, growth, decline and fall of a local community"
1. It compels, and allows, the historian to be specific as to the subject of a
study; Advantages are that the reader will not be misled by false expectation
if the topic is clearly defined and the writer does not have to do "the history
2. It broadly outlines the approach to be used by historians and forces the
study of local history to be a more scientific discipline.
3. It highlights the importance of the time factor in a study and suggests a
certain understanding of the passage of time.
It presents a framework on which to build the story of the community.
The definition suggests a process of change over time and identifies a method of approach to themes.
4. It presents the historian as "broker" between the past and the present.
5. It asks the present to respect "the legacy of the past".
The historian appears to be one who is omniscient and independent of any standards other than his/her own – an unreliably subjective and biased interpretation of the past is possible according to this definition.
It may suggest that a community is an isolated organism with an individual autonomous life of its own.
It does not point to the importance of comparison or the place of the local
in the national history.
4. It suggests "parochialism" and may be seen to give exaggerated
importance to history that is of little general interest or value.
The major difficulty with it is the problem of defining what is meant by the term "community". Finberg implies there are 3 elements of importance to the historian – people, place and time….Which people? What place? In
The story of the silent majority/minority can only be inferred or deduced.
Chief example must be women…
Dare one question – what is the audience for local history? There is a massive
clientele for the populist local work, such as "A Century of BallyW N.S.";
On the other hand, there is a need for serious academic studies. Can we marry
both…Bridget Cleary springs to mind…