A Tale of Two Placements

Fourth-year DAH student at NUI Galway James Curry discusses two recent doctoral research placements in Dublin and Michigan and highlights the value of international scholarly and professional networks for the postgraduate student.

So far, during the course of my doctorate in history and digital humanities at the Moore Institute, NUI Galway, I have carried out two research placements. The first, carried out in September/October 2014, took place at the Dublin City Library & Archive, and saw me work under the helpful supervision of Dr. Máire Kennedy to create an online database of labour cartoons from the Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly journal concerning the great 1913-14 Dublin strike and lockout (Ireland’s most famous industrial dispute). This proved to be a very beneficial experience, and quickly led to me collaborating with Dr. Ciáran Wallace of Trinity College Dublin to produce a co-authored book in early 2015 entitled Thomas Fitzpatrick and the Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly 1905-1915.

It also helped persuade the University of Michigan Library, with whom I had been in contact since 2010, to agree to my request that I carry out a four week research placement at their institution. My agreed task was to begin the process of cataloguing a vast archive of research materials donated to the University of Michigan Library’s Joseph A. Labadie Collection by retired Albion-born historical researcher Virginia Hyvarinen. It was this archive, dealing mainly with the life and times of much-travelled radical journalist Jack Carney, which had been the initial catalyst for my contacting Julie Herrada, the Labadie Collection’s curator. I have long possessed an interest in Jack Carney, a neglected but influential radical figure who acted as a right-hand man to iconic Irish labour leader James Larkin in both America and Ireland from 1916 to 1936. And so, in April 2015, following the awarding of a travelling research grant from the Moore Institute and an Edward Weber endowment from the University of Michigan Library, I was delighted to visit America for the first time and carry out extensive research on Carney’s life and his network of other United States-based Irish or second-generation Irish radicals during the era of the infamous “Red Scare”.

One of America’s leading ‘Big Ten’ research universities, the sprawling University of Michigan is located in Ann Arbor, the sixth largest city in the state, and caters for over 43,000 students. Situated about forty miles west of Michigan’s former capital of Detroit, Ann Arbor (sometimes called ‘AA’ by locals) is dominated by its imposing university, with students from the institution accounting for over one-third of its population of approximately 117,000. Everywhere you go in Ann Arbor buildings and people proudly display the official maize and blue university colours, always keen to show support for their twenty-seven varsity sports teams collectively known as the ‘Wolverines’.

For the duration of my placement in Ann Arbor (an appealing blend of big-city vitality and small-town friendliness), I lived in a lovely apartment within the university’s quiet and leafy Northwood V campus community. Home to a large multicultural and international academic population, Northwood V is surrounded by trees and – like much of Ann Arbor – completely crawling with wildlife. I didn’t spot any wolverines during my month living in Michigan, but I did encounter wild deer, raccoons, rabbits, an eagle, and more squirrels than you could shake a stick at!

My apartment was situated less than a twenty minute drive from the central campus where I was based for my placement, with this journey carried out daily via the always free and always reliable ‘Blue Bus’ which stopped outside my apartment every 10 minutes during peak hours. The large network of ‘Blue Buses’ are as ubiquitous in Ann Arbor as the squirrels, and as a non-driver I would have been lost without them. My placement saw me stationed on the eighth floor of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library (Special Collections), meaning that I could regularly enjoy a terrific panoramic view of the university and city.

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One of the University of Michigan’s large network of ‘Blue Buses’ driving past the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library (Courtesy of James Curry).

For four weeks I methodically worked my way through slightly over half of Virginia Hyvarinen’s enormous collection of research materials, determining the contents of each box of material and organising as many individual files as I could into clearly labelled folders. The Special Collections staff were patient and friendly throughout this time, while Julie Herrada could not have been more welcoming. I collaborated with Julie in co-writing a blog post on my placement for the University of Michigan Library website, and was introduced by her when delivering a public lecture on Carney’s life at the Harlan Hatcher Library Gallery on 27 April. I have nothing but positive memories of my time in Ann Arbor, and am proud that my placement has encouraged the University of Michigan Library to begin planning for the launching of a formal annual Research Fellowship Program. I hope to return to Ann Arbor at some point in the future to continue working my way through the mass of material concerning Carney assembled by Hyvarinen (now in her early 90’s and living in New York City).

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Me with Virginia Hyvarinen’s vast archive of donated research materials concerning the much-travelled radical journalist Jack Carney. Virginia first encountered the writings of Carney in 1987 and was so impressed with what she read that she subsequently spent over twenty years collecting as much primary and secondary source material as she could find about his life and times. During my Michigan placement I had the privilege of talking to Virginia by phone on two separate occasions (Courtesy of Julie Herrada).

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Joseph A. Labadie curator Julie Herrada, seated at the Special Collections desk of the University of Michigan’s Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library (Courtesy of James Curry).

One outcome of my Michigan placement is that the Ann Arbor public lecture I delivered was witnessed by the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Program Director of Archives & Special Collections Patricia Maus, a close friend of Virginia Hyvarinen from the latter’s time spent living and working in Duluth as a public librarian and researcher for the Minnesota Historical Society. Ensuing correspondence with Patricia led to me discovering the existence of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Alworth Institute International Fellowship award, which I applied for shortly after returning to Ireland. Thankfully, my application has since proven successful and I am scheduled to visit Duluth, a seaport city on the shores of Lake Superior (the world’s largest freshwater lake) next April to carry out research on Jack Carney’s time living in Duluth from 1917 to 1920.

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Virginia Hyvarinen during a 2012 visit to Park Point, Duluth (Courtesy of Virginia’s daughter Eva).

During my time in Michigan I established contact with many academics and archivists from across America and beyond. I am now relishing my forthcoming trip to Minnesota and the opportunity to further develop this international scholarly network, one that can assist my proposed postdoctoral research in America on Jack Carney’s remarkably colourful life and the influence of Irish radicals on the early twentieth century American labour press.

James Curry