Mark Doyle is an Assistant Professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. He is the author of Fighting Like the Devil for the Sake of God: Protestants, Catholics, and the Origins of Violence in Victorian Belfast (Manchester University Press, 2009). He is currently working on a comparative study of communal/religious riots across the Victorian British Empire. Contact: mdoylemtsuedu
About My Column
Very few items that make the news each day are unprecedented; most have happened before in some form or other, and all of them arise from conditions shaped by the past. This fact, banal as it sounds, is something news outlets often forget, or ignore, or notice only when they’ve run out of other things to say (and they rarely run out of other things to say). In this column I will be performing one of the functions that historians are put on earth to perform: I will try to provide a bit of historical perspective on current events, mostly with respect to things happening in Britain itself, although I may strike out into the empire (or former empire) as well. My aim is not to engage in a yawning sort of seen-it-all-before retrospection, nor is it to pontificate about the “lessons of history” (people who speak about the “lessons of history” are usually trying to sell something). Rather, my goal is to situate the current news within patterns of behavior that stretch beyond the day before yesterday, although the limitations of my training and expertise – mostly in the nineteenth century, mostly in Ireland – will inevitably become apparent. I hope my reflections will prompt scholars of other periods and places to provide their own thoughts. Please correct, contradict, supplement, or qualify anything I say here: historical knowledge, as we all know, arises from conversations, not soapboxes.