On the eve of the American Civil War, 1.6 million Irish-born people were living in the United States, most in the major industrialized cities of the North. The stories of 35 Irish families whose lives portray the nature of the Irish emigrant experience are captured in Damian Shiels’ new book, The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America.
Damian Shiels, a celebrated conflict archaeologist, historian, and author, has focused his research in the widows and dependents pension application files of the American Civil War found at the National Archives. These records often include not only letters and private correspondence between family members, but unparalleled accounts of their lives in both Ireland and America.
The National Archives’ project to digitize these valuable files has opened up an invaluable online resource for Irish social historians. The author systematically examined each of the digitized files associated with Irishmen (using surnames as a primary indicator) in order to retrieve social information. Each of the 35 stories in the book uses at least one digitized file from the National Archives as its base and builds on the family story both through other online resources and historical documentation.
The book’s existence underscores the importance of digitization and our goal to expand public access to historical holdings, and it illustrates the importance of NARA’s holdings to social historians worldwide. In the acknowledgements section of his book, the author states:
“The majority of the research undertaken for this book was conducted from Ireland. This is something that would not have been possible prior to the increased accessibility of online records that has been a hallmark of recent years. Though nothing can truly replace direct archival research, the accessibility of millions of scanned primary documents online has provided a unique opportunity for scholars, particularly those located outside the country in which they have an interest, to engage with (and hopefully contribute towards) their chosen subject.
I had the great privilege of meeting some of the NARA team whose hard work in digitizing the pension files allowed me to explore these Irish stories. They include Archives Specialist Jackie Budell, who coordinates the project. Over the years, Jackie has been a constant source of encouragement, advice, support and friendship, for which I am extremely grateful. More than any other she deserves a special note of thanks for helping this book come to fruition.”
Join us on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 16, 2017 from 7:00pm to 8:30pm EST in the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives in Washington, DC for a discussion program with Damian Shiels based on his book, The Forgotten Irish. This will be the book’s launch in the United States, and the first time Damian will speak on this book in the U.S. The National Archives will be the exclusive point of sale in the U.S. for this book through May 1 when it becomes available nationwide.
Michael Hussey, a National Archives archivist and historian, and David T. Gleeson, Professor of American History at Northumbria University and author of The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, will co-moderate the discussion and audience Q&A. A book signing will follow the program.