To make a horse follow you.

From the Choctaw Intelligencer of February 12th, 1851:

You may make a horse follow you in ten minutes.  Go to the horse, rub his face, jaw and chin, leading him about, saying to him, come along, a constant tone is necessary.  By taking him away from other persons and horses, repeat the leading and stopping.  Sometimes turn him around, and all ways keep his attention by saying, come along.  With some horses, it is important to whisper to them, as it hides the secret and gentles the horse, you may use any word you please, but be constant in your tone of voice.  The same will cause all horses to follow.

This, in a paper which advertises a remarkable number of horse thefts.

How do we talk about the IRA? How do we talk about the North?

One of my perennial problems with American tv shows with occasional British themes is the way in which Irishness is leveraged. Irishmen are either IRA terrorists or benevolent barkeeps. Irishwoman are almost universally objects to be had by charming American male leads. Stereotypes aside, for the time being, I have noticed a trend in recent portrayals of the ‘nasty’ IRA mode of Irishman. A recent episode of ‘Human Target’ featured an ex-IRA ‘enforcer’ who makes good by helping the British royal he once put a bounty on. Movies like ‘Boondock Saints’ feature thuggish men with northern accents who make good by ridding Boston of bad guys. Is the implication that (a) all Irishmen with northern accents are IRA men? and (b) that consequently all Irishmen with northern accents owe something to either the U.S. or Britain?

Narratives about Northern Ireland in the American press are few and far between. A botched car bombing in Derry in November got almost no attention in the U.S. press, marching day riots receive little but brief mention while the publication of the Saville report, arguably one of the more important news items vis-a-vis northern Ireland in recent years garnered three mentions in the New York Times, one of them in an op-Ed written by Bono. However, northern Irish characters seem to pop up regularly in American television, from Leverage to Lie to Me to Human Target to Burn Notice. These characters are a knowable unknowable – exotic enough to be a change-up from the normal thuggery, but familiar enough to make audiences receptive. Frequently, these characters find redemption in the end, or die protecting ‘worthy’ American or British allies.

In the most recent iteration of the Sherlock Holmes cannon, Moriarty is cast a dilettante Irishman, a modern day Oscar Wilde, but with a northern accent. Are we to learn that only non-northerners can be trusted? That northern Irishmen can only be redeemed through service to crown or American flag? Or is this simply a correlation/causation problem, based on the assumption that Americans can’t recognize Derry from Dublin, let alone Ireland from Scotland?

If the myth of Irish-America is one of the 26 counties rather than the 32, how do we teach Irish-American or even Irish history in America? Put another way, if the only Irish that we accept in American popular culture are from the republic, how can we responsibly talk about the 6?

In terms of teaching Irish and British history, how do we undermine the othering of Northern Ireland without giving students the impression that we are advocating for violent republicanism?

The Queen’s Faces.

I’ve always been fascinated with British currency.  As a child, I think that I liked them because they looked more like treasure than American currency, but recently I’ve become interested in the social messages of coins.  One of the last items in the History of the World in 100 Objects series was a suffragette penny.   Suffragettes stamped ‘Votes for Women’ over the face of the Edward VII (leaving the female Britannia on the reverse side un-touched) and circulated the pennies.  Because the coins were of such low denomination, and because there were so many of them, the suffragette message spread relatively widely, and less violently than many other suffragette strategies of the time.  Currency as a combination of the symbolic and the practical is not a new notion – today’s money is even symbolic of its worth, as no coin is worth its weight in metal, and Douglas Adams even went so far as to claim in his speech at Digital Biota 2 in 1998 that money was an artificial god.  But the current British currency makes reference symbolically to another practical process – that of the aging of the queen.

Until 1984, the image of Queen Elizabeth II on British coinage was a young one:

From 1985 to 1997 the image was of a slightly older queen:

And the image that has been in use since 1998 is older still:

It has been over a decade since the last image of Queen Elizabeth was commissioned, and I wonder if they will re-mint the coins any time in the future.  The aging Queen both reminds the people who use British coinage daily of the mortality of their monarch – older coins are still in circulation, so it is possible to come across all three versions of the queen in one transaction – but also reminds the Queen and her family of that same mortality.  I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to be the head of a constitutional monarchy, or in a position that a rising number of citizens think should be abolished altogether.  I suppose that all people in the public eye have the unique experience of seeing their histories written as they live it, but to have your aging process indelibly marked on metal, which will presumably be around longer than Daily Mail lambasts of celebrities, must be a disconcerting experience.

The financial crisis has sparked histories of money and capital, but I think that historians might also think about the incidental material culture of money, and what it means and meant to interact daily with coins and notes as objects.