Sunday, March 15, 2015

Searching for History Outside of Museums

By Nina Kendall

            In the United States, March in recent years is typically proclaimed as Irish-American Heritage Month. The proclamation is typically in March to coincide with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. From celebrations of heritage to popular icons in the United States, there is no denying the cultural imprint of the Irish on American culture. Yet a search for a place to enjoy Irish-American history is less likely to yield as well known results.

            There are a few museums that document Irish Heritage largely clustered in New England. An effort to build an Irish-American Museum of Washington, D.C. is underway.  The virtual exhibit is the only exhibit open thus far. However, you don’t have to make a trip to faraway destination to enjoy Irish history. You can find it in your own state.  There are people of Irish ancestry in every state in America.

            So how do you find Irish history in your state? Here are a few suggestions for your search.

Examine Toponyms

            Toponyms or place names often reveal unique characteristics of a place. The names chosen for places tell you about the geography of a place and who was there. Place names are distinct cultural markers.  Want to look at some examples? Try this site about New York from National Geographic. Then get out your maps and look for Irish toponyms in your state.  There is a town named Dublin in more than 10 states. We have visited the city of Dublin, Georgia many times.

Search for Historical Markers

            Historical Markers recognize people and events whose imprint on the landscape is not obvious. The builders of landmarks, the movement of troops, and the lives of important people are memorialized by historic markers. The Irish in America have contributed to many public works projects. The history of the Irish may be presented by a marker in your state. 

Don’t know where to start looking for the historic markers in your state? Turn to technology. Your state may have a database of historic markers to search. Georgia does. The Georgia Historical Society also has an app that lets the user use googlemaps to find historic markers across the state. You can also search the Historical Marker Database.  This is a crowdsourced database you can search and later even contribute to. A search of the state database revealed several potential sites we could choose to visit.

Investigate State History

            There are a growing number of resources dedicated to the history of individual states. You can turn to these resources for more state-specific history. The New Georgia Encyclopedia preserves the history of towns and Georgians for future generations.  The Old Governors’ Mansion(pictured) in Georgia was designed by the Irish architect Charles B. Cluskey. Explore PA History combines the history of Pennsylvania via historic markers and lesson plan and activities that can be used in and out of the classroom. Find and use your state resource. You may be surprised what you learn.

            Good Luck with your search for Irish history near you! We look forward to hearing about the results.