History Matters


History professor Dr. Anthony Daly recently presented a paper at the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS), a leading scholarly society for all British fields of study. His work makes an important contribution to how historians understand the dynamics within English radicalism.

The paper examines the attitudes of 1860s English radicals toward the Fenians - a revolutionary society formed to lead a rebellion that would result in Irish independence. Although started in Ireland, the Fenians also had a large and important presence in Britain, Australia, Canada, and especially in the United States. Large numbers of Irish emigrants to the U.S. after the catastrophic Irish Famine in the 1840s meant that were many bitter Irish-Americans willing to contribute their money to the cause, or even join as potential soldiers against the British government. 

"Radicals were social and political activists who stood outside the political mainstream, pressing for voting reforms in England," Daly explained. "These radicals enthusiastically supported nationalist causes in Europe; for example, Italian and Polish efforts to establish their own countries. But, they did not support the Fenians' efforts for Irish independence. My paper looked at why they didn't."

Daly's research over the last 10 years has focused on various aspects of the political culture of English radicals in the mid-19th century.

"I find this time so interesting because England was in transition. The old society, dominated by the aristocracy, was giving way to a new social and political reality - democracy," he explained. "In 1832, only one-eighth of adult males in England could vote; by 1884, three-quarters had that right. It was also the era when Britain's empire was the most powerful in the world - a very undemocratic development, but one that made Britain one of the most important places on the globe."

Daly, who earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Toronto and his master's and Ph.D. at Boston College, wanted to work at an institution that emphasizes teaching.

"MCLA fit the bill," he said. "I love the MCLA campus community. ... When I walk across campus, I see so many people who are dedicated and passionate about helping students and advancing the college. That is inspiring to be around."

He decided to pursue advanced degrees in history because the field helps him to understand the world and the way he thinks about it more clearly.

"The same basic questions and issues recur over and over again over the years, and while understanding the complexity of life in 2010 is very challenging, I feel that by studying how humans have acted in the past, we are better able to make take positions and make decisions in current times," Daly said.

He hopes his students see how the world we live in has been formed by the events and decisions of the past. "It is important that we understand how what we do today will shape the world for future generations."

Daly wants to help students to build a foundation for a successful life and to continue the history major's reputation as challenging, but worth the effort.

"I hope my students work hard and develop their skills so that they are prepared for the challenges of a complex and changing world - the real value of a liberal arts education."