Geraldine Higgins, director of the Irish Studies program


Irish studies program a natural for Emory

Emory has long fostered vigorous scholarship in the field of Irish studies, achieving national and international renown with its collection of twentieth-century Irish literary materials and strong faculty.

Ironically, though, a formal Irish studies program did not exist–until now. The program was launched last spring and the curriculum will be completed later this year.

“Of course, Irish studies at Emory is nothing new,” says Geraldine Higgins, associate professor of English and director of the program. “There is a perception that we have had a program for the last twenty years. But there was a real confluence of events happening that led us to forge ahead and put the program together–exciting things were going on in the library and among the faculty, and there was a rising demand from students.”

The cornerstone of Emory’s holdings in Irish studies was laid in 1979, when noted W. B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde biographer Richard Ellmann was appointed as the first Woodruff professor and began to acquire archival materials of Yeats and Lady Gregory. The collection continued to build, gaining momentum as its reputation grew. In 2002, the University acquired the correspondence between Yeats and his artistic soulmate Maud Gonne. The following year, a considerable portion of Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney’s archive was purchased.

The Irish studies program will have a natural anchor in the English department, where Goodrich C. White Professor of English Ron Schuchard, co-editor of the Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats, has played a central role in promoting Irish studies at Emory. But Higgins hopes to expand the program dramatically in the coming years with offerings in performing arts, history, and cultural studies. Supporting these efforts will be Winship Professor of the Arts James Flannery, founder of the W. B. Yeats Foundation of Atlanta, an organization that promotes Irish cultural events.

“There are very strong links to Ireland in the Atlanta community,” Higgins says. “We will be increasing our programming to enrich these historical ties, inviting the community to participate in readings, lectures, concerts, and talks.”

Higgins also anticipates that students will take advantage of the relationships that exist between Emory and four Irish universities by studying abroad in Ireland.

Already, Emory’s resources in Irish literature have attracted top scholars in the field, including two students in the English graduate program who were drawn by the Seamus Heaney correspondence acquired last year, according to Higgins.

“We already attract scholars because of the amazing holdings in the library,” she says. “That’s only going to increase. People will want to come here because it’s the place to study Irish literature and culture.”–P.P.P.



© 2005 Emory University