March 22, 2004

Irish eyes smiling brighter at Emory

By Deb Hammacher & Michael Terrazas


Emory has a national and international reputation among students and scholars of Irish studies as having one of the leading programs in the field. The irony is that the University, in fact, has had no such program--until now.

Geraldine Higgins, associate professor of English, announced the creation of a new program in Irish studies during the Southern regional meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies, held on campus March 4-7. Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who read from his work at the conference, generously has allowed Emory to print a limited-edition broadside of his poem "The Coyote" to celebrate the launch.

Higgins, who will direct the program, said it grows out of the University's teaching and research strengths in Irish arts and literature; the world-renowned collection of 20th century Irish literary materials in Woodruff Library's Special Collections plays a large role in creating an impression of a long-standing Irish studies program.

The cornerstone of that collection began in 1979 when Emory appointed noted W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde biographer Richard Ellmann as its first Woodruff professor and began to acquire substantial archives of Yeats and Lady Gregory. Since then, Emory has acquired the papers of many of the top living Irish poets, the correspondence between Yeats and Maud Gonne (in 2002), and just last fall a significant portion of Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney's archive.

"Emory is ideally placed to consolidate the resources and interest in the field and to offer accessibility to faculty, archival researchers and visiting scholars," Higgins said. "By mobilizing our existing resources and planning our progress alongside new hires and developments in study abroad, the Emory Irish studies program can go beyond merely filling a vacuum to become a center of excellence in Irish studies rivaling the internationally renowned programs at Notre Dame and Boston College (BC)."

Creation of the program is no mere whim, she said, but is based on sustained interest from faculty, students and independent scholars. In addition to the literary archives in Special Collections, resources within or affiliated with the University include:

co-editorship of the Collected Letters of W.B. Yeats by Goodrich C. White Professor of English Ronald Schuchard.

the W.B. Yeats Foundation of Atlanta, founded by Winship Professor of the Arts James Flannery, which promotes Irish cultural events.

"The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett" project affiliated with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

study abroad opportunities.

additional faculty scholarship and teaching in literature and history.

"Our students have been flocking to the special-topic courses in Irish studies and responding enthusiastically to Irish content in other courses," Higgins said. "There is sustained interest from both faculty and students in adding Irish studies to the University's international curriculum."

Concurrently, Emory and BC recently completed the first phase of the Irish Literary Collections Portal ( http://irishliterature.library.emory.edu ), a joint effort between the two schools to digitize collection descriptions of their holdings in Irish literature and develop searching interfaces that will allow scholars to locate relevant materials quickly and easily.

Funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the two-year project electronically links two of the finest Irish literary collections outside the shores of Ireland--and materials that complement each other, according to Steve Enniss, director of Special Collections.

"This is designed to be the first port of call for people doing Irish literary scholarship," said Enniss, crediting University Libraries Vice Provost Linda Matthews and Susan McDonald, head of technical services for Special Collections, for ushering the Delmas project through to completion.

Notable about the new database is the fact that its searching interfaces will access full descriptions of holdings--not just titles--across the entire collections. For example, a researcher doing work on Heaney and searching only Heaney-titled holdings in the past might have missed letters from the Irish poet to, say, his friend and late British poet laureate Ted Hughes because they might have been catalogued under Hughes' name.

"This puts more power in the hands of researchers," Enniss said.

Future phases of the project, Enniss said, involve adding finding aids to Irish literary collections at other institutions such as the universities of Texas and Delaware, and the New York Public Library.