Staging an Imagined Ireland

January 24, 2017 § 4 Comments

barlow-cover_final-page-001In anticipation of my book, Griffintown: History & Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood being published by University of British Columbia Press in May, I wrote an article for the Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University’s new blog, Au delà des frontières: La nouvelle histoire du Canada/At the Frontier: New Canadian History.  You can read ‘Staging an Imagined Ireland’ here.


Scary Ideas and Lazy Journalism

April 3, 2015 § 6 Comments

Last week, the New York Times published another in a depressing series of articles in the print media about how colleges and universities are allegedly catering to sensitive-little flower millennials, who cannot handle big ideas that challenge their deeply-held beliefs, and how, instead, they seek to create ‘safe spaces’ all across campus, where they won’t come into contact with big, scary ideas.  I can never get through one of these articles without seething.  See, I am a professor.  That means I work and teach on a university campus.  I come into daily contact with these millennials.  And I’ve come to despise generational stereotypes about them, as much as I despised the stereotypes applied to my generation twenty years ago.  The stereotypes are largely similar: apathetic, self-centred, self-obssessed, etc.  And, just as they were a ridiculous accusation against Gen X, the same is true of millennials.

The larger problem with these kinds of articles is that they are written by journalists looking for sensation, and supported by their editors looking for clickbait (hey, look, Ma! I used the term ‘clickbait’ in successive posts).  These articles are drive-by smearings of academe (not that there aren’t a lot of problems within the system, but journalists aren’t interested in them, because they don’t generate headlines), written without bothering to understand how the academy works, how ideas are exchanged, and how we professors work to challenge and destabilize commonly-held beliefs, even if we agree with them ourselves.

Take, for example, the story of a course at Arizona State University called “US Race Theory and The Problem of Whiteness.”  FoxNews host Elizabeth Hasselbeck attacked the course, after talking to a student at ASU.  The problem was that the student Hasselbeck talked to wasn’t enrolled in the class, and she herself never bothered to talk to the professor.  No, instead, Hasselbeck instead ranted about the problems with this kind of course, in predictable fashion.  This led the professor of the course to doxxed and to receive death threats.

But back to the Times article.  I was going to write a strongly-worded riposte to it here, but my wife beat me to it.  So, instead, I point you, gentle reader, over to Margo’s blog, as she says what I wanted to say in a much better fashion.


January 3, 2014 § 3 Comments

As you may have noticed, things are looking a bit different around here.  Spatialities is no more, this site is now under my own name.  The domain name has changed to  When I created this blog several years ago, it was meant to be no more than a place to park my random thoughts, especially as connected to my research.  But over the years, the readership has grown, and I notice that this site turns up if you Google my name.  It used to be that if you Googled me, you’d find a bazillion links to the rocker Matthew Barlow, but now, I actually appear in the search results.  The original name for this site was really just a random name I came up with in conjunction with a friend, it was an invented word.  It was clever for the time.  But, the times they are a-changing.

Final Exams and the Terror of History

December 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

My poor students.  I’ve been teaching a World History course centred around the notion of the Terror of History. On the Final Examination this semester, I asked them “What is the Terror of History?”  One of the neat things about WordPress is that I can see the Google search terms that have brought people to my blog.  The number one term of the past week? “The Terror of History.”  Poor kids.

Niall Ferguson: Somewhere a village is missing its idiot

May 5, 2013 § 1 Comment

By now it is no secret that I think Niall Ferguson is a pompous simpleton.  I give the man credit, he has had a few good ideas, and has written a few good books, most notably Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power.  His recent book, Civilization: The West and the Restwould have actually been a pretty good read if not for his sophomoric and embarrassing discussion of “killer apps” developed by the West and now “downloaded” by the rest of the world, especially Asia.  He has also been incredibly savvy in banking his academic reputation (though he is losing that quickly) into personal gain.  He has managed to land at Harvard, he advised John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008.

But a few days ago, Ferguson outdid himself.  Speaking at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, California, Ferguson responded to a question about John Maynard Keynes‘ famous comment on long-term economic planning (“In the long run, we are all dead”).  Ferguson has made it abundantly clear in the past that he does not think highly of the most influential and important economist of all time, which is fine.  But Ferguson has also made it abundantly clear that part of his problem with Keynes is not just based on economic policy.  John Maynard Keynes was bisexual.  He was married in 1925 to the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, with whom he remained with until his death in 1946.  By all accounts I’ve read, the marriage was a happy one.  But they did not have children, which obviously upsets Ferguson.  But more troublesome for Ferguson is the fact that Keynes carried out many, many affairs with men, at least up to his marriage.  Fourteen years ago, in one of Ferguson’s more forgotten books, The Pity of War, Ferguson goes on this bizarre sidetrack on Keynes’ sexuality in the post-WWI era, something to the effect (I read the book a long time ago) that Keynes’ life and sexuality became more troubled after the war, in part because there were no cute young boys for him to pick up on the streets of London.  Seriously.  In a book published by a reputable press.

So, in California the other day, to quote economist Tom Kostigen (and who reported the comments for the on-line magazine Financial Advisor), who was there:

 He explained that Keynes had [no children] because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.

It gets worse.

Ferguson, who is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, and author of The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, says it’s only logical that Keynes would take this selfish worldview because he was an “effete” member of society. Apparently, in Ferguson’s world, if you are gay or childless, you cannot care about future generations nor society.

Indeed.  Remember, Ferguson is, at least sometimes, a professor of economic history at Harvard.  That means he has gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students in his classes.  How are they supposed to feel about him when they go into his class?  How is any right-thinking individual supposed to think when encountering Ferguson in class or anywhere, for that matter?

Today, Ferguson apologised on his own blog.  He called his comments his “off-the-cuff and not part of my presentation” what they are: stupid and offensive.  So for that, I applaud Ferguson.  He has publicly owned up to his idiocy.  But, I seriously doubt these were off-the-cuff comments.  Those are not the kind of comments one delivers off-the-cuff in front of an audience.  How do I know?  Because I’ve talked in front of large audiences myself.  I’ve been asked questions and had to respond.  Sometimes, we do say things off-the-cuff, but generally, not.  The questions we are asked are predictable in a sense, and they are questions that are asked within the framework of our expertise on a subject.

Moreover, there is also the slight matter of Ferguson’s previous gay-bashing comments in The Pity of War a decade-and-a-half ago.  Clearly, Ferguson has spent a lot of time pondering Keynes as an economist.  But he has also spent a lot of time obsessing over Keynes’ private life which, in his apology today, Ferguson acknowledges is irrelevant.  He also says that those who know him know that he abhors prejudice.  I’m not so sure of that, at least based on what I’ve read of Ferguson’s points-of-view on LGBT people, to say nothing of all the non-European peoples who experienced colonisation at the hands of Europeans, especially the British. Even in Empire, he dismissed aboriginal populations around the world as backwards until the British arrived.

I do not wish Ferguson ill, even though I do not think highly of him.  But I do hope there are ramifications for his disgraceful behaviour in California this week.


January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ah, what the hell, this is my blog, if I can’t flog my media appearances and other publications and whatnot here, where can I?  I’ve been rather silent around here for the past 8 months or so, though that will change in the coming weeks.

First, I have submitted the manuscript for my book, The House of the Irish: History, Memory & Diaspora in Griffintown, Montreal, to the publisher.  It is out for review now, and with any luck, it will appear on bookshelves and on-line stores around this time next year. Academic publishing moves rather slow at times.  As long as The House of the Irish appears before 2014, we’re good.   I published an article on the Montreal Shamrocks Hockey Club at the turn of the last century in a book edited by John Chi-Kit Wong of Washington State University, entitled Coast to Coast: Hockey in Canada to the Second World War. I wrote the article in 2005-6, it was published in 2009.

I have a raft of ideas for the next projects, but two I am pursuing, or will be once I get the chance later this semester are:
1) I wrote my MA thesis on the Corrigan Affair, which involved the fatal beating of a neighbourhood bully, Robert Corrigan, by a gang of his neighbours in Saint-Sylvestre, Québec, in October 1855.  Corrigan was an Irish Protestant, and his attackers, Irish Catholics. What’s more, the Orange Order and an Irish Catholic secret society, the Ribbonmen, got involved. This led Corrigan’s death to become a cause célèbre in the era of heavy sectarian tensions in 1850s Canada.  Right now, this looks like it will become a book.

2) Boston as the cultural centre of the Irish diaspora. I am fascinated by the Irishification of Boston in recent years in pop culture. Sure, Boston’s always been a major centre of the Irish diaspora, but as the city itself has become less and less Irish over the years, it has become more and more green in pop culture.  Aside from the obvious, a basketball team called the Celtics, you’ve also got the Affleck brothers who play up that Southie culture in film, the novels of Dennis Lehane, and, of course, the music of the Dropkick Murphys.  I’m not sure how this will proceed, whether as an article, a book, or a documentary film, but time will tell.

In the meantime, last month’s controversy surrounding the Habs and the firing of Jacques Martin and his replacement by a unilingually Anglo coach in Randy Cunneyworth found me doing a bit of punditry in the national media here in the Great White North.  First, an article that appeared on and then I was on Global National news later that week. And way back in September, I welcomed the Winnipeg Jets back to the NHL on the National Council on Public History’s Off the Wall blog.

At any rate, as I move forward with these projects and begin to think about history, memory, and the public in coming months, there will be a lot more here. As they say, “Watch this space!”

Happy Failweek!

April 5, 2011 § 4 Comments

My Twitter friend, Emilie Wapnick, one, has a great website, and two, an interesting idea. She wants to celebrate failure.

But I object to the idea that failure is “feedback.”  I don’t think so. Failure is failure. Calling it feedback just sounds like some touchy-feely way of making it feel like I never lose, of saving our self-esteem. We all win, we all lose, we all have successes and failures. That’s life. Indeed, Frank Sinatra made exactly that point in song:

That’s life, that’s what all the people say.
You’re riding high in April,
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune,
When I’m back on top, back on top in June.

To call our failures feedback, while an admirable idea in order to get us to learn from our mistakes, is wrong-headed. We need to learn from our failures, but we don’t learn from sugar-coating things, at least in my humble opinion.

But Emilie’s idea goes beyond this:

How about instead of denying the existence of failure (since it’s “all feedback”), we acknowledge that it exists and embrace it. What if we actually PRAISED people for failing? What if success were measured by ACTION rather than results?

I think that if we all took some time to praise failure and even encourage it on a regular basis, there would be much more experimentation, creativity and innovation in the world.

The more we celebrate failure, the more we’ll all be encouraged to take action. So lets do it. Lets take this week and celebrate our most mortifying, horrific, soul-crushing failures!

Alright, so I’m never going to celebrate my mortifying, horrific soul-crushing failures. I don’t think that does anything, I prefer to grieve in private, lick my wounds, and figure out how to go forward.

But I love Emilie’s idea of measuring success by action foremost. Results are important, but sometimes we need to take action even if we’re going to lose, to “fight the good fight,” so to speak. This is part and parcel of the working-class Irish-Catholic culture I come from, immortalised in song by the Dropkick Murphys in their song for “Irish” Micky Ward (who, I must gloat, got his clock cleaned by my hometown boy, the late Arturo Gatti), “The Warrior’s Code”:

Failure works in many ways. It can work in the Mickey Ward sense of not giving up, or in the sense any good activist knows, of fighting the good fight whatever the results. But sometimes success comes from failure, too, as some of the people Emilie talked to on her blog point out. One of my favourite Simpsons moments (yes, there once was a time when that show was funny) comes when Lisa points out to Homer that the Chinese have the same word for crisis and opportunity. Homer, who had been down for some reason or other, immediately brightens up, allegedly recalling the word “crisitunity.” Ok, so we can laugh at Homer’s stupidity, but there’s a point to be made here.

And if we choose not to sink into the doldrums over failure, if we instead celebrate some forms of it, then perhaps we do get what Emilie wants, which is more creativity and experimentation and innovation. I’ve spent a lot of time of late reading about the Scientific Revolution and its aftermath, and one thing that is clear is that the brilliant successes and innovations of the likes of Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Hawking, is that they are all built on earlier failures. But, in the spirit of scientific experimentation, they had no choice but to carry on. So perhaps we should engage with our inner scientists and take what we can from failure to figure out how to succeed?

So perhaps failure isn’t the evil we’re lead to believe it is, perhaps in failing we can continue to try to make the world a better place and we can learn from our mistakes, or we can recognise that our failures are the keys to our successes.

So, alright, it’s Failweek. The Twitter tag is #failweek.  Rock on, my friends, celebrate your failures and figure how to gain from them. If anyone needs me, I’ll be licking my wounds and pondering my comeback.

Between the Horns

January 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

My good buddy, Jason Santerre, has started a new blog, Between the Horns, to give him some space to ruminate on one of his passions, heavy metal (the other being the Habs). Go check it out. Aside from being a metal head, Big J. has a gentle soul, and he just happens to be a wonderful poet, too.

Nos Amours

October 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

I have a post up at the National Counil on Public History’s (NCPH) sponsored blog, Off the Wall, looking at the difference between marketing and nostalgia when it comes to the ill-fated Montréal Expos.

New Project: NCPH’s Off the Wall

July 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

My friend, Cathy Stanton, has begun a new blog, sponsored by the National Council on Public History in the US, called Off the Wall.  The aim of the blog is to offer up “critical reviews of history exhibit practice in an age of ubiquitous display.”  Cathy has assembled an impressive set of contributors and commentators to facilitate discussion.  Since the blog was launched last week, there have been a handful of posts, reviewing events, exhibits, and displays, my favourite being this one on Flick’s “Looking into the Past” project.

I am one of the contributors, though, so far, all I’ve added to the discussion is a single comment.  But the discussions that are arising over there are rather central to the study of history in the digital age.  History is all around us, and is a central component of pop culture.  At Off the Wall, we’re interested in examining how history interacts with pop culture and the public, to examine how history is used (and abused), how usable pasts are created.  Or not created, as the case may be.


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