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History Prof Publishes Book on Irish in America

03/11/16

With a deep interest in the history of the Irish in America, Dr. Ely Janis, associate professor of history, recently published A Greater Ireland: The Land League and Transatlantic Nationalism in Gilded Age America, the culmination of research he began in graduate school, when writing his dissertation at Boston College about 10 years ago.

“It was really a labor of love,” Janis said.

His book tells the story of the Irish National Land League that began in Ireland and spread to the United States. The League, Janis explained, started off as an effort to reform the land system in Ireland and achieve self-rule for Ireland from Great Britain.

“When Irish leaders like Charles Stewart Parnell came to the United States, they mobilized Irish Americans to support these efforts for Ireland. My book focuses on the ways that Irish Americans, working class and women, used their participation in the Land League to agitate for changes in their living and social conditions in the United States,” Janis said. 

The book is important, he explained, because it covers a component of Irish American history that isn’t always discussed. It also sheds new light on the importance of Irish-American women’s contributions to the Land League movement.

To conduct the research necessary to write the book, Janis traveled to archives across the U.S., including Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia and New York. In addition, he spent two months in Ireland doing research in archives in Dublin, where he read dozens of newspapers and personal papers.

Janis’s interest in Irish history began when he was in college at the University of Oregon, and wrote an honors thesis on the history of the Irish Republican Army.  He went on to Boston College, where he earned a master’s degree in Irish history, then switched gears to focus on American history for his Ph.D.  

“In my Ph. D. work, I combined my interest in Ireland with a new focus on immigration, particularly a focus on the experience of the Irish in America,” he explained.

Last summer, Janis became a book review editor for the Journal of American Ethnic History, for which he selects recently published books and finds reviewers to review them. 

“Because the journal covers Native American, Asian American, African American, European American and Latino history, it has given me the opportunity to continue to explore my interest in immigration and ethnic history, and really expanded my knowledge of the subject,” Janis said.

While he directs most of his attention to Irish American history, his background in Irish history has served him well in his exploration of this history in a broader perspective, which benefits his students at MCLA.

Although on sabbatical this spring semester, Janis teaches several courses on American immigration history on a regular basis. One course, “American Immigration and Ethnicity,” takes a comparative look at American immigration and ethnicity from the 17th century to today.

Another, “Border Crossing: A History of the American Border(s),” explores the creation of the United States’ northern and southern borders and the implications that has had for American society. 

“I also teach a course on the Irish in America that looks at the history of the Irish in America from the 18th to the 20th century,” he said. “In all these courses, my research on immigration and ethnic history has had a big impact on my teaching. And, in my classes, I think my students appreciate my enthusiasm and love of these subjects.”