"Against Shameless and Systematic Calumny": Strategies of domination and resistance and their impact on the bodies of the poor in nineteenth-century Ireland

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Geber, Jonny
O'Donnabhain, Barra
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Mid-Victorian British characterizations of Ireland and much of its population blamed race and “moral character” for the widespread poverty on the island. The Irish poor were portrayed as a “race apart” whose inherent failings were at least partly to blame for the mortality they suffered during the Great Famine of 1845–1852. Recent excavations at Kilkenny workhouse and Spike Island convict prison have produced skeletal assemblages from this critical period. These collections have enabled bioarchaeological analysis of parameters mentioned by the Victorians as indicative of the distinctiveness of the Irish poor: stature, interpersonal violence, and tobacco use. Bioarchaeological data indicate that the differences between Irish and British populations in stature and risk of violence were exaggerated. Such characterizations, we argue, were part of a strategy of “Othering” that served to legitimize colonial domination. This exertion of power did not go uncontested, as the pattern of tobacco use may be indicative of forms of passive resistance.
Bioarchaeology , Colonialism , Identity , Prison , Workhouse
Geber, J. and O’Donnabhain, B. (2020) '“Against Shameless and Systematic Calumny”: Strategies of Domination and Resistance and Their Impact on the Bodies of the Poor in Nineteenth-Century Ireland', Historical Archaeology, 54(1), pp. 160-183. doi: 10.1007/s41636-019-00219-2