My Movie Life

As inspired by Empire‘s new online series, I thought I’d kick off the new year by indulging in a moment of procrastination before finishing my next lecture.

What was the first movie you ever saw?

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Hello 2014!

I thought, given this will be a rather important year for a plethora of reasons, I would make a small list of resolutions/promises, if only so that I can refer back to it later on when I can’t remember anything I said on 1 January!


In 2012, Insatiable Booksluts had a wonderful challenge in case the world ended: page-counting.  I fell far short rather quickly, but this year, I’m in — even if no one else is.  Maybe it’s half-inspired by all of the new “shelfie” photos that keep showing up on Twitter, but it’s one literary competition that, somewhat belatedly and with more commitment, I want to try to own.

The Rules

- books can be non-fiction or fiction, but every page must be read

- books abandoned because of major suckage will not make the final tally

- Kindle books count, but only by going on the internet to find the REAL number of pages if I had bought a proper paper version

- the books counted must be FIRST-TIME READS — I could go back through GWTW or The Fionavar Tapestry as much as I want, but they would be for the soul only — the tally is restricted to new encounters only

Guy Gavriel Kay’s masterful trilogy — and one of my absolute favourites

2)  I always keep track of every book I read (pages now to be numbered), but I’m going to try to also make a list of all the films I watch.  This might sound simple but, given the fact that, combined, my fiance and I own the better part of 1500 movies, noting down every time something from the DVR or Blu-Ray makes noise could be a bit of a snafu.

3)  I want to write in my diary once a day.  I haven’t done it yet, so this might expire almost immediately as a year-long challenge, but I still have 5 1/2 hours to go…

4)  I want to be much better about being a consistent blogger here.  2013 somehow got away from me.  I could give a number of excuses, but wedding planning and course prep really shouldn’t take up that much of a girl’s time that there’s no chance to unwind and pontificate.  My idol in this (as in many other things) will be the Mighty Duff and her brilliant blog: Tangerine & Cinnamon.

5)  I suppose all of this comes down to the promise that I need and want to write more.  Considering what I have planned for the late summer, that sounds just about right.

I have a very good feeling about 2014.  I hope you do, too.  See you soon!
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Midatlantic Musings by Jane G. V. McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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“Kings are killed, Mr Garrison” ~ The Kennedy Craze Fifty Years On

The moment of silence has just been called for in Dealey Plaza.  The bells are ringing.  It’s been fifty years to the minute since John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot to death.

I was born eighteen years after the Kennedy Assassination.  Having two historians as parents meant that I grew up with a lot of “extra fairy tales” told at bedtime: the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the fall of Anne Boleyn…  I don’t remember Dallas in November 1963 as one of the ones I continually asked for, but I do know that I learned the “facts” very early on.  I know where my parents were when they found out the news; I know where my godfather was; I’ve seen the clips of Walter Cronkite and remember my grandmother (who was the same age as JFK) telling me how eerie and silent the weekend was, with everyone unable to stop watching the coverage, both before and after Oswald was shot on live TV.

This morning, I watched my generation’s version of 22 November 1963: Oliver Stone’s JFK from 1991. Continue reading

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The Orangeman in Winter: Ogle Gowan, Masculine Frailties, and the Rise of the Orange Order

After many, many months of silence, I’m posting again.  The time since March has been slightly mad with conferences and research on the new book.  The next half-dozen or so posts will be versions of these papers that I gave at conferences in Boston, Montreal, Belfast, Galway, Vancouver, and Ottawa.  This first, “The Orangeman in Winter”, was first given at the Northeast Victorian Studies Association meeting at Boston University in April.  The subject of the conference was one specific year of the Victorian era: 1874.

*** *** ***

Picture Toronto in the cold spring of 1874.  There’s still frost and snow on the ground.  Your breath shows in the air.  In the lanes off Yonge Street in North York, a slightly haunted figure walks ahead of you.  In a kinder, more literary world, he could almost be Scrooge on Christmas morning, out in the snow in bed-slippers – if only he was smiling.  The man’s hair is grey, as are his sideburns and unshaven cheeks.  Seeing him, one can’t help but think that this is a broken man, an old man, someone who, perhaps, has lost something precious.  The man slips into a public house and makes his way inside.  Maybe the publican or a few boys at the bar recognize him; maybe not.  The old man looks up, checks that the liquor license for the premises is plainly visible, nods, and then heads out into the cold again until he comes across the next pub (and, this being Toronto, it’s not that far away).

1874 was a cruel year for Ogle Robert Gowan.  Forty-five years before in 1829, he had arrived in Upper Canada from Co. Wexford, Ireland; within one year, he had become one of the most important men in the colony.  As the founder and first Canadian Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of British North America, Ogle Gowan might not have walked with kings, but he certainly came close.  He received commendations for bravery from Queen Victoria, was a personal friend and professional asset for John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, helped to crush the oligarchical power of the Family Compact after the 1837 Rebellion, and was the centre of the Orange Order, the most influential fraternity in British North America and, later, Canada, for over a century.  And yet, during his own lifetime, he became a forgotten relic of the past.  In 1874, he was forced to retire as the liquor inspector for North York, a job given to him by the Toronto municipal council out of pity rather than respect, at the same time that Orangeism was defining itself as one of the most powerful aspects of the Irish Diaspora, not only in English Canada, but worldwide.  So, what happened?

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Family History Ghosts

A brief plug before I return to a regular season of weekly posts.  I’ll be speaking at the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa Conference on 22 September.  This is an interview I did earlier today about it…


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Irish Green Season (aka “A Little Bit of Shameless Self-Promotion”)

Things at the School of Canadian Irish Studies are getting crazy these days (in a fun way), as we await the climax of Montreal’s Irish “Green Season”.  There have been balls, luncheons, poetry readings, film screenings… and now we’re all getting ready for Sunday’s 190th St Patrick’s Day Parade down Rue Ste-Catherine.

I got into the spirit as well — in both official languages (mostly).  Click here to read my op-ed piece in The Montreal Gazette this morning about the new faces of the Irish Diaspora.  Click here to read Prof. Michael Kenneally’s op-ed on the changing landscape of Irish Montreal.  And click here to hear me discuss the diaspora since 2008 en français on Radio-Canada Toronto’s “Y a pas deux matins pareils”.  

See you on the other side of the shamrock!


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As Good As It Gets… for academics

One of my favourite historians is S. E. Duff, who writes about South Africa, empire, food, feminism, and a plethora of other things.  Recently, she discussed her superstitions when it came to the writing process.

The following quickly caught my attention:

I had become aware that my daily routines were becoming increasingly ingrained: that I’d begun to glare at hapless scholars who had taken ‘my’ desk at the British Library; that my day couldn’t really begin unless I’d had coffee in a particular mug; and that I could only use a special kind of notebook for research notes.

Duff argues, quite rightly, that academics might rely on zany, superstitious, and downright territorial writing behaviour because academia can be extremely stressful, competitive and precarious as a career choice; the result is (I’m paraphrasing here), we’re all a little nutty.

So, as I’m about to start the major research phase for my next book, I thought I would take her advice and look at my own writing/researching quirks to see where I fall in the pack.  (An academic engaging in navel-gazing?  Perish the thought!)

1)  When at the British Library, I must work in Humanities 2, preferably close to the reference desk, but not so close that I am bothered by the queue of people retrieving whatever they were working on yesterday.  Will Hodgkinson has said that HUM2 is both “smaller than its vulgar neighbour” and also where “its occupants can literally look down on the plebs in Humanities One.”  Amen.  Some people have tried to seduce me to move over to Rare Books — where the real crazies are — but I haven’t made the leap yet.

2)  If I have to use a book weight, I want it to be one of the ropes, not the device Victorians used to beat misbehaving children or stroppy servants.


… not this:

3)  When writing/reading, I can’t drink coffee after 11am.  10.30am, okay; 11am demands tea.  With milk.

4)  Note-taking — by hand or in Word — must be done beginning with a large idea on the far left of the page and working on a diagonal slant with subsequent points until there is either a new major point or I run out of room.  Quotes reset the whole business.  I tried to demonstrate, but WordPress doesn’t like my style choices.  Fitting.

5)  When it comes to music while I’m working, I need instrumental pieces or music where I cannot understand the language (German, Italian, Elvish, etc.).  Accidents can happen otherwise, like how Axl Rose inadvertently ended up in Ulster’s Men.  I have written, in both my PhD thesis and the eventual monograph, that the Battle of the Somme had an appetite for destruction that treated all Irishmen equally.  After also paraphrasing Yoda and Théoden in later chapters because I had the DVD player on for white noise, the instrumental only rule is fairly sacrosanct.  This also, however, involves making a specific playlist for each article/book chapter I’m working on, which takes a good three or four hours to put together.  Procrastination is a true work of art.

6)  Being an academic and, even worse, an historian, I tend to leave piles of books all over the place.  That said, I need lots of pacing space when I’m writing, so there’s always a long day of tidying before I can actually make my way to the desk.  I also have realized that I need to buy a new pair of large headphones: nothing made me write so much in London as when I was literally tethered to the computer.

7)  Self-bribery is a wonderful motivator.  “If you work on this paragraph for twenty minutes, you can check your email.  Or

8)  Finally, I have to unplug every phone in the house (or now, I guess, switch-off).  If I’m writing, leave some food for me outside the door and don’t expect an answer to anything that actually makes sense/matters because not only am I in my own little world, but I always feel like I’m having to sweep away the layers of dirt and dust from something that already is out there… somewhere.  In the ether.  I know that probably sounds like some sort of Michelangelo-and-his-marble paraphrase (“In every block of marble, I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me…”), but it actually has much more to do with that opening paleontology scene from Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park

So now, I suppose, the question becomes, is there a skeleton of the next book ready for me to find once I have all my quirks sorted out, or do I have to do more digging?

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