I took a trip down to Charleston today to look at the records of the Charleston Hibernian Society – the body that collected donations for famine relief in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. All told, these men took in approximately $15,000, and letters to the English consulate in New Orleans suggest that still more donations were made directly to British representatives in America. Sadly, the 1886 Charleston earthquake seems to have destroyed the minute books between February of 1847 and early 1857, so there was less than I’d hoped for. Nevertheless, I’ve come away with a list of members of the Charleston Hibernian Society to crosslist (and hopefully map) against the list of donors I’ve already assembled.
I also came across this delightful budget from February of 1847 –
The Treasurer Reports having paid the following bills:
Hayden & Gregg for Lamps $ 3.38
To Patriot for Advertising 17.50
G W Black for Building Drain 157.22
Stevens & Betts for Spittons & Spade 4.62
Stephen Jones for Repairing fence in yard 3.37
And for 1 Doz Porter 3.25
Aside from whatever was going on with that drain (G.W. Black was admitted to the Hibernian Society at the same meeting that bill was submitted, and seems to have been related to other members of the society, so I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was getting some kind of kick-back), I very much appreciate that a dozen porters could be bought for the same price as lamps or fence repairs, and that whoever bought those beers saw fit to charge them to the Society. The treasurer’s books also featured several remittances for whiskey.
Although the Google map engine API is meant for businesses, there’s a lite version for non-business map geeks. I like this tool because it’s easy to embed a lot of data into the map. Here’s a quick version of the Charleston famine donors map that I’d previously made just using Google maps and dropping “pins” in places where donors were located:
All of these donations were printed in Charleston newspapers, and when I first started mapping them I was struck that (1) many of the donors printed in Charleston papers didn’t seem to live in Charleston and (2) how many of them were slaveowners.
The new map is here.
It turns out, tracking down the addresses of 19th c. New Yorkers is a pretty time consuming process. Here are the first 20 or so, laid over a 1845 map of New York City. Purple represent work addresses, yellow represent home addresses.
I’m deep in the next-year’s-research planning phase of the summer, which is mostly comprised of figuring out what other donor communities I want to look at for the book manuscript. I chose sites for the dissertation largely based on news production – locales in which a lot of news was being produced, reproduced and consumed – but for the book I’ve been thinking about how to better center the experiences of non-elite donors, which means looking for places from which donations flowed, rather than places in which people were merely reading about the famine in Ireland. As part of this, and as part of a related project to collect the names of donors to a wide range of 19th century philanthropic projects, I’ve been working on a database which tracks not only individual donations, but also biographical information about donors. I’ve been using this data – and in particular donations to national famine relief funds (the American Society of Friends rather than the New York Irish relief committee, for example) to try to map places where donations came from, but that I haven’t yet explored.
So: a very few, very preliminary findings:
- Most of these donations are coming from cities.
- Many are on behalf of relief committees of entire cities – it’s not clear yet whether these are Quaker relief committees or ones without religious (or with another religious) affiliation, but I hope that’s something I’ll be able to check out at the Haverford Quaker archives.
- Of those donations made on behalf of urban relief committees, the people doing the collecting were almost entirely merchants.
The orange circles are the places I’ve yet to explore – lots to do!
I’m just back from ACIS’s 2013 meeting, where, inevitably, famine and hunger strikes were often on the agenda. I’m also in the process of designing a course on popular politics, which I’ve conceiving of as means of acting politically open to those traditionally excluded from formal politics. This semester, I’m also sitting in on a class on humanitarianism at NYU, which pushes me pretty far out of my 19th century comfort zone. We’ve been talking a lot about whether enumerated rights give oppressed people resources to fight their oppression, or whether oppressive regimes will always find ways to loophole their way out of those enumerated rights (as an aside, I just finished We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, which is rife with heartbreaking examples of the ways in which the international community convoluted itself to avoid acknowledging genocide in Rwanda). So, both in light of the panels I heard this weekend, and in light of this class, this op ed in today’s New York Times is particularly apposite. If we agree that freedom from want is (or should be) a universal right, what do we make of the freedom to willfully starve onesself?
Hunger strikes are political tools with long shadows – those used by people who have little or limited access to other forms of resistance. Suffragettes in prison used, and died as a consequence of hunger strikes. Irish Republican political prisoners starved and died in the H-Blocks. While the World Medical Association sees force-feeding in response to hunger strikes as a possible assault on bodily integrity, the United States’ policy on the treatment of prisoners stipulates that “It is the responsibility of the Bureau of Prisons to monitor the health and welfare of individual inmates, and to ensure that procedures are pursued to preserve life.” and when “a medical necessity for immediate treatment of a life or health threatening situation exists, the physician may order that treatment be administered without the consent of the inmate.”
My own work is so much about the political utility of acting to prevent hunger, that I sometimes forget the political utility inherent in hunger – and public displays of hunger in particular.