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On Tuesday, May 16, Professor Melissa Fegan will share insights on how people in this 19th-century period of starvation and disease, and what they did to survive, have been portrayed in Irish literature, before exploring how writers use the Famine to reflect on contemporary crises.

The Inaugural Professorial Lecture ‘How to Survive a Famine: Lessons from Irish Literature’ is open to all and will be presented at the University’s Exton Park site, from 6.30pm.

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Professor Melissa Fegan.
Professor Melissa Fegan.

Professor Fegan said: “The Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1852) was one of the last major European subsistence crises, causing the deaths from starvation and disease of over one million people, the emigration of a million more, and a lasting demographic shift. According to the census of 2022, the population of the island of Ireland has still not recovered to the levels of 1841.

“Margaret Kelleher has suggested that both historians and writers of fiction have struggled to approach the Famine and its aftermath without either ‘an excessive emphasis on victimisation’ - focusing on who was to blame - or an uncritical assumption that ‘we are all descendants of survivors’ (ignoring the variety of experience, survival strategies, and their costs).

“In this lecture I will consider the ways Irish literature, often drawing on folklore and historical accounts, has represented Famine survivors and the strategies to which they were driven, including emigration, reliance on charity, stealing, sex-work, rioting, land-grabbing, abandoning family, friends or neighbours, religious conversion, murder and cannibalism. The lecture will also reflect on the resonance of the Famine with contemporary concerns.”

The event, celebrating the appointment as Professor, takes place from 6.30pm to 7.45pm at the Anna Sutton building, Exton Park. Tea and coffee will also be served ahead of the talk, from 6pm in the foyer.

The event is free and people are just asked to contact to book a space. The lecture will also be streamed online. Again, please email to receive a link.

Professor Fegan is a Professor of Irish and Victorian Literature in the Department of English and Programme Leader for the Master of Arts in 19th-Century Literature and Culture.

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