This past summer, thanks to research funding from the History department and CURF, I was able to conduct necessary research for my History honors thesis, which included a trip to Dublin, Ireland to view manuscripts at Trinity College. With guidance from my advisor, Professor Ada Kuskowski,, and other professors within the department, I will complete my thesis this Winter.
I chose to focus my research on an Irish document entitled Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, written in the twelfth century, which focuses on the Irish High-King, Brian Boru, and his exploits in the tenth and eleventh centuries. In the early twelfth century, Muirchertach Ua Briain commissioned Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, to eulogize his great-grandfather, Brian Boru, in an attempt to solidify Muirchertach’s position as King of Munster (and later, to legitimize his self-proclaimed position as “High King of Ireland.”) In forming its narrative and attempting to accomplish these political goals, Cogadh extensively drew from annals and oral sources, but current scholarship has not observed how information changed when it was transmitted from these sources to Cogadh.
In doing my research over the summer, I found that when framing the historical events found in annals and oral accounts, the author of Cogadh created a new version of historical events that suited Muirchertach’s political aims and which would appeal to the sentiments of Cogadh’s audience. To do this, Cogadh’s author maintained the form of annals and oral sources to give it legitimacy and familiarity, while also editing words and historical information from the annals to exaggerate both the violence caused by the Vikings and Brian Boru’s role in ending it. In manipulating the sources in these ways, the author of Cogadh created a history in which Brian Boru was the savior of Ireland, and Brian’s descendants were given a dynastic legacy that justified Muirchertach’s claim to the position of High King of Ireland.
My research experience not only taught me valuable skills about doing historical research, especially research at a different institution in another country, but also raised important questions about the nature of history. This document, and my research, is deeply entrenched in ideas of how history is told, and how it can be used, and reused, over time. My research over the summer, therefore, gave me a deeper appreciation for my field, and for noticing the manipulation of historical fact for political gain.