A talk with Tommy Graham

DU History discuss with historian Tommy Graham whether public history is real history

Tommy Graham is a history graduate from Trinity, widely considered to be one of Ireland’s most prominent public historians. He is a host of the NewsTalk radio programme Talking History, which covers a range of historical subjects from modern and ancient history to Marlon Brando and Muhammed Ali. He is editor and founder of the bi-monthly History Ireland magazine and Historical Walking Tours of Dublin. He also lectures in Irish history and politics at Griffith College and initiated the History Ireland Hedge Schools, a series of roundtable discussions with historians and prominent personalities covering topics of historical and contemporary interest.

The topic of the talk was ‘Is Public History Real History?’. Less than a minute into the conversation and Graham has an answer for us all – yes, it most certainly is real history.  For Graham, public history is the interest and historical research which exists outside of academia, encompassing aspects such as commemorations and documentaries. Graham attested strongly that public history is, indeed, “real history” and that there “is no legitimacy for hiding behind complexity”. Public history, in short, is vital for a functional democracy and well-informed population.

The fascinating talk with Graham, led by Cathal Byrne, broached the topic of social media and the influence it has on public history in this post-truth era that we live in. Social media has created an open forum, accessible to a vast number of people without the knowledge or investigative tools to give an opinion on certain historical topics. The subject of public history and public ‘truth’ in an age when each person’s truth is their own idea of it is one that I believe will see much more discussion in the coming years, with the question of how do we record modern history now that we are all pseudo-historians?

Graham also gave his two cents on the contentious issue of history potentially being removed from the Junior Certificate curriculum. He argued that history “should be fun and should be interesting, and it is interesting. It’s up to the teachers to make it so.” Even Game of Thrones, of which he admits to being a fan, contains a strong element of representative history. As a historian, it’s no shock that he argued that history plays a significant role in our own personal development, culture, and identity of self. According to Graham, we must always keep in the mind “the story to be told”.

As the first academic event of the year for the society, DU History is off to a roaring start. With plenty more accessible and informative talks promised over the coming term, they are certainly one to keep an eye on, even for the of us whose historical knowledge may not be what it should be.