Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Great (Irish) Famine

“The law stands between food availability and food entitlement. Starvation deaths can reflect legality with a vengeance.” — Amartya Sen

“ … [A]s it happens, quite a few famines have taken place without much violation of law and order. Even in the disastrous Irish famines of the 1840s (in which about an eighth of the population died, and which led to the emigration of a comparable number to North America), the law and order situation was, in many respects, apparently ‘excellent.’ In fact, even as the higher purchasing power of the English consumers attracted food away, through the market mechanism, from famine-stricken Ireland to rich England, with ship after ship sailing down the river Shannon laden with various types of food, there were few violent attempts to interfere with that contrary—and grisly—process. In many famines people starve and die in front of food shops, without attempting to seize law and order by the collar. [….]

There have, of course, been well-known cases of protest and rebellion associated with food crises, and ‘the food riot as a form of political conflict’ has considerable historical significance. Despite this important causal link, the exact period of a severe famine is often not one of effective rebellion. Indeed, the debilitation and general helplessness brought about by a famine situation is not typically conducive to immediate revolt and rebellion. This is not to deny that looting, raiding and other forms of unorganized crime can be quite frequent in famine situations. But the millions that die in a famine typically die in an astonishingly ‘legal’ and ‘orderly’ way.” — Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen

For St. Patrick’s Day, which I do not celebrate, some titles on the Great (Irish) Famine:

  • Coogan, Tim Pat. The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.
  • Gallagher, Thomas. Paddy’s Lament. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1982.
  • Kelly, John. The Graves are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2012.
  • Kelly, Mary C. Ireland’s Great Famine in Irish-American History: Enshrining a Fateful Memory. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.
  • Kinealy, Christine. A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland. London: Pluto Press, 1997.
  • Ó Gráda, Cormac. Black ’47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
  • Ó Gráda, Cormac. Ireland’s Great Famine: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2006.
  • Woodham-Smith, Cecil. The Great Hunger: Ireland, 1845-1849. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1991 (1962).

Further Reading:
  • Devereux, Stephen, ed. The New Famines: Why Famines Persist in an Era of Globalization. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Drèze, Jean and Amartya Sen. Hunger and Public Action. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1989.
  • Drèze, Jean, Amartya Sen and Athar Hussain, eds. The Political Economy of Hunger. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1995.
  • Ó Gráda, Cormac. Famine: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.
  • Sen, Amartya. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • Watts, Michael J. Silent Violence: Food, Famine, and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013 ed. (1983).
  • Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012 (2008).


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