Marquette Wire

History professor named president of American Conference for Irish Studies

Photo by Matthew Serafin // matthew.serafin@marquette.edu Timothy McMahon is the new president of ACIS.

Photo by Matthew Serafin // matthew.serafin@marquette.edu Timothy McMahon is the new president of ACIS.

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At age 12, associate professor of history Timothy McMahon started asking his grandmother for stories about his deceased Irish grandfather.

McMahon was inspired to look into his family history after reading the book “Roots,” by Alex Haley, about a man who was able to trace his family history all the way back to his ancestors in Africa. His interest in Irish culture became a lifelong passion.

Last weekend, McMahon was named to serve a two-year term as President of the American Conference for Irish Studiesthe largest academic organization devoted to Irish studies in North America. McMahon previously served as ACIS vice president for two years. He will be replaced by Professor Kathleen Costello Sullivan from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York. The vice president position is a two-year term and the person who holds this position is automatically president-elect.

Now as president, McMahon hopes to expand communication with scholars in Ireland and Australia. Because everyone that attends the conference is one of very few Irish scholars at their university, McMahon believes it’s important that everyone stays in connection to remind them that they’re not alone. McMahon is very passionate about his work and seems excited to continue making improvements to the conference.

McMahon studied German at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He considered studying German again in graduate school, but after his first trip to Ireland for his honeymoon, his mind changed due to the impactful experience.

While on his honeymoon, McMahon and his wife traced his grandfather’s footsteps through Ireland. McMahon met family friends and second cousins he didn’t know about. After the trip, McMahon said he turned to his wife and said, “Honey, I need to go back to school.”

He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working closely with James Donnelly, a history professor at the university specializing in Irish studies.

Now at Marquette, McMahon teaches history focusing mostly on 19th-century Europe. He teaches Irish history, the history of the British Empire, nationalism and national identity. Throughout his time at Marquette, McMahon has worked with English professors Leah Flack and Tyler Farrell to promote Irish studies.

Last year Flack and McMahon organized a series combining Flack’s literature class and McMahon’s history class. “We designed it so that his history class and my literature class would overlap with one another,” Flack said in an email. “We brought some very distinguished speakers to campus. Students really enjoyed it.”

Flack said she and McMahon are hoping this offers a springboard for more Irish studies programs at Marquette because, based on their programs last year, it seems to have an audience.

This past weekend, Farrell and McMahon attended the National ACIS conference, where representatives from all over the world gather to celebrate Irish history, literature and art.

Farrell said during the conference he had the opportunity to read poetry, some of it is his own, which he said is influenced by classic and contemporary Irish writings. He also had the opportunity to present academic papers at the conference, which he said have lately been centered on Irish poetry.

McMahon, Farrell and Flack are working together to advance Irish studies at Marquette. They each have their own vision of what they’d like to accomplish during their time here.

Flack said because she’s seen such a large interest in Irish studies, she knows there’s more to be done. “I am hoping that we can launch a platform for this interest to get students really excited about studying literature, history, culture and politics,” she said.

Farrell takes a small group of students to Ireland every summer and is hoping to expand that program to include more classes that will broaden students’ understanding on Irish art and literature.

Both McMahon and Farrell are hoping to see an Irish studies minor and eventually a major come out of their work.

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