As the bus pulled out of Cork’s city centre and made its way towards Dublin, I could feel my excitement mounting at the prospect of experiencing a new part of Ireland. The bus quickly moved through the pastoral countryside, revealing farms with cows or sheep and rolling hills that looked like someone had thrown their grandmother’s tattered and ancient patchwork quilt over the tops. As the miles rolled by and I silently mused over the miles to kilometers conversion, I couldn’t help but think of my friends and family back home in America, asking for more pictures of Ireland, to which I would respond that if I took pictures of the city I lived in, it would look very much like any smaller mid-sized town USA. “No,” they’d respond. “Take some pictures of the real Ireland. You know, sheep and countryside and stuff.”
Despite the naivety of their sentiments, I couldn’t help but feel as I was passing such picturesque country, that I was traveling through the “true Ireland” ideal that had been instilled in me, and many other Americans, through the stereotype fueled by films, books and postcard perfect pictures. I very nearly took out my camera and snapped a picture through the bus window to show my friends and family back home that the Ireland I now lived in was the Ireland they had always imagined, complete with a landscape dotted by the ruins of ancient stone buildings, like specters of guardians, somehow still corporeal after so many years. But before my fingers could reach into my purse to retrieve my camera, my ignorance caught up with me. Who was I to declare that this was the true Ireland? After all, hadn’t I learned in the month that I had been in this country that even such a publicized country as America had its stereotypes of what the country and people should look and act like? Even in an MA in American literature and film, there simply isn’t enough time to explore the immense diversity that makes up my home country.
- Immigration and Race
- Modernism in America
- Theater in the Mid-Twentieth Century
- From the Depression to the Beats
- Postmodernism in America
These are the topics that are supposed to encapsulate what America has contributed to literature and film. 70 hours in a classroom to cover 100 years; an impossible task. Yet it is far more time than the average American will spend learning about Ireland. The United States is easily over 100 times bigger than Ireland, yet Ireland just as easily has over 1000 years more to its documented history. One website (rootsweb.ancestry.com) says that “The first definite evidence of human settlement in Ireland dates from 8000 to 7000 BC.” While another website (American-indian.net) says that the evidence of the most ancient tribe of people to inhabit the now United States dates back to 100 BC. While dates are arguable it’s clear that Ireland’s documented history extends far beyond that of America, making it just as impossible to squeeze learning about the American culture, that has influenced its writers and film makers, into a one year MA as it would be to do the same for Ireland. While I would hope that no one (either American or otherwise) would be ignorant enough to claim that they know everything about Ireland, there does seem to be a general assumption about the Emerald Isle that very few people seem keen on changing. Stereotypes exist because they are comfortable.
Which brought me back to sitting on a bright blue bus, passing through the countryside, pondering my own question: Who was I to say that this was the true Ireland? And my response was this: I am a student, surrounded by a history deeper than I can fathom and a culture richer than Midas. I cannot possibly learn it all, even if I dedicated my life to its study. I will learn what I can and absorb the knowledge and culture of my surroundings, and appreciate that just as a three hour bus ride cannot show me the “True Ireland” landscape neither can 70 hours in a classroom teach me the “True America” landscape of literature and film. So I will appreciate what I am taught and go with the understanding that the impossible task of teaching something as encompassing as what an entire country has contributed to literature of film should be cherished and explored long after the degree has been awarded.
All images found on Google.