Reading Week

What I’m reading… HAPP students and staff

Ruth Hewitson, PhD in Philosophy

I finally got around to reading Love in the Time of Cholera. One quote from it resonated with the topic of my thesis, which is whether competent children should be allowed to make decisions regarding their own medical treatment (as competent adults do).

‘It was not easy for her to establish real differences between children and adults, but in the last analysis she preferred children, because their judgement was more reliable’ 

Photo by Ross Angus, Creative Commons license

Ian Campbell, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Irish History

This week, I’m working on the introduction for a group of articles that I’m submitting with some colleagues to a journal called History of European Ideas. Our theme is the process by which European states made themselves sacred during Europe’s early modernity. As part of this work I’m reading a set of very entertaining lectures that the late Tony Judt published as The burden of responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century (Chicago, 1998), because the relationship between modern politics and the sacred was something that interested both Albert Camus and Raymond Aron.

Last week, I bought a copy of Fernando Cervantes, Conquistadores: A new history (Allen Lane, 2020) as a way of up-dating my knowledge of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and I’d recommend it as a lively and perceptive book.

Finally, I’m now half way through James Joyce’s Ulysses! I’ve never read it before, and hadn’t realised what a political book it is. The cyclops episode is one of the most angry denunciations of Irish nationalism that I’ve ever read. I’m also reading John Banville’s Snow (London, 2020), which is a bit more heavy-handed than his better novels, but still entertaining.

By Shaun Calhoun, Creative Commons licence

John Barry, Professor of Politics and International Relations

These are books I have on my reading list for reading week. I’m particularly looking forward to finishing the biography of William Wilberforce, as part of my interest and seeing the parallels between the struggle to end the slave trade and contemporary efforts to retire the fossil fuel industry.

I can already see parallels but of course differences! Located around the intersection of political economy, power, ideology, ethics, and the role of the state…

Sparky Booker, Lecturer in Medieval Irish History

Most of my academic reading this week relates to my research on the later middle ages in Ireland, but I’m also enjoying this study about a law enacted in Ireland much earlier – in the year 697. The law was intended to protect non-combatants during times of war and is also known as the ‘Law of the Innocents’. This is some of the earliest law relating to conduct during warfare – and who should be protected from violence – rather than to whether a war was just or not in the first place.

Also loving this beautifully illustrated book about an accidental visit of Archduke Ferdinand – a young man who later became Holy Roman Emperor – to Kinsale, co. Cork in 1518. His ship was blown off course by a storm and he sheltered in Kinsale for several days with his entourage, a member of which, Laurent Vital wrote an account of their stay.

Accounts of Ireland and the Irish from the early modern period that aren’t hostile commentaries from English authors are rare and Vital’s comments on fashion, daily life and customs in Kinsale are particularly fascinating. The strangest thing to me, given the Irish climate, is that Vital records that both men and women in Kinsale wore clothes that did not cover their chests. He writes that ‘the men have their shirts open down to the belt, without sleeves so that they have bare arms’ and that ‘young women and girls have their chests naked to the waist; it is as common there to see or touch the breast of a girl or woman, as it is to touch their hand.’ His comment on this was (perhaps surprisingly) not critical, noting ‘and so, there are as many different fashions and customs as there are countries’.

An honest account of my reading week must mention some of the books that I read every evening with my kids: these are two current favourites. The Puffling book (besides having the wonderful word ‘puffling’ in the title) is set on Skellig Michael and at one point the puffling dances atop a beehive hut in the early medieval monastic site. The three year old is not interested in the history side of things but I enjoy it!

Reading Week

Reading Week in HAPP

By Stefan Andreasson, Reader in Comparative Politics

As we’re moving into Reading Week in a semester quite unlike any other, I wanted to take up the invite to share some brief thoughts on what I am currently reading. The days when I was sufficiently organised to begin and finish one book at a time seem long gone, and at the moment I am reading three fascinating books.

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My main research focus in recent years is on the political economy of energy transitions, with a focus on the politics of “Big Oil” in the USA and sub-Saharan Africa. More specifically, I am currently working with a colleague in Maine on a historical project where we investigate how the case of Anglo-American naval contestation for sperm whale oil (a crucial ingredient in 19th Century industrialisation) in the decades following American independence provides us important insights into Balance of Power theory in International Relations, the securitisation of energy resources and the dynamics of energy transitions, including the currently unfolding one away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of energy.

To that end, I am reading Eric Jay Dolin’s very engaging history of American whaling, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (2008). This book is pitched to a general readership, but also provides a wealth of valuable historical sources and data that are of use for more specialised research purposes like ours. The history of our modern civilisation is a history of energy transitions – from biomass to fossil fuels like coal, and later oil and gas, and now more recently renewables like solar and wind – and the history of whaling can profitably be read in this context.

As whales, and the 19th Century, are very much on my mind at the moment, I am also taking the opportunity to finally read Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick; or, The Whale (1851). It is one of those immensely influential works of fiction – in this case with a good amount of intriguing contemporary social history, not to mention insights into the exciting world of cetology, thrown in – that you cannot help but feel that you ought to have already read. If and when it was taught in my Swedish secondary I must have been occupied elsewhere.

Notably, Captain Ahab’s monomania is a timeless force to behold:

“All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event–in the living act, the undoubted deed–there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

Certainly, the spirit and psychology of revenge is one driving force of social and political action throughout the ages. Combined with Melville’s breath-taking accounts of the vastness of our oceans and the mighty creatures that dwell in it, Moby Dick is that truly great book that we can draw multitudinous lessons from.

Lastly, I am reading Frances Fitzgerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Reshape America (2018). Fitzgerald won a Pulitzer Prize for her account of the Vietnam War (Fire in the Lake, 1972) and her ability to convey a highly readable and insightful social history is certainly evident in this recent book as well. The history of Evangelical Christians in the USA provides some highly relevant context primarily for my undergraduate teaching on American Politics. This as a consequence of how this prominent demographic has shaped modern American politics, notably with the rise of the Moral Majority in the 1980s, the Christian Coalition’s role in the Republican Party recapturing Congress in 1994 and more recently also in the political coalition that saw Trump elected president in 2016.

In addition, there is also an indirect link between the history of these religious, social and political movements and my research on energy: I am attempting to get a modest research project off the ground which will investigate how American Evangelicals are engaging with climate politics in Washington on the basis of their specific understandings about the relationship between Man and Nature, and to that end the historical context provided by Fitzgerald is highly valuable.

As an aside, reading Fitzgerald’s book I realised that, by chance, I managed to visit and capture (below) at least a couple of places that play a significant role in her history when I was visiting Northeastern University in Boston and the International Studies Association – Northeast annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island in November last year. Remember those days of international travel? How far away and receding in the mists of time they seem now.

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The Tremont Temple (above) in Boston, which is usually referred to as the first racially integrated church in America, was founded by the Free Church Baptists in a previous building in 1843, with the current structure being built in 1896. The First Baptist Church of Providence (below) is the first Baptist church in America. Founded in 1638, the original church was replaced by this one built in 1774-75.

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For me, the important lesson about reading is a simple one. We will learn something from everything that we read, and as long as we keep on reading, we keep on learning – this irrespective of the specific subject matter at hand.

Enjoy your Reading Week.


Winners of the HAPP International Student photo competition: Arriving in Belfast


By Niamh Stewart, UG in International Studies and Politics

Niamh Stewart: Tinted Wheel I’ve just come back to Belfast for my final year of undergrad. When I moved here two years ago, I fell in love with the walkability of the city. I liked that I could walk around for an afternoon down Lisburn or through the city centre and find new shops and cafes to return to and try. This photo was taken in the Botanic Gardens through the tinted lens of my sunglasses. I was surprised to see the Ferris wheel when I got back but it was a nice reminder that life here is going to keep going despite Covid. I was unsure about leaving home and coming back to the city, but sitting outside in the gardens with my new flatmates in the shadow of the Ferris wheel made me feel so content for awhile. The unfiltered photo came out looking quite retro which I liked!


By Matthew Fishback, MA in International Relations

Matthew Fishback: City Refuge Bog Meadows Nature Reserve is an oasis in the middle of a city. This small wetland is a place to step away from traffic and noise, while literally being in between the motorway and a neighborhood. Being among grazing cows, sheep, and goats took me back to where I grew up and I loved it. If anyone needs to get away for a minute this reserve is an amazing spot to sit back and watch nature move by.


By Julia Newton, MA in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice

Julia Newton: Quarantine Although I knew I wasn’t looking forward to quarantine, when I arrived in early September I had no idea what the most painful part of my first two weeks in Belfast would be. When I finally escaped (aka left when I was legally allowed to do so), I walked all over the city to soak up my new home for a year. I walked over 17,000 steps, after two weeks of a daily average of about 250. I nearly fell over from exhaustion that night and was sure I had caught Covid (I hadn’t). But even so, then – and as much as possible in the few weeks since – walking around the City Centre has been the most peaceful part of this transition. Change and adjusting and culture shock are really hard sometimes. But Belfast is beautiful. And walking helps.


Arriving in Belfast: views from HAPP International students

This September the International Student Experience team at HAPP ran a photo competition for International students with the theme: ‘Arriving in Belfast’. Below are three of the wonderful entries from our International student community.

By Clare French, MA in Violence, Terrorism and Security

Clare French: A New View of Belfast
Arriving in Belfast this time around was unusual given the pandemic. My uncle picked me up at Glengall street and I was grateful to get the soggy, wrinkled mask off of my face. While we made our way through, the memories crept up one by one as if the city was waving back at me. Visions of date nights, Halloween, and Tesco picnics in Botanic filled my mind one by one. But I knew this time would be different. I’ll be here permanently and my interpretation of the city has to be more realistic. Now that I am a resident rather than a visitor, I see this city differently. I see myself splurging on dinner in Victoria’s Square, going for runs in Ormeau Park, studying at Common Grounds, and finding little reminders of home, even if its just a bag of Goldfish.

By Solyane Michaut, Undergraduate in Politics, Philosophy and Economics

Solyane Michaut: On the top of the world I first came in the city with my dad to visit Queen’s in February. It rained a lot, was very cold and extremely windy. And yet, I loved it. In fact I loved it so much that I decided to come here for three years! The first two weeks were dedicated to the visit of my room, the corridor, the living room and the kitchen. That’s on self-isolation… But as soon as I got out, I have been able to enjoy Belfast in its best autumn colours, and start to meet amazing people. From the castle to the MAC with a friend, strolling by cafe and bookstores, saying that I loved everything would be doing an affront to the way I really feel. I’m living a dream, my dream, and it can only get better.

By Mohaddeseh Ziyachi, PhD in Cognition and Culture

Mohaddeseh Ziyachi: Campus
I have fallen in love with this Campus since before coming to Belfast! Every day that I walk to the office, I find the Lanyon building and the graduate school more gorgeous than the day before!