By: Megan Shaw, Eleanor Conrad, Sarah Linkert
On February 4, 2023, ten Wisconsin educators from the middle school through community college levels, including the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to attend the professional development workshop, “Colonial Famine and Historical Memory.” Hosted by UW-Madison’s Center for European Studies and the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA), both of which are U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Centers, the workshop examined the history and lasting impact of the Great Irish Famine (An Gorta Mór) and the Holodomor in Ukraine.
The teachers began the day with group activities examining food-related practices on both the micro and macro level. These activities helped the teachers get to know their fellow attendees, but also prompted them to examine the workshop topic and prepared them to engage with the presentations that followed.
The first workshop guest speaker was Mary Trotter, an associate professor of English and the Director of Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former President of the American Conference for Irish Studies. Trained as a theatre historian, she is the author of two books about Irish theatre: Ireland’s National Theaters: Political Performance and the Origins of the Irish Dramatic Movement (Syracuse, 2001), and Modern Irish Theatre (Polity, 2008). Professor Trotter’s talk on “The Irish Famine in History and in Art” described the conditions leading up to An Gorta Mór, its impact, and then highlighted art related to the famine. The featured artwork spanned media and time, from 19th-century political cartoons to 20th-century memorial ballads.
Next, the educators explored a “pop-up museum” of curated books, artwork, lesson plans, and other resources that could be useful in the classroom. As part of the workshop, organizers Eleanor Conrad (Outreach Specialist, European Studies) and Sarah Linkert (Outreach Specialist, CREECA) compiled a reader containing pertinent articles, book excerpts, and primary documents. During the break, Linkert and Conrad gave an overview of the reader, illustrating how the materials therein could be used in the classroom.
Volodymyr Dubovyk (Visiting Professor, Tufts University) then spoke to the teachers about the 1930s famine in Ukraine, the Holodomor. Dubovyk is an associate professor in the Department of International Relations and the Director of the Center for International Studies at Odesa I. I. Mechnikov National University in Ukraine. He is the co-author of Ukraine and European Security (Macmillan, 1999) and has published numerous articles on U.S.-Ukraine relations, regional and international security, and Ukraine’s foreign policy. In an extemporaneous presentation, Dr. Dubovyk provided context for the Holodomor and described how the legacy of the famine informs the current war against Ukraine. He also shared his personal experience as an Odesan and talked about how the historical echoes of famine in Odesa impacted his friends and family.
The workshop concluded with a synthesizing activity, wherein educators were divided into small groups to process and discuss what they had learned about colonial famine over the course of the day. This workshop addressed Wisconsin Act 30: Teaching the Holocaust and Other Genocides in Social Studies (the U.S. Senate recognized the Holodomor as genocide in 2018), as well as the 2003 Wisconsin Act 305, designating March 17 as a school observance day for “The Great Hunger” in Ireland from 1845 to 1850.”Though the workshop was dedicated to two specific instances of colonial famine, the teachers who attended can extrapolate lessons from the workshop and apply them to similar global events. The reader and other materials assembled for the attendees provide a roadmap for learning more about this topic.
As one teacher wrote in their workshop evaluation, “I’ve learned so many new things that I’ve never heard before. This workshop starts a baseline for me, the information, although lots of it, it was presented in a good bite size chunk so that I too don’t overwhelm my students.”
This workshop was made possible through Title VI National Resource Center funding awarded by U.S. Department of Education. Sign-language interpretation was provided by the McBurney Disability Resource Center.