New Publication: Famine Irish and the American Racial State

Famine Irish and the American Racial State (Routledge 2017)

By Peter D. O’Neill

Famine Irish Cover

Accounts of Irish racialization in the United States have tended to turn on Irish difference. Famine Irish and the American Racial State takes a different stance. The Irish not only fitted into the US racial state, it argues; they helped to form it. To make the case, this truly interdisciplinary and transnational work analyzes a variety cultural artifacts including novels, poems, plays, songs, cartoons, government reports, laws, sermons, memoirs, and how-to-manuals. It contests the claim that the Irish “became white” in the United States, because it fails to take fully into account the legal position of the Irish in the nineteenth-century US state – a state that deemed the Irish “white” upon arrival. Till now, little heed has been paid either to the state’s role in the Americanization of the Irish or to the Irish role in the development of US state institutions. Distinguishing between American citizenship and American nationality, Famine Irish and the American Racial State journeys to California to analyze the means by which the Irish gained acceptance in both categories, at the expense of the Chinese. Along the way, it challenges ideas that have taken hold within American studies, including the notion that the Roman Catholic Church operated outside of the power structure of the nineteenth-century United States. On the contrary, Famine Irish and the American Racial State argues, the Irish-led corporate Catholic Church became deeply imbricated in US state structures. A concluding chapter discusses a radical, transnational Irish tradition that provides a platform for a postnational future.


Dr. Peter D. O’Neill is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.


Table of Contents


Introduction: Famine Irish and the American Racial State

  1. Black and Green Atlantic Crossings in the Famine Era
  2. Irish Catholic Empire-Building in America
  3. The Writin’ Irish; or, Catholic Irish America’s Famine-Era Authors
  4. A Code for the True American Catholic Man or Woman
  5. Gender Laundering Irish Women and Chinese Men in San Francisco
  6. In California, Workers Divided
  7. An Irish Worker’s Postnational Horizon