Apr 28 2015

Donors boost UM Irish Studies Program

Eminent University of Montana historian David Emmons conducted groundbreaking research on the history of the Irish experience in Montana. Now thanks to a private gift, his work will be honored and continued far into the future.

UM alumni Sam and Julie Baldridge of Whitefish, Montana, have established a visiting professorship in Emmons’ name. Each year, a Dr. David Emmons Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies will come to campus to teach various courses on Irish and Irish-American history.

“This gift solidifies the foundations of the Irish Studies Program, providing the resources to develop UM into a nationally recognized center of Irish and Irish Gaelic studies,” said Traolach O’Riordain, the program’s director.

In addition to his or her teaching duties, the visiting scholar also will conduct public lectures around Montana and, O’Riordain hopes, delve into unexplored areas of the state’s social, political or economic history.

The University’s Irish Studies Program is the largest such program west of the Mississippi. Scholarship and coursework focus on the role of Irish language and Gaelic heritage in Ireland’s history, as well as the Irish-American diaspora in the American West.

Emmons is the author of two seminal books on the Irish American experience in the West: “The Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town, 1875-1925” and “Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910.”

It was the former that “amazed” Sam Baldridge, who was curious about what his old UM professor and mentor was working on and picked up the book one day.       

“I read the book with the attitude that so much has already been written about Butte in its heyday, that maybe there’s nothing more to learn,” he said. “I was amazed at the depth, the scholarship involved. The research was incredible. This is a very important and groundbreaking work on the topic of labor, class and the history of immigration.”

Establishing the professorship is a way for Baldridge to honor Emmons’ scholarship and ensure that UM continues to be a center for research and education in Irish studies.

“Dave Emmons’ scholarship constituted a critical intervention in the field of Irish studies and laid the intellectual foundation on which UM’s Irish Studies Program is built,” O’Riordain said. “I think it’s incredibly important that the University of Montana continues to be the epicenter of such research.”