Saturday, August 20, 2011

Professor K H Connell and Irish pre-famine population statistics

I have been spending a good bit of the past week thinking about Irish pre-famine population statistics.  I am hoping it will be a good case-study for students in the coming months as teaching gets going again.  I will also post on these matter more extensively at www.3quarks.com on Monday, assuming I can finish.  What's at stake here are demographic explanations of the rise in population in Europe in the 18th century - the beginning of the modern population boom, one that has resulted in our expecting to be 7 billion strong world-wide by Oct 2011. 

Sixty one years ago Professor Ken Connell of Queen's University Belfast declared that Ireland's population increase in the same period (the 18th century) was for reasons other than those reported from Europe (he speculated that the Irish married very young, whereas the explanation in Europe was that mortality declined).  However, subsequent scholarship has largely (not completely) reversed that assertion, bringing Ireland into conformity with the rest of Europe.

Connell had been a pioneer of Irish social and economic history and chaired his department there for a while.  A querulous sort, apparently he did not get along well with his colleagues at Queen's and was removed from his leadership role.   He died on 26 September 1973, aged fifty-six, "exhausted and dispirited".  In his obituary of Connell a colleague, Micheal Drake, wrote: "Certainly in all the years I knew him he budged but little on any issue. Perhaps if he could have done so on those often seemingly trivial non-academic issues which troubled him so much, especially in recent years, he would be with us still."  Sad stuff.   On a cheerier note Joel Mokyr of Northwestern University (whose office is a few blocks from where I write) and Cormac Ó Gráda from University College Dublin (whose office was a few buildings away from where I worked in the 1980s) concluded a more recent review of the Irish population with the comment: “Post-famine demographic patterns have fascinated and puzzled researchers too, but it must be said that as yet they have not produced a Connell.  As for the period surveyed here, three decades of debate have not exhausted the questions raised by Connell.”

For graphs on Irish Population right before the Great Famine see here

Michael Drake (1974) "Professor K. H. Connell"  Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 19, No. 73 (Mar., 1974), pp. 83-85

Joel Mokyr and Cormac Ó Gráda (1984) New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700-1850 The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 473-488
 
C. J. Woods. "Connell, Kenneth Hugh". Dictionary of Irish Biography.
(Eds.)James Mcguire, James Quinn. Cambridge, United Kingdom:Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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