Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Thomas J. Pluckhahn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rebecca Zarger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Diane Wallman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Giovanna Benadusci, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ian Kuijt, Ph.D.


Archaeology, Commemoration, Famine, Western Europe


This research has two main components: first, an exploration of how communities react to socio-natural disasters through time, and second, a discussion of how communities constructed the responses to tragedies as heritage over the long term. Disasters are often conceived as short-term, natural catastrophes, but, in reality, they are always social and natural phenomena and often impact communities for years or even decades. Employing archaeological, historical and ethnographic methods, this project examines local, regional, and national responses to social upheaval cause by prolonged food insecurity beginning with a potato blight in 1845 in Ireland. The 1845-1850 Famine was not just a single episode of food insecurity, rather it was a process that lasted decades, not just 1845-1850 as it is governmentally demarcated, and included multiple periods of food insecurity. However, The Great Famine, An Gorta Mór, is the one most remembered. Through a case study and comparison of Inishbofin and Inishark, County Galway, islands five miles off the western coast of Ireland to mainland communities, I conceptualize the responses to the tragedy by households and communities through the movement of people and goods. I consider the local, regional, and national responses to famine and their manifestations on Inishbofin, and I question the vulnerability of island communities that some researchers find implicit (Gaillard 2007; Kelman et al. 2011; Kelman and Khan 2013:1131; Mercer et al. 2009). Next, my research investigates how communities construct heritage about reactions to the disaster and the resulting social upheaval, and in particular how this develops in Ireland. This project explores potential alternative understandings of the 1845-1850 Famine and Famine Process compared to regional and national discourses. It examines the ways in which communities construct heritage around a negative event through community involvement in the research. Through the analysis of ceramic material from nineteenth-century tenant farmer residential structures, historical documents, heritage constructs and sites, and ethnographic data my work observes how communities respond to disasters through a change in their taskscape, a concept introduced by Ingold (1993). My work observes the changes in difficult heritage over time in a post-colonial community that is at a juncture departing from prescribed forgetting and humiliated silence (Connerton 2008) to detailed rememberings of the Great Hunger. I reframe how anthropologists and archaeologists can understand how communities respond to and reframe disasters, both in the past and as enduring, long-term heritage.