Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Press and prejudice

Michael de Nie '92, who tackled the history of prejudice in his latest book, can trace his writing career back to Lehigh.

The topics in Michael de Nie's latest book are as current as today's headlines: how the press responds to terrorism, the suppression of civil liberties, the use of military force, and the role of popular media in international conflicts.

Although the parallels to modern times are uncanny, The Eternal Paddy: Irish Identity and the British Press, 1798-1882 is about the 19th-century divergence between Ireland and Great Britain. The book was recently awarded the Donnelly Prize for Books on History and Social Sciences by the American Conference for Irish Studies.

In The Eternal Paddy, de Nie -- who earned his B.A. at Lehigh in 1992 and his PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001 and is now a history professor at the University of West Georgia -- illustrates how the British press affected the public's view of the Irish in the 19th century.

"The British public generally felt that the Irish suffered from a number of inherent deficiencies arising from their racial, religious, and class identity (Celt, Catholic, peasant)," de Nie says. "I have always been interested in identity, how groups see themselves and others. I am especially interested in the history of prejudice and the role played by the popular media in disseminating or challenging ethnic and religious stereotypes."

To research The Eternal Paddy, de Nie spent several months in 1998 at the British Newspaper Library in London. "I sifted through more than 90 newspapers in hard copy and microfilm," he recalls. "I examined a wide variety of British newspapers, including the London, local, religious, and comic press."

De Nie says perhaps the most surprising of his findings concerned British reporting on terrorist attacks in British cities by Irish nationalists in the 1860s. "I was struck by some of the parallels with reporting on recent events," he says.

Presently, de Nie is working on two new books. "The first is a collection of documents and commentary that explores contemporary opinions of Charles Stewart Parnell, a prominent Irish nationalist leader of the late nineteenth century," he says. "The second is a comparative study of British newspaper reporting on Ireland and India between 1880 and 1924."

De Nie's writing career can be traced back to Lehigh, where he wrote his 150-page senior thesis under the direction of Ian Duffy, professor of history. He also credits the excellent liberal arts education he received.

"I believe the study of history and literature, like all liberal arts disciplines, is a process of inquiry and argument," de Nie says. "We ask questions, look for evidence, and then argue our conclusions."

--Mary S. Mesaros

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Spring 2005

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2005

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