By Caitlin Ostberg
It has been said that literature and history are intertwined. When the opportunity to research a lost part of history and create poetry for it, junior English major Lacey McPhillips couldn’t say no.
“I’m only a quarter Irish, technically, but my Grandpa was really proud of his Irish heritage, and it kind of rubbed off on me and the other grandkids,” said McPhillips, from Lindsay. “That’s kind of where my interest in that comes from.”
McPhillips became interested in researching Irish history through the Undergraduate Research Fellowship while taking a poetry class with Allison Hedge Coke, associate professor of English. “Lacey became interested in furthering her poetry through her research into her Irish heritage,” Hedge Coke said. “I felt an undergraduate research project was appropriate to her calling and accepted her proposal to commit this year to studying Irish and American literature related to the Diasporas of Irish people to this part of the Americas.”
McPhillips began her research in the same way the Irish began their journey to America—in Ireland. She then began researching how the immigrants fared in America and how the Irish came to assimilate into American culture.
The result of her research is free-form poetry.
“I’ll have poems from everywhere that the Irish people were. Like in Ireland, as they were crossing the sea, when they got to America and as they spread out,” McPhillips said.
According to McPhillips, personal stories and diaries of the Irish are the most interesting part of her studies. “Seeing things from eye-witnesses is really cool because that’s the only way you really know how it was and what happened,” she said.
McPhillips said she has realized through her research that history books aren’t able capture the hardships and prejudices the Irish had to face.
“You see all the numbers in history books and they don’t really mean anything, but when you hear about it from a real person, it makes it real,” she said.
McPhillips will present her findings at a student research day in April and may be continuing her research overseas this summer in Ireland.
“Two universities in Ireland have invited her to further her research there, on site, in an extended stay,” Hedge Coke said.
For McPhillips, undergraduate research has opened many doors, but most importantly, the research has helped her develop her skills as a creative writer.
“I get to create characters and give them a voice,” McPhillips said. “Whereas before, I just thought of poetry as, ‘I’m supposed to just talk about myself and my feelings,’ and that’s boring.”
In all, McPhillips said that she has no regrets spending this year researching the Irish people and encourages other students to look into the Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
“If you find something that you’re interested in, it’s a good way to supplement your education rather than just depending on the classes you go to. It’s more of an independent learning thing,” she said.