When the international conference of the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS) was canceled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, Assistant Professor Sarah L. Townsend responded by delivering her keynote address online. Dr. Townsend had planned to present her research at the organization’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas, hosted by the University of St. Thomas, where she was invited to speak alongside the Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, novelist Glenn Patterson, and other distinguished scholars and artists. After the event was canceled, the ACIS decided to host a digital launch of the keynote presentations.

Townsend’s address, titled “What’s New About the New Irish? Race, Whiteness, and Immigration in Ireland and Irish America,” was drawn from the new book project she has been researching as a 2019-20 Faculty Fellow of the Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College. In that project, Townsend traces the little-known history of the “new Irish,” a term used to name recent immigrants and minorities in contemporary Ireland, but which originated in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. to describe Irish-American racial assimilation and upward mobility. The keynote address focuses on a case study from the book, a period in the 1940s and 1950s when journalists and politicians began invoking the phrase “new Irish” to characterize the changing racial complexion of the traditionally Irish neighborhood of Corktown in Detroit, Michigan. Drawing on extensive archival research, Dr. Townsend shows how Irish-Americans’ success affected the treatment of the newer immigrants and minorities who succeeded them.

The keynote address is available to the public and can be viewed at https://youtu.be/Fe6G6OaegPo

In addition to the ACIS keynote, Townsend was invited to deliver lectures at a number of prestigious venues during the academic year, including Dartmouth College (at a symposium co-hosted by University College Dublin’s Clinton Institute for American Studies), the University of Notre Dame’s Dublin Global Gateway, Wellesley College, Framingham State University, and Bridgewater State University.