Studying the so-called Potato Famine can help students recognize that this was no natural disaster, it was the product of structural violence. As Bill Bigelow writes in his “If We Knew Our History” column, “The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools,
”During the first winter of famine, 1846–47, as perhaps 400,000 Irish peasants starved, landlords exported 17 million pounds sterling worth of grain, cattle, pigs, flour, eggs, and poultry — food that could have prevented those deaths.
The shape of the wound of famine was British colonialism and the capitalist system, which prized profit over the Irish poor. See our role play, “Hunger on Trial,” which can bring this insight to life in the classroom — and help students consider the roots of today’s unnatural disasters.
As mentioned, there is no absence of teaching materials on the Irish famine that can touch head and heart. In a role play, “Hunger on Trial,” that I wrote and taught to my own students in Portland, Oregon — included at the Zinn Education Project website — students investigate who or what was responsible for the famine. The British landlords, who demanded rent from the starving poor and exported other food crops? The British government, which allowed these food exports and offered scant aid to Irish peasants? The Anglican Church, which failed to denounce selfish landlords or to act on behalf of the poor? The economic system, which sacrificed Irish peasants to the logic of colonialism and the capitalist market?commondreams Opinion | The Real Irish-American History They Don’t Teach You in School | Bill Bigelow