Author and historian Dr. Christopher Shannon of Christendom College in Virginia will discuss “Irish Catholics on the American Screen” at a 7:30 p.m. lecture Monday, Feb. 13, in the 3M Auditorium of Owens Science Hall on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.
Shannon is the author of From Bowery to Broadway: The Irish in American Film, a 2011 volume that describes an extensive film history in which the American Irish were “the most represented ethnic group in American film.”
Shannon looks at varying sorts of Irish presences in Hollywood productions from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. He argues that the 1938 Jimmy Cagney gangster film “Angels with Dirty Faces,” often reviled as “cornball,” was a turning point in the history of cinematic images of the Irish. The hugely successful Cagney film was one of the first to present the American Irish as citizens of an urban village that was poised between tradition and modernity.
Shannon contends that the values in these films were strongly oppositional to those of mainstream American culture. The basic tension in the films, he says, was between the impulses to get ahead and move up the social ladder in the land of opportunity, and on the other hand, an almost tribal loyalty to community and family.
“Irish stories that expressed doubts about the American dream clearly struck a chord with Americans who saw that dream collapsing all around them during the Great Depression,” says Shannon.
As a Wall Street Journal review of the book noted, “In the world of these movies, community is all. The local eclipses the national. Stability and security are favored over risk and opportunity.”
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Shannon is an assistant professor of history at Christendom College. He received his Ph.D. in American studies from Yale University, and was formerly assistant director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at Notre Dame.
He is the author the two other books, Conspicuous Criticism: Tradition, the Individual, and Culture in Modern American Social Thought (1996), and A World Made Safe for Differences (2001). He publishes widely on matters of modern cultural and intellectual history.
For more information about the lecture, contact Jim Rogers, managing director of St. Thomas’ Center for Irish Studies, (651) 962-5662.
Here are four examples of “Irish Catholics on the American Screen”: