Professor Gosse is a leading expert in American history and currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub where his project focuses on the fraught political relationship between Irish and African Americans during the Jim Crow era from the late 19th to early 20th century.  

Prof Van Gosse sitting next to Prof Dan Geary

In a conversation with his Trinity collaborator, Professor Daniel Geary (School of Histories and Humanities), the visiting fellow first discussed his own political formation and his involvement with the anti-Vietnam war and El Salvador solidarity movements.

“When you’re 11 years old and you start debating with your history teacher…and you’re seeing veterans come back minus limbs who are being paraded to you as some kind of heroes…that shaped me”. Professor Gosse emphasised the wide-ranging impact that Vietnam had on American politics (“it affects everything in the United States”).

He went on to speak about the El Salvador solidarity movement which he described as “one of the largest left-wing movements of the 1980s in the US.” As he was finishing his undergraduate degree, he become closely involved in the movement. He has written about President Reagan’s visit to Ireland when the US President was “thoroughly repudiated” by Catholic bishops and--as reports of the time describe-- told in no uncertain terms by Taoiseach Garett FitzGerald that Ireland didn’t agree with his policy on Central America.  

Prof Van Gosse smiling against a wooden backdropProfessor Gosse completed his Ph.D at Rutgers, one of the few places to study gender and women’s history at the time which he said, “changed my intellectual life”. He maintained his active involvement in the El Salvador solidarity movement and in 1993 he published Where the Boys Are: Cuba, Cold War America and the Making of a New Left about the impact of ‘Fidelismo’ on American politics.

His most recent book, The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War, provides another reappraisal of American history. His study of black political activism and black electoral politics before the civil war highlights what Professor Gosse describes as the key role of historians: challenging conventional views through their thorough study of primary sources.

His project at the Trinity Long Room Hub is titled ‘The Black and Green in US Politics, 1877-1965’ and it focuses on the complex relationship between African American and Irish Americans within a wider diasporic context. This relationship is coming under increasing focus in Ireland, noted Professor Geary, whose own work has studied the connections between African Americans and Northern Ireland during the civil rights era.

One focal point of Professor Gosse’s research project is the ‘Great Migration’ of black southerners out of the deep south to cities like Chicago which, in 1915, are “almost entirely Irish-run.” This substantial new black electorate in an Irish-led Democratic political machine prompts significant social tension and hostility between the two groups.

Professor Gosse is interested in what all of this means back in Ireland and the larger diasporic context for this dynamic, including how the system of white supremacy prevailing in the American south throughout this period was perceived.

Looking specifically at lynching, or what Professor Gosse describes as “public murder”, he is interested in finding out how this “mass violence” was reported in the Irish newspapers and what they knew about America at the time.

To find out more, listen to the discussion in full here:

Professor Gosse will be a visiting fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub until the end of November 2023.