Sunday, August 31, 2003


I have been reading Jeffrey James new book by that title, and it seems worth the attention of the Knowledge for Development community. At US$65, the book seems priced high for its 129 page length, but the content is interesting.

I want to address a couple of issues in the introductory section of the book. (I may come back to the book for future postings as I read more.)

The book starts with a discussion of the fact that most ICT R&D is funded in rich countries, for products aimed at the fat markets of those countries. James feels, as do I, that there is not enough R&D focused on providing ICT appropriate to the needs of the poor in developing countries.

James notes the brain drain, focusing on the tendency of people trained to do ICT development in developing countries, migrating to rich countries to work on R&D for their markets. I have suggested that there may be a “virtual brain drain”, in which the best ICT developers in poor countries can now stay at home, and via telework, work as if they we physically present in rich countries. My wife, for example, managed a project for our local government here in Maryland, in which Indian software developers created a platform for an aspect of the local e-government services. The communication was done via the Internet. Of course the job generated income for India, but the benefits accrued primarily to the government in Maryland, and the Indian programmers that could have developed software for Indian government, did so instead for U.S. government.

James also discusses the evidence that technological innovation is responsible for much of economic growth. This of course has been the subject of previous postings on this blog, as well as a of a highlight on the Development Gateway, and many other publications.

I think James’ approach is perhaps too dependent on economics and not sufficiently oriented to overall policies and institutions. Technological determinism seems to me not to recognize that war, insurrection, terrible government, failed government, corruption, and other problems plaguing the poorest countries have a huge affect on their development progress, and are not amenable to technological solutions.

James’ also seems unaware of theories of “induced innovation”. These theories suggest that technological change is induced by economic growth. I think induced innovation makes a lot of sense. Countries with good economic performance get to invest more money, and thus to refresh human and physical capital more often. They are seeing wages increase, and labor to capital costs shift; consequently, they will be expected to shift the technologies to more capital, less labor intensive technology. Innovators making such changes will be rewarded, and the innovation process should be reinforced.

In short, countries that get the policies, prices and institutions right in order to stimulate and sustain economic growth should see that growth induce more technological innovation.

I think that in the right circumstances, both processes take place: economic growth induces technological innovation, and technological innovation induces improvements in productivity and products that stimulate economic growth.

If in fact this kind of circularity does take place, it creates a problem of econometricians. Both processes suggest a correlation between rates of economic growth and of technological innovation. Econometrics then has to use more elaborate models, with very difficult to find data, to tease out the relative importance of each process. Techies are blessed with an easier task – innovating where the circumstances permit.

James also treads into economic waters in which I would fear to go. He looks at the convergence versus divergence debate, and comes down on the side of divergence – that the distribution of wealth in the world is becoming ever wider. Others suggest that the economic success of India and China, when weighted by the huge populations of those countries, requires just the opposite interpretation – that the poor are on the average coming closer to the rich in wealth and income.

Still another line of argument suggests that money is not good for judging development, and that the gaps in life expectancy, hunger, basic education, and other indicators of the quality of life are decreasing. I admit to liking these arguments, in the sense that they suggest that the gaps in health, food, agricultural and other technologies relating to basic human needs may be shrinking, while the gaps related to luxury consumption may be increasing.

I wish James good luck with his arguments, but I feel that it is abundantly clear that we need to develop appropriate information and communications technologies for developing nations, and to develop and disseminate the innovations that apply those technologies to reducing poverty. The economic arguments are important to convince the policy makers, perhaps, but folk who understand the power of the technology and the needs of poverty will have no doubts about the right thing to do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003


Here are some links that relate to the subject:

Technical Experts Meeting On The Use And Application Of Information And Communication Technologies In Higher Education Institutions In Africa (2000)
This is the report of an online conference held for the Association of African Universities and sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Appendices: Experts Meeting on the Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Higher Education Institutions in Africa (2000)

Tertiary Distance Education and Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa
by William Saint, ADEA Working Group on Higher Education, 1999

AfricaDotEdu: IT Opportunities and Higher Education in Africa
A new book on the topic.

Discussion Paper For A Meeting On The Higher Education Information Infrastructure In Africa (2000)
A discussion paper I prepared for the meeting described above.

The Implications For Africa Of U.S. Experience In Information And Communication Technologies And Higher Education
A report I did for a conference in Africa on the topic of IT for Higher Education.

Here are a couple of good general resources:

TechKnowLogia (International Journal for the Advancement of Technologies for Knowledge and Learning)
The issue on Higher Education

UAICT: Use and Application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Education and Information Provision in Africa
The UAICT-Africa Internet Catalogue is an online database providing summaries and links to full text of high quality resources available on the Internet. While search capabilities are available, the site offers 52 key words, each with a selected set of resources. This is truely a wonderful resource on Africa.

Some World Bank Resources:

Some associations of Higher Educational Organizations involved in Distance Learning:

Distance Education: Growth and Diversity
By Michael Potashnik And Joanne Capper, 1998.

Tertiary distance education and technology in Sub-Saharan Africa
By William Saint and Joanne Capper, [editors], 2000.

Monday, August 25, 2003


The September issue of Scientific American is always a special issue on a specific topic. This year it is on the topic of “Better Brains”. (You can read the summaries online free, but have to pay to read the full articles, or go to a library.)

The issue of course summarizes research and development in the neurosciences. Much of the issue focuses on means to deal with brain pathology, but I was struck by two specific remarks:

Fred H. Gage says in “Brain, Repair Yourself” (page 53): “The best ways to augment brain function might not involve drugs or cell implants but lifestyle changes. Like many other organs, the brain responds positively to exercise, a good diet and adequate sleep, which are already known to enhance normal brain function with fewer side effects and other problems than most of the other strategies described above.”

Stephen S. Hall’s article, “The Quest for a Smart Pill” describes R&D done by the military and others to develop drugs to enhance brain performance. He notes that caffeine, in amounts comparable to that obtained drinking a lot of coffee, is a good standard against which to compare pharmaceutical cognitive enhancers.

What does this have to do with Knowledge for Development? I think enhanced cognitive performance would in fact help developing countries in their K4D strategies. And indeed, I suspect that in the coming century we will have aids to improve learning in schools and cognitive performance under stress and unfavorable conditions. Scientific American tells me that we won’t have them soon.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of suggesting that people in poor countries are not smart. Certainly there are a lot of smart people. But there are a lot of people who have not had enough to eat, who don't get adequate rest because they don’t have a good place to sleep, and who can’t afford a few cups of coffee when they need them. I suspect that programs to prevent hunger and the worst aspects of poverty would help improve cognitive performance of the poor, and that the beneficiaries would be more economically productive as a consequence.

Sunday, August 24, 2003


I would note that there are a couple of other articles in the current economist that would be of interest to the readers of this blog:

Rich Pickings
Dealing with research on banana and plantain, and especially on a new research initiative in Uganda.

Catching Up
An article that explains why convergence appears to be taking place when one weight country experience by population in regressions of growth rate in recent decades versus per capita GDP, but divergence appears to be taking place if one does regressions without population weighting. Basically, the many poor and poorly performing countries in Africa dominate the regressions in the second case, while China and India dominate in the first case.

Bring Me Your Powerless Masses and Could It Happen to Us?
These stories provide some insight into the complexity of electric power grids, and of the technological, regulatory, financial and other issues involved in assuring reliable electrical power at a national level.


The Homeland Security mania in the United States is cutting down on the number of students from abroad trained here, on the number of scientists and engineers involved in exchanges here, and in the participation of foreign faculty in U.S. schools.

Beware Students,” an article in the current Economist magazine, discusses a part of the problem. While last year nearly 583,000 foreigners were enrolled in American universities and colleges, this year the new visa policies, involving interviews with consular officers, are delaying many legitimate student visas.

By the way, there is a website developed by the U.S. National Academies that should be of help to those seeking U.S. visas for educational or scientific travel.

The article mentions the “unfunded mandate” that federal legislation has created requiring institutions of higher education to provide data to government computers on all foreign students in their programs. This too is slowing the admissions processes.

I was amazed to read that 77,000 U.S. organizations had accepted at least one foreign student in the last 20 years. As I recall there are 3,500 or 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, implying that a lot of people are coming to other kinds of institutions. Certainly there are a lot of great technical training centers here that provide education best found in the United States (such as those working with the United States Telecommunications Training Institute).

Still one wonders how many people from poor countries are coming to the United States for training as barbers, beauticians, and cooks. Is all this training really a good way for developing nations to spend their scarce foreign exchange?

The U.S. homeland security policy is clearly “penny wise and pound foolish”. That is, it is making decisions that offer small, short-term advantages, but sacrifice long term goal achievement. Certainly sharing knowledge with other nations is a great way to contribute to their growth and development, and to reduce the pressures that lead to terrorism. While a few professionally trained people have become terrorists, the millions of people from abroad who have studied in the United States include the strongest foreign supporters of the United States, and many leaders in the counter-terrorism movement.

Annoying future leaders and excluding them from educational opportunities in the United States does not seem to me like a good anti-terrorism policy in the long run.

Unfortunately, not enough U.S. students study abroad as part of their education, and only a small portion of those who do go abroad study in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America or the Mid East. (It is also the case that language training is inadequate, as are the courses in the social sciences in preparing American kids to deal with the world.) The large numbers of foreign students in many U.S. colleges and universities has helped to make up for the lack of international experience, and it may be that American kids will be the biggest losers from the reduction of foreign students in the U.S.

One suggestion I would make, as I have done before, is that U.S. colleges and universities make much more use of distance education, both to provide educational services to those in other countries and to allow educators in other countries to teach American kids. I think it is especially important that distance education tools be used to improve educational exchanges with developing nations. Not only is the tool more affordable, but it makes up for the visa problems.

There is an interesting piece by Edward Tenner in the Opinion section of today’s Washington Post, titled “If Technology's Beyond Us, We Can Pretend It's Not There.”

He notes that in the United States, there was a transition in the 20th century from technologies that were “transparent” and those that were “black box” technologies. The slide rule and abacus are examples of transparent technologies. If you understand logarithms, you can understand exactly what is happening with a slide rule, and an abacus is even easier to understand. The hand calculator, for most children and lots of adults, is Tenner’s prototypical black box technology. It is easy to use and more accurate than the slide rule, but most users don’t understand how the calculator obtains its answers. This is clearly true for the more complex functions.

I suggest that technological innovation was possible for large numbers of people in the days of transparent technologies, but is limited to professional innovators in the days of black-box technologies. You can’t invent things that you can’t understand, but the causal relationship may be more complex.

In the days of Edison and Ford, the institutions supported the little guy inventor. It was relatively easy to get a patent (if not to defend it). It was relatively easy to set up a shop, enter a market, and get financing for a new, transparent invention. Today the institutions are set up to facilitate innovations made by professional innovators working in (large) innovating organizations.

Developing countries are perhaps faced by the need to develop lots of transparent and lots of black box innovations simultaneously. I think it is clear that the road to development is via international competitiveness, and thus via the capacity to innovate in the complex technologies of the 21st century. Developing nations need the professional innovators, their organizations and their supporting institutions.

There is also a need to improve technology for large numbers of people who are still in a transparent technology stage. The “Appropriate Technology” movement has seen better days (say in the 1970’s) but it still has some proponents. (For example, the Honey Bee Network or the ITDG). I think one of its failures in the past may well have been to ignore the institutional issues, and focus too much on the technology.

The issue is how to build the cadre of innovators, and how to build the institutional support for those innovators. Where are the inventors and innovators to be trained? How do they protect their inventions sufficiently to make inventing transparent technologies an economically productive enterprise? How do they finance the development and commercialization of their technologies? How are markets to be created for such inventions.

These may be key issues to poverty reduction, if not to the growth of GNP. It is the very poor who are left out of the modern technological systems, and who need improved transparent technologies to advance themselves.

Friday, August 15, 2003


The BBC has just posted an article providing the results of a poll done by BBC World, in which an international audience rated Newton ahead of all others Brits!

I just read James Gleick’s “Isaak Newton”. I had read his book, “Chaos” which is a good read, and was not surprised to find Newton worth my time. I recommend it.

I would comment on the book from the K4D perspective. Newton lived in a very different time, and his world view was very different than ours. Gleick makes the point that Newton was an alchemist, committed to the aims and assumptions of that group of people. He was also a Christian of the 17th century, and much of his thought was based on the assumptions of that faith.

He was fortunate in that Galileo had developed the measure of the second, in a world in which there were few clocks. Newton made great sun dials, but you don’t measure seconds with a sun dial. Gleick notes that Newton in his alchemy used eights of a minute as his temporal reference.

The “knot” was the only unit of measure of velocity, and basically only sailors measured velocity. Newton had to invent concepts like mass and inertia! It is hard to imagine how difficult it would be to think about physics without such concepts.

Newton had done precise mathematical measurements in developing his optics, but these could be done in his rooms with simple instruments (prism, pin-hole light source, ruler). When he sought to compare the predictions of his theory of gravity with observations, using real quantitative measurements there were not precise measurements available for the critical variables to test the theory. Where the royal astronomer had made measurements, he was reluctant to release the data. Newton had to do an amazing amount of data collection in a time where few were doing so.

It is really amazing that Newton was able to invent suites of new concepts, then invent the means of testing them quantitatively, then obtain the data to do so.

I suspect that some of the difficulty in development is that we are still pre-Newtonian in key areas of behavioral and social sciences. Moreover, the world views of key actors are not always the most informed nor the most adequate for the purpose of development. Development models are too often poorly formulated, and development data inadequate. Still one can not read about Newton’s accomplishments without some hope.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003


I have posted a short article on blogging for development of the Development Gateway today.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


Henry Kelly has an op-ed piece in the Washington Post today titled “No Substitute for Sound Science”. He calls to the U.S. Congress to create a body to provide it independent scientific advice. He notes the inadequacy of current systems to provide the legislature with information in support of initiatives such as the limitation on stem cell research.

There was an Office of Technology Assessment that carried out independent studies at the request of the legislature, but it was abolished in 1995. Its reports are still available on the OTA Legacy site.

Currently the Congress obtains scientific input through its committee and hearing processes. The result is that it gets scientific reports from parties with financial or ideological interests in legislation, from professional societies, and from executive agencies. Since there are very few scientists in Congress, and relatively few scientifically trained staff members, many of us worry about Congressional capacity to sort out the varieties of advice received.

Of course the executive branch of government in the U.S. has the capacity to obtain internal and external scientific advice. It publishes huge numbers of scientific reports each year. Most Departments and Agencies have their own scientific advisory bodies. However, there is increasing distrust of the way in which scientific information is presented by the Administration, and of the disinterestedness of the appointees by the Administration to these bodies.

The United States has a system by which the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine provide balanced scientific and technological advice at the request of the government. The executive branch of government can draw upon this source directly, while the legislative branch can require the executive branch to charter specific advisory studies. Still, this mechanism will not answer all needs for scientific advice – it is relatively slow, tends to seek consensus rather than expose alternative views, and is best suited for rather large issues.

Again, in the U.S. system the Library of Congress supports the legislative branch, and its Congressional Research Service can be asked for information on scientific issues. These reports are prepared by LoC staff and, in my opinion, are not as forward looking as might be desired to meet the needs of the legislature, and do not provide as substantive a scientific or technological consensus as do the National Academies/

If the United States is having this kind of problem providing scientific advice to its legislature, I can only imagine the problems of poor, developing nations. Yet the issues faced by these countries really require scientific advice for legislative bodies. Think about the decision of East African governments last year as to whether to accept or reject donations of foods that might contain the products of genetically modified plants, or the decision of Southern African nations to begin providing anti-retroviral therapy for AIDS patients!

The Inter Academy Panel on International Issues is a start to institutionalizing the needed advisory systems, as are the Third World Academy of Sciences and the African Academy of Sciences.

I don’t have a solution, other than to encourage donors and developing nations to help build scientific advisory capabilities in and for developing nations.

Monday, August 11, 2003


The third in my series of essays on ICT and the Millennium Development Goals has been posted on the ICT for Development Topic page of the Development Gateway as part of a highlight on ICT and gender. Click here for the essay.

I am taking a few days off, so I may not post much in the next two weeks.

Friday, August 08, 2003


I just read “In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong” by Amin Maalouf
This is a stimulating book, that contains a lot of wisdom in a small package.

Maalouf points out that people have many dimensions to their identities – nationality, citizenship, language, and religion are his emphases. I would add family, tribe, profession, neighborhood, etc. He suggests that a lot of the problems in the world come from people who feel threatened, and who as a result focus on just one aspect of their identity. He offers this as a partial explanation of why people kill and commit suicide, be it in the name of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, be it in the name of Israel or Palestine, be it in the name of Tutsi or Hutu. Where people identify with only one aspect of their multidimensional identities, they become more prone to fanaticism in the name of that aspect.

He suggests some radical reforms. He suggests that people respect each other’s dignity. He suggests that in an environment where individual and collective dignity are respected as are individual rights, democracy is useful (while recognizing that some of the worst atrocities have been committed in the name of democracy and other worthy ideals). He suggests that language is a key factor of identity, and that we should move toward a world or at least a Europe where the norm is that individuals speak three languages – the international language (English), their national language, and a third major language. And he suggests that we need a world in which people can identify with not only their own peer group, but with the general advancement of mankind. The anger at globalization is perhaps most localized by those who feel that their identity is challenged by the process, but who do not feel that they will share adequately in the benefits to identify with the world’s progress.

Last Sunday (August 3) I wrote an entry triggered by reading “How the Irish Became White”. I think it complements Maalouf’s book in a way. Maalouf focuses on the identities people feel and choose to act upon. Sunday I was focusing on the fact that identities are socially constructed. To go back to my example of the person with seven European great-grandparents and one African great-grandparent. That person in America was expected to take on a “Black” identity. The implications of being “Black”, especially following the Civil War and Reconstruction, were very bad – poverty, powerlessness, poor jobs, etc. The identity of being “Irish” came to mean, among other things, being “White”, and that made all the difference!

I wanted to take off on two specific references he makes in the book. Maalouf describes (page 91) Arnold Toynbee’s explanation of the history of the human race as consisting of three periods:
· The first (prehistory) in which communications were extremely slow, but knowledge advanced even more slowly, and human societies were much alike;
· The second (history), lasting several thousand years, in which knowledge developed at a faster rate than the means of disseminating it, and human societies differentiated one from another; and
· The third, starting quite recently, in which knowledge developed still faster, but communications became faster still, resulting in human societies becoming more alike again.

Christaller's central place theory sought to explain the pattern of towns and cities found everywhere. Big cities are linked to a network of smaller cities, linked in turn to networks of towns, linked to networks of villages. Zipf’s Law, in one of its aspects, noted the regular curve describing the relative size of these urban agglomerations, and noted that more modern societies tended to have larger central places, and of course larger networks. I suspect that the structure illuminated by Christaller and Zipf is related to Toynbee’s observation. The faster communication, the more extensive the network linked to a single central place.

I would point out that the system is anisotropic. Communication does not move equally rapidly in all geographical directions. Colombia’s history was affected by the fact that in the colonial times one could travel more quickly from Colombia’s coast to Spain by ship, than one could travel from the same place on the coast to the capital in the mountains. Maps showing rates of travel in the United States in the 19th century show patterns very different from the circles one might naively expect. (see “A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present,” Edited by Alfred D. Chandler and James W. Cortada). Indeed, thinking of radio and television, communication has in the 20th century flowed much more rapidly from the center to the periphery than in the opposite direction.

Information and knowledge flow very rapidly today among rich peoples. How fast does it flow to the one billion people who are not connected to electrical grids, or to the half of the world’s population that has never made a telephone call.

Language might be seen as layering over geographical space. Information flows more rapidly within populations that speak the same language. Information and knowledge is generated most rapidly in English today, and probably are communicated more rapidly to people who speak English than across language barriers.

And indeed, institutions also determine the speed of propagation of knowledge. I suppose professional institutions, like professional societies, are prototypical. In geographic areas in which those institutions are strong, professional knowledge can be expected to propagate quickly. Where educational institutions are strong, academic knowledge can be expected to spread quickly. And in areas, like Africa, where such institutions are not strong, academic and professional knowledge, understanding, and information can be expected to spread slowly.

I grew up in Southern California, which became a global “Central Place” for the creation of knowledge and information in the 20th century; it certainly was not that before the 20th century. Universities like UCLA, USC, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and Cal Tech together churn out thousands of scientific publications per year. The aerospace industry there churns out technology, as does its share of the information technology industry. Hollywood churns our films and television programs. But all of this intellectual capacity was created in less than 100 years; Argentina and Chile, that had comparable status to California in 1900, did not develop anything like the same information and knowledge generation capacity in the 20th century.

Thus, in my minds eye, I can see a map of the globe with centers of knowledge and information generation as points of light, changing in brilliance in historical time as the cities grow or shrink in importance. I can see communication networks layering over the globe, providing faster channels in some places than in others, in some languages than in others, in some institutions than in others. But the model could be expected to explain a lot about development.

Maaloof also quotes Mark Bloch, “Men are more the sons of their time than of their fathers” (page 101). I suspect that such was not the case in prehistoric times, in which things changed very slowly, and sons lived in environments and used knowledge and information much like their father’s. But as technology changes more rapidly, and as man’s impact on his environment is greater and more rapid, the half-life of knowledge and information gets shorter. Things have to be reconstrued more often. So as each new generation reconstrues reality, the gap between fathers and sons increases. It would be interesting to see if this is true, if the generation gap is smaller in more traditional societies, greater in the societies that are most in flux.

Anyway. Let me recommend “In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.”

Two stories appear in the Washington Post today charging the Bush Administration with misuse and/or misinterpretation of Scientific Information.

The first, “Gore Says Bush Has Misled Americans” by Edward Walsh, is about a speech by Al Gore attacking the Bush Administration on a number of points. This quote attributed to Gore just about sums it up:

"The president's mishandling of and selective use of the best evidence available on the threat posed by Iraq is pretty much the same as the way he intentionally distorted the best available evidence on climate change, and rejected the best available evidence on the threat posed to America's economy by his tax and budget proposals. In each case, the president seems to have been pursuing policies chosen in advance of the facts -- policies designed to benefit friends and supporters -- and has used tactics that deprived the American people of any opportunity to effectively subject his arguments to the kind of informed scrutiny that is essential in our system of checks and balances."

The second story, “Bush Misuses Science, Report Says” by Rick Weiss, summarizes a report by the Democratic minority of the House Government Reform Committee criticizing the Republican Administration’s alleged misuse of scientific information in a number of different cases. The article and report draw on editorials from major scientific journals that have criticized the Administration in this respect.

The report “Politics and Science in the Bush Administration” is available on the Politics and Science website.

As I understand it, the United States has over several decades sought in many ways and cases to depoliticize international debate, seeking to make the process more factual, more based on scientific evidence, and more pragmatic. The articles suggest a major change in that policy, if this Administration is in fact seeking to politicize the scientific evidence on which climate change and reproductive health policies are built.

I suspect the legitimacy of U.S. efforts to help other nations move toward science based policies and knowledge based development will be challenged by these kinds of stories, and the reality they reflect.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003


I want to bring to your attention a website providing resources on monitoring and evaluation of ICT for development efforts. It was created to support monitoring and evaluation of the Country Gateways being created with the support of the Development Gateway Foundation, but it now has 100 resources that may be of interest more generally. I am currently acting as editor of the site, and would encourage people to join me in adding resources.

Sunday, August 03, 2003


I have just read How the Irish Became White” by Noel Ignatiev. It is one of several books of history about the Irish in America, like “Irish America: Coming into Clover” by Maureen Dezell. However, it asks a question somewhat different than that book. It asks how the Irish Catholic immigrants came to be grouped with other European immigrants, as entitled to “white men’s work” and not limited to an underclass.

This even in retrospect does not seem to have been an obvious development. The Irish in America before 1840, who were mostly less poor and Protestant, quickly became known as the “Scotch-Irish” (a term not used in the British Isles), and were seen as a different “race” than their Irish Catholic cousins. In the British Isles, the Irish Catholics were caricatured as lesser humans, and in America too they were stock comic characters lumped with African immigrant slaves. Racial classification in the United States was and is strange. Thus, someone with seven European and one African great-grandparents was deemed “Negro”. Today the government classifies people as “white”, “black”, "Native American", "Asian" or “Hispanic”, suggesting that Hispanics were neither black nor white nor Native American, nor Asian. The Irish might well have remained as “green” in the 19th century, in a society of whites, blacks and greens.

Irish Catholics in 18th century Ireland were of a lower caste, in a culture dominated by the English, Protestant “Ascendancy”. The large numerical majority of the population, the Irish Catholics owned a very little land – seven percent as I recall. Laws not only prohibited the practice of their religion, but even teaching Catholics to read and write. When the potato famine arrived in the 1840’s there were some eight million Irish; of those, one million are estimated to have died in the famine. Perhaps another million and a half emigrated. In the worst years, it is estimated that one-in-six of the émigrés died on the “plague ships” to America.

Those who landed were estimated to have a life expectancy of six years. While immigration from Europe was increasing generally, in the mid 19th century the Irish flooded into America. These were not the affluent Irish, but the poor – often sick, malnourished, undereducated. While some were “mechanics” skilled to work in the new industries, more were unskilled, suited only for manual labor. Irish immigrant women became the maids, and probably the prostitutes of the cities of America. The immigrants were usually too poor to move to the West, where land was available and farms could be started. The recent movie, “The Gangs of New York” shows the slums in which the Irish lived, and the poverty and violence that characterized life in those slums.

Destitute and desperate for work, the Irish quickly came to numerically dominate unskilled labor categories in the urban North, driving out native born Americas and freed blacks by working for less and taking jobs no one else wanted; Irish workers fought other ethnic immigrants and freed blacks for these low paying jobs, using weapons available. In the South, Irish were hired for work that was too dangerous for slaves. There was an investment in slaves that would be lost were they to be killed, and the slaves still had to be housed and fed if the job were completed or the slave disabled; the Irish workers brought no such inconveniences to their employers. In some cases, Irish workers battled slaves to be allowed to do “slave work”. Moreover, there was a literature suggesting that the wage-slave Irish in the North were worse off economically than the black slaves in the South.

The war between the United States and Mexico in the 1840’s provides a telling example of the role of the Irish in the United States at the time. The United States fielded an army composed largely of immigrant soldiers, many recruited right off the ships. Eight percent of the U.S. troops deserted, the highest rate in American history. Tellingly, the Saint Patrick Brigade of the Mexican Army was formed by deserters from the U.S. Army, mainly Irish. I assume that these soldiers found it easier to see themselves as Catholics than as Americans, and were more willing to join with the Mexican Catholics than to serve under native born, Protestant U.S. officers in the U.S. army. The San Patricio’s are supposed to have fought bravely, and many of those soldiers captured from the Brigade were executed in sight of Chapultapec as that citadel fell; the “Child Heroes” (military cadets who died in the siege) of Chapultepec remain symbols of the Mexican nation, and the San Patricio Brigade is honored annually in Mexico and Ireland. The recent movie, “One Man’s Hero” telling the story of John Riley, the leader of the Saint Patrick Brigade, was never released in the United States -- still too hot a topic! (Riley was from Clifton, in the West of Ireland, and is presumed to have survived the war, and stayed in Mexico.)

Ignatiev makes the case that the social construction of the Irish Americans as “white” while the African Americans were construed to be a “black” underclass was a complex social and economic process. He cites the use of political institutions by the Irish. They managed to overcome Nativist and Know-Nothing movements in the mid 19th centuries. They opposed the abolition of slavery, using the argument that they would abide by the laws of their adopted country. (This was in spite of a general Irish cultural distaste for slavery, and probably to avoid economic competition from freed slaves, as well as to build political coalition with the white southerners.) The Irish immigrants organized labor, and used violence and exclusionary tactics to keep work for the Irish. I would add, that they fought America’s wars, not only manning the army in the war with Mexico, but serving in distinguished Irish units in the Civil War and World War I. After emancipation, African Americans were the victims of other social and political processes that denied them rights and status in America. On the other hand, the social construction of the position of black Americans after the Civil War was a disaster has not been fully overcome today.

The latter part of the 19th century also saw the Gaelic Revival in Ireland. The language, Gaelic sports, music and dance were encouraged. An Irish theater and Irish literature were invented.

This brings me to another book I just read. I recently found “Raftery’s Poems”, a book by my granduncle, John Patrick Raftery, published in 1922. (No longer in print, but I found it via a used book search service.) J.P. Raftery was an immigrant to the United States, and was involved in a number of programs in his poetry. He was reinventing Ireland for his fellow émigrés. He was constructing an Irish-American persona, loyal to the new country, literate and cultured, with ties to old. And he was mobilizing American support for Irish independence from England, and for the empowerment of Irish Catholics.

I also recently read “Blind Raftery and His Wife, Hilaria” by Donn Byrne. Anthony (Blind) Raftery would have been John Patrick’s Great Grandfather (if family tradition is right). He was a itinerant poet in the early 19th century, never published in his lifetime because his language was Gaelic, not English. A hundred years later, Douglas Hume (later President of Ireland), W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory (co-founder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin) and others collected, translated and published his work, and collected what biographical information still existed. They made the point that a distinguished poet was ignored because he didn’t versify in English and belonged to the underclass. They were reinventing Irish culture, and indeed until the Euro displaced the Pound, the Irish five Pound note showed a class of students studying Raftery’s most famous poem in Gaelic.

Byrne’s book, published in 1924, has been recently republished. It presents Blind Raftery as an aristocratic minstrel, famous in other countries as well as in Ireland. I note one website in which the author says the book was kept out of sight and out of the hands of children when he was growing up, because it was so dishonest. Yet the book was again a reconstruction of the past of both Irish Catholics and Irish Americans, giving them heroes and a construction of their past of which they could take pride.

I suspect that this is the very stuff of development. America, with Irish American Presidents like Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan, and Grace Kelly as a real life princess as well as movie star, now sees Irish Americans as suitable leaders. Ireland is now the Celtic Tiger. The constructed self image of the Irish Americans as descendents of a proud and accomplished people seems likely to have contributed to the self confidence that made such accomplishment possible.

What about “Knowledge for Development”-- the theme of this Blog. I suggest that in this case the socially constructed, or reconstructed knowledge of who the Irish were is real. It is a funny kind of knowledge. It is "mythical knowledge". At issue is not so much whether the stories are literal and factual, as whether they are useful and serve the cause of development. In a world where dictators use propaganda to create their own legitimizing myths, how do we discriminate between useful stories of history and dysfunctional ones. Perhaps it is not too hard to do so. The Irish at least had little difficulty in recognizing English stories justifying their rule of Ireland as clap-trap.