Brendan O’Leary: Whatever you say, say everything

The political science professor’s career, from aiding in the negotiating of peace in Northern Ireland to advising the Prime Minister of Kurdistan, has been guided by a simple principle: Say exactly what you mean.

Brendan O’Leary is waging academic warfare. And trying his hand at comedy.

Both efforts are restricted to the endnotes in his recently published three-volume history of Northern Ireland. “After all,” he reasons, “you should be rewarded for going to the endnotes.”

Brendan O'Leary standing with hands in pockets.
Lauder Professor of Political Science Brendan O’Leary. (Image: Omnia)

O’Leary’s endnotes—the pages of annotations and explication that come after the main text—are where he dismisses a historian’s claims as lacking any textual justification and muses on folk memory in lyrics by Irish punk bands. But the endnotes aren’t the only unconventional part of this history. In the 1,240 pages of text, O’Leary’s training as a social scientist, as well as his commitment to thoroughness and his personal story, is present. For him, it’s a matter of principle.

For the reader, it’s something that challenges typical treatments of Northern Ireland. It’s a history, but not written by a historian.

“I strongly believe in objectivity and reject the idea that everyone has their own facts,” O’Leary, Lauder Professor of Political Science, explains. “But, I think it is incumbent on social scientists and historians to indicate where they come from, literally and figuratively, and how their views might potentially be challenged and how they might be wrong.”

This story is by Lauren Rebecca Thacker. Read more at Omnia