An Irish man in London has been tweeting the names of every emigrant recorded as having arrived in New York during the Irish Famine. Phil Lang, 31, opened the twitter account, The Great Hunger, in August 2015 and has since tweeted over 20,00 names. Lang is a creative technologist and hopes to use the data he has collected from 12,000 pages of the American National Archives to help foster a sense of empathy for the refugees of both yesterday and today, the Irish Post reports.
The account sends out tweets every 30 minutes that includes the person’s name and age, county of origin and the port they embarked from. Lang says he hopes this information will help people to realize these were individuals, not just statistics.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s important. Empathizing with those we don’t know is one of the greatest things that we can achieve as people,” said Lang in a blog post about his project.
Mary Flinn, Born at Sea, from Ireland, arrived in New York on June 4 1846, having embarked from Liverpool.— The Great Hunger (@IrishShips) November 6, 2016
“Large, single numbers reduce, they can deny the human that they speak about,” Lang says.
“We see this around us everyday, particularly in the media – recent reporting on the migration crisis affecting Syria, parts of the Middle East and Europe has done little to educate viewers and help them understand and empathize with those affected.”
Lang got the idea for the account in July 2015 when then British Prime Minister David Cameron described the migrants in the Calais 'Jungle' as a swarm.
“This rhetoric struck me as dangerous. It dehumanized those in need and shifted a conversation with real things at stake into a two dimensional, us and them framing,” the Irishman added.
William Stewart, aged 22, from Ireland, arrived in New York on June 9 1846, having embarked from Liverpool.— The Great Hunger (@IrishShips) November 26, 2016
“It was this rhetoric, the use of language as a weapon that had me consider what could be done to subvert the message that Cameron was pushing and begin to shift the focus upon individuals and their stories.”
As many as 250,000 people left Ireland during the worst years of the Famine, in which approximately a million people died.
“Ireland has a long history of emigration,” Lang said. “It is a foundational part of my nation’s identity. It is a part of me.”
Lang told the Irish Post that he expects it will take around 30 years for every name to be tweeted.
“I’m beginning to wonder if Twitter will still be around at that stage.”