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Dr Olwen Purdue


Lecturer in Irish Social and Economic History

Seconded to Institute of Collaborative Research in Humanities as a Institute Fellow, 2015-16

Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3985


Office: 16UQ G.04

Olwen took up her current post in Queen's University in September 2012 and is a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast. On completing her doctorate she was appointed to a research post on the ESRC-funded project, ‘Welfare Regimes under the Irish Poor Law’, based jointly at Oxford Brookes and Queen’s, and subsequently as a Research Fellow in the Institute of Irish Studies also at Queen’s.  She was joint recipient of a QUB Team Teaching Award in 2013.

Olwen is a committee-member of the Economic and Social History Society of Ireland and the Society for the Study of Nineteenth Century Ireland. She is co-investigator on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Welfare and public health in Belfast and the north of Ireland, c.1800-1973’.

Research Interests

Her research interests cover a range of issues relating to the social and economic history of nineteenth and early twentieth–century Ireland, in particular land and power, poverty and welfare, and urban change. Her monograph, The Big House in the north of Ireland: land, power and social elites 1870-c.1960 (Dublin, 2009),focuses on the changing roles of landed elites in Ulster politics and society from the land wars through to the final years of the Stormont government. She has recently completed an edited volume on life and society in Belfast during its heyday from the end of the Famine through to the First World War.  Her current research focusses on questions of poverty and empowerment: in the ways in which the poor increasingly utilised the welfare system as part of their ‘economy of makeshifts’; in the ways in which the administration of the poor law became increasingly contested by social and economic elites and political movements; and in the experience and relief of poverty in the contested political space of C19th Belfast



Articles and chapters:

  • ‘“A gigantic system of casual pauperism”: the contested role of the workhouse in late nineteenth-century Belfast’ in Beate Althammer, Andreas Gestrich and Jens Gründler (eds.), The Welfare State and the 'Deviant Poor' in Europe, 1870-1933 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
  • ‘Poverty and power: the workhouse in a north Antrim town 1861-1921’, Irish Historical Studies 148, (2011).
  • 'Challenge and change: the country house in Northern Ireland 1921-2001’, in Terence Dooley (ed), The Irish Country House: Its Past, Present and Future (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2011)
  • ‘Regional dimensions of the Irish Poor Law: the north of Ireland 1851-1921’, in Virginia Crossman and Peter Gray (eds.) Poverty and Welfare in Ireland 1838-1948 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2011)
  • ‘Sources for the history of the Irish Poor Law in the post-Famine period’ with Virginia Crossman, Georgina Laragy and Séan Lucey, in Ciara Breathnach and Catherine Lawless (eds), Visual, Material and Print Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2010).
  • ‘ “Attacked from without and diseased from within”? Northern Ireland's landed class 1921-60’ in Eadaoin Agnew, Eamonn Hughes, Caroline Magennis and Christina Morin (eds), A Further Shore: Essays in Irish and Scottish Studies (Aberdeen UP, 2007).

Entry on PURE research portal



HIS2011: Politics and society in nineteenth-century Ireland

HIS2012: Politics and society in twentieth-century Ireland

HIS3033: That great catastrophe: the Irish Famine of the 1840s

IRS1002:  Irish Studies II: the modern history, politics and social anthropology of Ireland


MHY7077: Public History Internship

MHY7035: Historiography