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Research Projects


Members of the Centre for Public History are involved with an ever-growing number of projects. Find details about some of our past and present projects here, and follow us on twitter to ensure that you get the up-to-date news about what we're involved with.

Current Projects

ESRC Project
Museums, Empire and Northern Irish Identity

Dr Briony Widdis (Project Lead). Professor Dominic Ryan (PI) and Dr Emma Reisz (Co-I)

‘Museums, Empire and Northern Irish Identity’ is an ESRC-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellowship within the Centre for Public History and Institute of Irish Studies in Queen’s University Belfast. It centres on partnership with National Museums NI, the Northern Ireland Museums Council, the Irish Museums Association and the University of Maynooth’s Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates.

Aiming to benefit both communities in Northern Ireland and source communities, the project is developing links between academic anthropologists and historians; museum professionals and policymakers; community participants and people in Northern Ireland generally.

Black Lives Matter has contributed to an already existing, and now rapidly growing, worldwide movement that is calling with ever greater urgency – in many cases successfully - for museums to decolonize their practice and spaces, to collaborate more actively with source communities and to repatriate objects to the places from which they came. For centuries, people from Ireland collected objects in other parts of the British Empire. Representing Indigenous peoples on whom the lives of the colonizing Irish impacted, knowledge is limited as to whether, and how, these collections contributed to the historical shaping of Irish, and, after Partition, Northern Irish identities, at and after the time they were acquired. Similarly, there has been an absence of research on to whom they are significant within contemporary populations, in their places of origin, in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.  

This project therefore aims to develop, share, and disseminate research into these collections as legacies of empire, and to explore the role of museums and private collectors in these debates. Additionally, it examines whether, and if so how, colonial collections, as well as being strongly evocative for the source communities who were their first owners, also carry meanings for people living in an increasingly diverse Northern Ireland today. In this way, the project seeks to challenge dominant museological distinctions between European objects and those from the global south which have often been totalized by museums’ disciplinary categories; and to develop a framework for the more holistic and inclusive understanding and interpretation of these collections.

A central idea within the project is that “ethnographic” or “world cultures” objects have been neglected because the subject of colonialism is politically contentious and is regarded by many as distasteful; and because in Northern Ireland, given its relationships with Ireland, the UK and, in the past, the British Empire, raising it can provoke racist discourse, civil unrest and even violence. The Fellowship will explore whether it is true that the potential of colonial objects to fuel polarized public discourse, both locally and globally, explains why there has been little research aimed at understanding the histories of objects from the Arctic and Antarctic, Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania in Northern Ireland’s museums.

Outputs, delivered in partnership with museum partners and other researchers, will include a survey of colonial collections, community engagement and a conference and associated publications.

Collaborators:

  • Institute of Irish Studies;
  • National Museums NI;
  • Northern Ireland Museums Council;
  • Irish Museums Association;
  • Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, University of Maynooth

CONFERENCE: Call for Papers, 8-9th April 2020 - click here for more information

Contact the project team by email or follow on Twitter.

ESRC Project Logos

 

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AHRC Leadership Fellowship
Crafting Knowledge in the Early Medieval West: Glosses, Learning, and Culture, c. 800-1050

Dr Sinead O'Sullivan and Dr Ciaran Arthur

As part of an AHRC leadership fellowship project, 'Ciphers, Codes and Notes’ is an online exhibition and a planned public exhibition at the McClay Library. The public exhibition will foreground the importance of cryptography, an area in which Queen’s has made a significant contribution through the work of the late Professor Keith Jeffery. To celebrate his contribution, I have been granted permission by the AHRC to purchase a glass display case and plaque commemorating Professor Jeffery (£6,500). The display case will be used in the physical exhibition and will remain in the McClay Library.

The online exhibition, now live, harnesses two digital platforms (SWAY and OMEKA) in order to exploit the advantages afforded by each (i.e. SWAY is attractive and engaging visually and OMEKA provides good access to detailed metadata which is useful for researchers and students alike). In addition, the online exhibition has been designed as a teaching resource. The exhibition offers a virtual tour of some of the most highly-prized early medieval manuscripts preserved in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy, and England. It has been advertised via Mediev-L, the Network for the study of Glossing, Academia.edu, as well as through social media platforms (the Special Collections Library blog, HAPP webpage and HAPP social media, Twitter, and Facebook).

The exhibition (with free entry) and online version (completed) seek to appeal to the wider public in Northern Ireland and beyond. By juxtaposing medieval and modern examples of crafting knowledge, harnessing popular interest in codebreaking, and drawing on the local collections of The McClay library and placing them alongside materials from other libraries across the UK and Continent, the exhibition aims to foreground the value of humanities research, the relevance of public institutions like libraries and museums for the preservation of the material heritage of the past and the crucial role of historians in enhancing public enthusiasm for and understanding of the importance of local, national and international heritage resources.

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NI Department of Health Project
Mother and Baby Homes/Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland 1922-1990

Prof. Sean O'Connell and Dr Leanne McCormick (Ulster University)

In 2018, Sean O’Connell (with Dr Leanne McCormick of Ulster University) was commissioned by the Department of Health to examine the history of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland. Their task was to probe the available archives and to gather oral testimony to produce a report on the history of these controversial institutions. O’Connell led the oral history research, which was carried out by Dr Olivia Dee. Eventually, interviews were recorded with 60 individuals who had experience of a number of mother and baby homes (Marianvale in Newry, Marianville in Belfast, the Mater Dei home Belfast, Thorndale, Hopedene, Mount Oriel, Kennedy House, Deanery Flats, Malone Place – all in Belfast) and a number of so-called Magdalene laundries (the Good Shepherd St Mary’s homes in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry and Newry; and the Salvation Army’s Thorndale Industrial Home in Belfast).

The report was published in January 2021 and was debated in the Stormont assembly. Described by Amnesty International as ‘a momentous report’ its important conclusions led the Northern Ireland Executive to commit to a full inquiry on the history of these institutions. In marked contrast to similar reports in the Republic of Ireland, it was welcomed warmly by victims and survivors groups. Further oral interviews are planned for summer 2021 and the project team has plans to create a website that will feature some of the oral narratives that was collected during the research.

The report’s approach to oral history has been hailed for its victim-centred approach to historical truth recovery and it was the narratives of victims and survivors that captured the attention of the media as the report dominated Northern Ireland’s media outlets in the days following is publication. The work is one example of the expertise offered by Queen’s academics working with the QUOTE Hub oral history collective.

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AHRC Project
‘Our Place, Our Stories’: Tall Dhiban

Dr Olwen Purdue (PI), Dr Neil Sadler (Co-I), Dr Sue-Ann Harding (Co-I) and Dr Nadar Albkower (Co-I, Mutah University)

This community public history project examines the connection between engagement with the past and wellbeing among local communities in Dhiban, Jordan. The town of Dhiban, 40 miles south of Amman, has a population of around 15,000 composed of peoples from many different backgrounds and origins. Many are migrants from Palestine and Syria, but the largest group are Bedouin from the Bani Hamida tribe who settled here in the 1950s. Economic hardship and social marginalisation is prevalent among these peoples, and their voices are rarely heard in the historical narrative of Dhiban, dominated, as it is, by the formal, academic history of the nearby Tall Dhiban, one of Jordan’s most important archaeological sites and a centre of scholarly activity.

Building on research carried out on Purdue’s Wellcome Trust-funded project on heritage and wellbeing in inner-city Belfast, Heritage Connects, the project works with local schools to encourage engagement for storytelling and history collection at a community level and to build capacity among teachers and students for capturing and communicating the rich and diverse histories of their peoples and place. Through a series of workshops and a summative History Harvest event, it seeks to amplify the multiple voices associated with Dhiban across socio-economic, generational, and gender divides, allowing these voices to be heard in connection with the internationally-renowned heritage site which dominates the historical narrative of the region. 

The project is funded by the AHRC Newton-Khalidi fund and is led at Queen’s University Belfast by Dr Olwen Purdue, Director of the Centre for Public History, alongside Drs Neil Sadler and Sue-Ann Harding, Centre for Translation Studies, QUB, and Dr Nader Albkower, Mutah University. It is part of a major archaeological project headed by Dr Bruce Routledge, Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, in collaboration with the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project.

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AHRC Project
Voyaging Through History: The Meanings of the Mayflower in Britain, 1620-2020

Dr Tom Hulme (PI), Dr Martha Vandrei (Co-I, University of Exeter) and Dr Edmund Downey

Drawing on an analysis of visual, textual, and physical materials, this Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project is the first to provide an authoritative and critical analysis of the powerful draw of the story of the Mayflower Pilgrim’s in British culture. Acknowledging that the meaning of the voyage has altered substantially to suit specific agendas at different points in history, we are aiming to provide a timely lens through which to view the contemporary vogue for historical commemoration. A critical view, across a long chronological range and through a broad thematic scope, will give key insights into the relationship between historical culture and religion, Anglo-American cultural diplomacy, and local tourism and place-making. We are working with local partners in Southampton, particularly the Mayflower Theatre, and also the British Library in London, to bring this project to broader local and national communities. Workshops, public debates, oral history interviews, and theatrical performances will encourage the public to reflect on aspects of the historical retelling of the Mayflower story.

More information can be found here: http://voyagingthroughhistory.exeter.ac.uk/

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QUB Research Project
The Sir Robert Hart Project

Dr Emma Reisz and Dr Aglaia De Angeli

Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911), Inspector General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs from 1863 to 1908, was a key figure in China’s nineteenth-century history and its relations with the West.
 
During his forty-five years as Inspector General, Hart built the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs (CIMC) into the first Western-style administrative institution in China. He also helped to establish the postal service, lighthouses and other key elements of China’s infrastructure. He played a crucial role in China’s imperial politics, significantly influencing its internal reform and diplomatic policy. 
 
The Sir Robert Hart Project includes the transcription of Hart’s diaries in 77 volumes and other elements of the Hart collection, with key elements to be made available online. Dr Emma Reisz and Dr Aglaia De Angeli, historians of China based at Queen's University Belfast, are leading the Sir Robert Hart Project alongside the team at Special Collections in Queen’s University Library, led by Deirdre Wildy. The diary transcription team is coordinated by Dr Kath Stevenson. The Hart Project is working in collaboration with the Institute of Modern History in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing and with the China Customs Museum, Beijing.
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Great Place North Belfast
Great Place Projects in Northern Ireland
Great Place North Belfast

Great Place North Belfast (GPNB) is one of four Great Place projects in Northern Ireland and received funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) and Belfast Charitable Society (BCS). The NLHF’s Great Place scheme aims to provide heritage-led regeneration by allowing communities to explore how their unique heritage can be used to shape their future and tackle wider issues such as poverty, employment, health and education.

Sustainable partnerships are central to the success of the project and the North Belfast Heritage Cluster (NBHC) is at the heart of the project. NBHC is a group of fifteen voluntary organisations that own or care for an historic building (and graveyard!) in north Belfast. Their goal is to make better use of what people care about – the collection of historic buildings and the real stories connected to them – to support economic and social development in the local area. The strength of north Belfast’s heritage is its diversity, and this is represented by the Cluster members. From Grade A listed city landmarks to local places of worship, the Cluster is at the heart of Belfast’s story, both past and future.

The Archive project:

The Archive Development project aims to uncover the history of each Cluster member, increase access to the sites and the stories they tell, and raise awareness of the history and heritage in north Belfast. Practically speaking, this means sorting through any items that are held on-site, identifying the connections between the members, and discovering and recording external sources. The project will enable the Cluster members to begin properly recording their archive material or build on what they have already started.

Whilst they operate together as a Heritage Cluster, the members have vastly different aims, priorities, and visions for the future. Some want to create a comprehensive, catalogued archive that will be stored on-site while others simply want to understand more about the history of their building. The Archive team’s task is to create a cohesive plan of action for each member and ensure that they are all satisfied with the project’s outcome.

Our Progress:

The project pilot began by conducting an initial scoping of each Cluster member’s archive.

A bespoke archive scoping template was created based on RASCAL, Dublin Core Standard and recommendations from PRONI. This template was used at individual meetings with the Cluster members to discuss the archival materials they held, the current state of their archives, and their aims and outcomes for the end of the project. From these meetings, it became clear that the cluster could be categories into three groups based on their progress and aims. This categorisation has formed the foundation for the project’s work plan.  

GPNB has used the months of lockdown to conduct the next phase of external research, revise the individual Action Plans and launch a 4 month ‘Telling Our Stories’ feature across social media platforms to share the Cluster’s stories and connections, and increase engagement with and awareness of the Archive project. The initial scoping exercise has now been completed but recording the archives, creating exhibition material, and increasing local engagement will be a much longer-term project. The next phase – lockdown easing permitting – will be to establish a volunteer base, begin the physical task of locating, sorting and recording resources and develop the opportunity for using oral history to record the history of the members with less physical materials.

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Past Projects

AHRC Project
A Global History of Irish Revolution, 1916-1923

Prof. Fearghal McGarry (PI), Prof. Enda Delaney (Co-I, University of Edinburgh), Dr Darragh Gannon, Dr Patrick Mannion (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Brian Hanley (University of Edinburgh).

This three-year project set out to analyse the global history of the Irish Revolution. One research strand focused on the impact of global influences on the revolution within Ireland. The second was concerned with analysing the significance of Irish nationalism beyond Ireland. Both strands addressed the same overarching question: to what extent must revolutionary change be understood within a global and transnational, as well as a nation-state, framework?

The project team collaborated with a broad range of educational and public history partners to disseminate our research findings. Support from the Irish Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht ensured that a special supplement of History Ireland was distributed to 715 post-primary schools across Ireland. A podcasted series of History IrelandHedge Schools’ exploring the global impact of the Irish Revolution were held in Ireland and the UK. The project developed content for the Boston College/RTÉ Century Ireland website, while Dr Bobbie Nolan worked with the Royal Irish Academy and history-teaching organisations to develop learning resources for A Level and Leaving Cert exams in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The project also worked with the Ulster Museum on its major exhibition marking the centenary of partition which will explore how global factors such as the impact of the First World War and the drawing up of new borders and boundaries as empires collapsed shaped partition in Ireland.

The project was funded by the AHRC and led by Prof. Fearghal McGarry who worked with research fellow Dr Darragh Gannon. The University of Edinburgh research strand was led by Prof. Enda Delaney, alongside Dr Patrick Mannion and Dr Brian Hanley, while Boston College provided another key collaborator.

For further information about the project, see Fearghal McGarry’s article in the Irish Times and Century Ireland.

 

 

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Wellcome Trust/Arts Council NI/Crescent Arts Centre
The Lively Project: Material Objects on the Journey of Life

Dr Leonie HannanDr Gemma CarneyGemma Hodge (artist), Paula Devine (ARK, QUB) and Lorraine Calderwood (Arts Council NI)

The Lively Project is an academic, cultural and public engagement project that began in 2016 and has since led to a number of collaborative outcomes in terms of teaching, research and wider societal impact. The project is anchored in the work of Booker Prize winning novelist Penelope Lively. In 2014, Lively published a memoir Ammonites and Leaping Fish: a life in time. In the final chapter of that memoir, she chooses six objects which ‘articulate something of who I am.’ In 2016 a team of researchers, artists and art professionals took this idea and brought it to life as part of a Wellcome-funded pilot project. Six older people were recruited, who were brave enough to share the objects that tell the story of their lives. Visual artist Gemma Hodge produced a number of pieces of art work which were displayed, with the objects at an exhibition at the The Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast in December 2016. The pilot project gained media coverage, including in The Conversation.

Since then, the team have developed their interdisciplinary approach to the study of ageing through a number of academic activities, including:

  • A new level 2 undergraduate module entitled ‘Questions for an Ageing World’, designed and taught by Carney and Hannan and in its third year.
  • Papers at conferences and seminars including: ‘Narratives of Ageing in the Nineteenth Century’ (University of Lincoln, July 2019); ‘Interdisciplinary Studies of Ageing – how does collaboration between the social sciences, humanities and arts reveal the experience of old age?’ (Queen’s University Belfast, May 2019).
  • Journal articles: Hannan et al., ‘“A View from Old Age”: Women’s lives as narrated through objects’, Life-Writing, 16:1 (2019), pp. 51-67 (reproduced in 2020 by Routledge in M. O’Neill and M. Schrage-Früh, eds, Women and Ageing: Private meaning, social lives); Carney and Hannan, ‘“To Write My Autobiography and Get Myself in Focus Genetically’: G. Stanley Hall’s Senescence (1922)’, Age , Culture, Humanities (forthcoming). A further journal article on ageing and masculinity is in progress.
  • A funded PhD project ‘Material Memoirs on the Journey of Life’ with a 2020 start and supervised by Gemma Carney and Leonie Hannan, student: Ángel Leira-Pernas.

The project seeks to communicate the rich perspective that is provided by living a long life.

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Wellcome Trust Project
Heritage Connects

Dr Olwen Purdue (PI), Dr Leonie Hannan (Co-I),  and Dr James Greer

This Wellcome Trust-funded project explores the relationship between history, community, and social capital, looking at ways in which engagement with local heritage affects wellbeing in urban areas. Taking east Belfast as a case study, where levels of social capital and social cohesion have historically been low and health inequalities high, the project investigates the role of heritage in individuals’ wellbeing and health behaviours. Our study focuses on communities living around historic parks in two different socio-economic areas, Victoria in inner-city and Orangefield in suburban east Belfast, and explores with them the extent and nature of their engagement with historic spaces and places in their area.

Through engagement with local community groups and collaboration with a major MRC-funded study of the health impacts of Connswater Greenway (www.connswatergreenway.co.uk/reports-and-research/parc-study/working-groups/survey), we are testing the potential of heritage to increase physical activity and enhance individuals’ and communities’ sense of connectedness thus contributing to both physical and mental wellbeing.

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Community Project
Boats and Bombardments: Rethinking Hartlepool (First World War Network)

Dr Ann-Marie Foster (PI), Dr Michael Reeve (Co-I, University of Hull) and Diane Stephens (Co-I, Manager Heugh Battery Museum Hartlepool)

This community project, funded by a First World War Network Collaborative Grant, offers a fresh perspective on the bombardment of Hartlepool. The Heugh Battery was the site of the first soldier killed by enemy action on British soil in the First World War. The Heugh Gun Battery, a coastal defence outpost in Hartlepool, North East England, is now a museum dedicated to commemorating the bombardment in which seven soldiers were killed. The project seeks to foster a new understanding of what happened, considering how German troops would have felt about the bombardment, and allowing a greater understanding of the nuances of war to be discussed in a community so affected by it. Community members, volunteers, and academics, will all explore what the Heugh Battery would have looked like from the sea, and, using images of the Heugh Battery from the coast, produce material reflecting on the complexities of modern warfare.

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AHRC Project
The Photographs of Janet Mendelsohn

Dr Kieran Connell and Dr Matthew Hilton (University of Birmingham)

This project (2015-16) explored the photographic archive of Janet Mendelsohn, an American graduate of Harvard University who between 1967 and 1969 was a research student at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. The Centre was established in 1964 by the literary critic Richard Hoggart as a place for the academic study of popular culture; during Mendelsohn’s time in Birmingham she used photography as a tool for her field work, and focussed on Balsall Heath, an infamous ‘red light’ district and site of increasing ethnic diversity. Mendelsohn would take some 3,000 photographs in Balsall Heath, as well conduct scores of interviews with pimps, sex workers and their clients. She published a selection of this work in a local magazine in 1969, and showed it again at an exhibition the US in 1970. After that, her photographs would not be seen in public for more than four decades.

In 2015, the AHRC awarded Kieran Connell (QUB) and Matthew Hilton (University of Birmingham) funds for a project to give Mendeslsohn’s work a new and much larger audience. The project centred around a major public exhibition, held at the ikon Gallery in Birmingham in early 2016; a major symposium was staged on the legacies of Mendeslohn’s work, featuring talks from the Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas and the well-known artist Mishka Henner; a ‘pop up’ exhibition was put on in Balsall Heath, the same area that Mendelsohn had originally documented; and local residents took their own photographs that explored the nature of Balsall Heath today.

For more information about the project, see the Guardian’s review and a podcast that originally aired on BBC Radio 4. The historical context around Mendelsohn’s work is explored in an article by Kieran Connell in History Workshop Journal.

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