Led by Professor Graham Dawson, this research area investigates the complexities, contradictions and contestations entailed in efforts towards ‘dealing with the past’ and transforming the legacies of violent political conflict, in the context of the peace process to resolve the conflict in and over Northern Ireland. Building on his acclaimed monograph, Making Peace with the Past? Memory, Trauma and the Irish Troubles (2007), since 2008 Professor Dawson has published several articles in edited books and academic journals exploring questions of memory in relation to the ‘legacy issues’ of truth, justice and reconciliation, to experiences and representations of ‘victims/survivors’ and ‘ex-combatants’, and to the politics of space and place, in so-called ‘post-conflict’ culture in the North of Ireland since the restoration of devolved government. Over that time he has also given over thirty lectures and public talks at universities and other public institutions in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia and South Africa.
Four doctoral students located and supervised within CMNH are currently working on histories, memories, legacies and representations of the Northern Ireland conflict. Garikoitz Gomez Alfaro is holder of the ‘Landscapes of Affect’ University of Brighton fully-funded studentship for his project, ‘Mapping Postconflict Memory: Affective landscapes, imagined geographies and the politics of of time in Derry/Londonderry (Northern Ireland) and Portbou (Spain)’. Ken Clarry’s practice-based PhD on 'The Spectre of Violence in Contemporary Political Art Practices’ includes work on Ireland. Fearghus Roulston, holder of an AHRC/TECHNE fully-funded consortium studentship, is researching the history and memory of punk in Belfast in relation to sectarianized space and identities, and questions of resistance and transgression within the city. Lucy Newby also holds a fully-funded AHRC/TECHNE studentship for her oral history project, ‘Reflecting upon youth experience during the Troubles: the trans-generational transmission of memory in post-conflict Belfast’.
CMNH has benefited from Professor Dawson’s strong links with scholars and practitioners in HEIs and other organisations in the North of Ireland. These include Ulster University (where he has acted as External Examiner for PhDs on 'Audiovisual Storytelling in Post-Conflict Northern Ireland' and ‘The Role of Community Oral History Archives in Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland’), Queen’s University Belfast, INCORE in Derry/ Londonderry, theDúchas Oral History Archive at the Falls Community Council in West Belfast, the victims’ support group West Tyrone Voice, the NGO Healing Through Remembering, the Prisons Memory Archive currently based at Queens, and the Belfast-based community theatre company, Kabosh. CMNH has hosted a number of speakers from Ireland at its events: Professor Brandon Hamber (INCORE) was keynote speaker at our conference on ‘The Irish Troubles in Britain’; the film-makers Professor Cahal McLaughlin and Dr Jolene Mairs spoke in the seminar series 2011–12 and ‘Public Lives, Private Lives’ postgraduate research conference in 2010 respectively; Claire Hackett (Falls Community Council) gave a paper in the seminar series 2013–14; Dr Emilie Pine (University College Dublin), co-ordinator of the Irish memory Studies network, spoke at the ‘New Approaches in the History and Memory of War and Conflict’ conference in 2013; and Dr Gary McGladdery (Queen’s University Belfast) and Paula McFetridge (Kabosh Theatre Company, Belfast) spoke at the symposium on The Brighton ‘Grand Hotel’ Bombing: History, Memory and Political Theatre in 2014. In 2016-17 Prof. Dawson will be collaborating with the Dúchas Archive on the Lanark Way Community History project, supported by Belfast City Council and the University of Brighton.
CMNH has also pioneered research on the Northern Ireland Troubles in Britain. This has developed principally through a long-term collaboration with partners at the University of Leicester and the Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace at the Warrington Peace Centre. By initiating sustained research into the involvement of the British State and British people in the violent political conflict over Northern Ireland and the peace process to resolve that conflict, this collaboration addresses a neglected and marginalised topic both in the history of Britain since 1945 and in contemporary public debate in Britain. Launched with a grant from the University of Brighton’s Research Network Fund in 2011, the partnership organised a national conference (with international participation) on 'The Northern Ireland Troubles in Britain: Impacts, Engagements, Legacies and Memories’, hosted by CMNH in 2012. This brought together academic scholars working within and across a range of disciplines – including literature, cultural studies, history, politics, sociology, social policy, Irish studies, film and media studies, performance studies, human geography – and also former political activists, peace-builders, artists and writers, community historians, members of the Irish-in-Britain community, former members of the police and armed services, and family-members of former servicemen. A book of the same title emerging out of this conference, and co-edited by Prof. Dawson with Stephen Hopkins and Jo Dover, is published by Manchester University Press. Editorial work on the collection involves close work with both academic and non-academic contributors to develop and produce their writing to a consistent publishable standard without sacrificing the particularity of the various voices and forms of writing represented in the collection.
This conference also led to the creation of a network with plans to coordinate further research and commemorative activities, and to establish an archive of the Northern Ireland conflict in Britain. Network members participated, as speakers and delegates, in a two-part symposium and dramatic performance co-organised and hosted by CMNH and the Brighton-based theatre company, Wildspark, under the auspices of the Understanding Conflict: Forms and Legacies of Violence research cluster, entitled The Brighton ‘Grand Hotel’ Bombing: History, Memory and Political Theatre. Organised to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the bombing, in October 2014, the symposium explored histories and memories of the Provisional IRA’s bombing campaign in England and the counter-insurgency measures adopted by British State; and the role of political theatre in relation to this, and other, political conflict. Scholars at the University of Brighton participated in debate with other academics, theatre practitioners, peace-builders and political and community activists from Brighton, Britain and Ireland.
The centre-piece of the event – the rehearsed reading of a play, The Bombing of the Grand Hotel, currently being developed by Wildspark’s playwrights – attracted wide media coverage from TV, radio and both online news and the printed press locally, as well as nationally in Britain and Ireland. Prof. Dawson was interviewed about the significance of the bombing and its anniversary commemoration for local radio station Heart Sussex and for ITV Meridian News. The Dublin-based political newspaper, An Phoblacht/Republican News, carried a detailed report on the symposium, and the event was also covered in the Irish Post, newspaper of the Irish in Britain. Proceedings of the symposium are to be published in the Centre’s Working Papers in Memory, Narrative and Histories series; the play had eighteen performances at the Cockpit Theatre, London, in April 2015 and was also staged three times at The Warren in the Brighton Festival Fringe in May 2015.