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OHNI Annual Lecture 2019 – Wed 4 Dec 2019

The Oral History Network of Ireland, in association with the National Library of Ireland, invites you to its annual lecture.

The oral historian as insider and outsider: writing history
commissioned by the State:

Sean O’Connell, Professor of Modern British and Irish Social History,
Queen’s University, Belfast

Wednesday 4th December 2019 at 7pm
National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street Dublin 2

Admission is free, but booking is required. To register, please use the link here.

This event will be followed by the OHNI Christmas Reception.


This talk will focus on the challenges and difficulties faced by historians tasked with probing contentious historical issues on behalf of the State.  In this case this involves research undertaken at Queen’s University Belfast and at the University of Ulster examining the history of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland. 

A great deal of controversy has surfaced in the Republic of Ireland in recent years about what has been labelled the ‘nation’s architecture of containment’, a significant part of which was made up of homes for unmarried mothers and the Magdalene laundries in which thousands of Irish women were incarcerated across the twentieth century. After years of lobbying by the United Nations, Amnesty International and groups such as Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice NI, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland commissioned a team of historians, in 2017, to examine archival evidence and collect oral histories on the Northern Ireland versions of these institutions.  This paper examines how the oral history side of the project was negotiated in the context of the competing perspectives and expectations of government, victims and survivors, the media and the institutions under scrutiny in the research.

Sean O’Connell is Professor of Modern Irish and British social history at Queen’s University Belfast. He has been an oral historian for almost 30 years. He is an editor of Oral History and is a director of QUOTE Hub, Queen’s University’s oral history collective. O’Connell has developed oral history at Queen’s via the award winning undergraduate module Recording History, which collaborates with the BBC to produce radio documentaries. His research has often encompassed what might be labelled difficult oral histories, with work on topics such as the history of moneylending and  the history of joyriding as well as the current project on mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries. 

O’Connell is the author of four monographs (the latest being The politics of consumer credit in the UK, 1938-1992 for OUP) and numerous articles in journals such as Economic History Review and Journal of British Studies. Irish oral historians might be most interested in his article ‘The Troubles with a lower case t: undergraduate students and Belfast’s difficult history’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 28 (2018).