Challenging Beliefs about the ‘Irish’ and ‘English’ at Home and Abroad

Submitting Institution

Northumbria University Newcastle

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Other Studies In Human Society
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Research produced at Northumbria on migration to and from Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has enriched the presentation and understanding of cultural heritage and public discourse in the North East of England and in South Carolina. It has contributed to the creation of:

1) a permanent exhibit at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle

2) a series on Englishness at the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle

3) an exhibition in Charleston, South Carolina that will become the first permanent digital exhibition in the Lowcountry Digital Archive

This research has shaped the cultural sector's historical understanding of the role played by migration on English and Irish identity and resulted in more durable collaborations between history at Northumbria and public history practitioners.

Underpinning research

There are three elements to the research behind this impact case study. While at Northumbria between 2000 and 2004 Professor Don MacRaild (Chair of History) conducted research on the Orange Order in the North of England, which utilised unique North East archives held by the Orange Order. This work was the first to examine the associational culture of the Orange Order in the North of England. The research has demonstrated that the majority of northern Orangemen were Irish and that Protestants were a constant feature in the broader context of Irish migration to Britain. The extent and concentration of this denominational aspect of Irish migration had been until that point underappreciated. Furthermore, this research demonstrated the important role played by Irish women through the formation of Ladies Orange Lodges, particularly the role of Elizabeth Montgomery, a pioneering lady lodge member and founder of the Rose of Hebburn Lodge, in the early 1900s.These works underpinned specific impacts relating to the representation of ethnic and gender backgrounds in cultural images of the North East. The research is based upon large amounts of quantitative census data and unique archives of the northern Loyal Orange Institution.

A second strand of research is related to an ESRC-funded project (2003-2006) on Irish migration using a technique called `isonymic analysis' from biological anthropology to explore patterns of Irish migration through surname distributions (this research was conducted by MacRaild with the anthropologist Malcolm T. Smith of Durham University). This research served to further illustrate the high proportions of Ulster emigrants in the far north of England. These insights are highly original and have not been discussed to the same extent by other scholars. Certain clusters of names were strongly associated with Ulster, since the region (with its strong Scottish influences) had a quite distinctive set of names' characteristics from the rest of Ireland (even though names in the other three provinces are also highly regionally specific). This research in turn informed curatorial processes and the development of overarching narratives within the exhibition.

Thirdly, research by MacRaild, Bueltmann, and Gleeson on the `hidden diaspora,' funded in part by a major AHRC grant in 2011, explores the reality of the English as a diaspora in North America, similar to the Irish and Scots. An opening conference helped bring together scholars already working on Englishness in England and abroad and produced a volume on where the field stood in 2012.

References to the research

MacRaild, D., (2005) `Faith, Fraternity and Fighting: the Orange Order and Irish Migrants in England', c.1850-1920 (Liverpool University Press, 2005). DOI:10.5949/UPO9781846313110 MacRaild, D., [with Smith, M], `Origins of the Irish in Northern England: An Isonymic Analysis of Data from the 1881 Census', Immigrants & Minorities, vol. 27, nos 2/3 (2009), 152-77. MacRaild, The Irish Diaspora in Britain, 1750-1939 (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010). DOI: 10.1080/02619280903128095


Bueltmann, Gleeson and MacRaild, eds.,(2012) Locating the Hidden Diaspora: The English in the Anglo-phone World, Liverpool University Press. — Available on request from HEI

Bueltmann and MacRaild, `The Global St. George' Journal of Global History vol. 7 no.1 (March 2012), 79-105. DOI: 10.1017/S1740022811000593



Malcolm Smith, Donald M. MacRaild, and Anthony Hepburn, `Application of Isonymic Analysis to Historical Data: Irish Migration to Britain, 1851-1901,' ESRC Research Grant Jan. 2003-Jan 2006. £178,000

Donald M. MacRaild. David T. Gleeson, Tanja Bueltmann, `Locating the English Diaspora: The English in North America in Transatlantic Perspective', AHRC Major Research Grant, Oct. 2011-Oct. 2014. £286,000.

Details of the impact

Upon learning of Northumbria History's specialisation on migration research through contacts with the British and Irish Worlds Research Group (B&IW) in history, the Discovery Museum, a science and local history museum and the largest component organisation of the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum Group (TWAM), decided to work with us on a new exhibition in April 2012 (Source 1). The project manager for the development of a £400,000 new permanent exhibition space — which opened in July 2013 — needed research expertise to ensure the historical accuracy of the planned content for the exhibition on `The Making of Modern Tyneside'. The purpose of the exhibition is to demonstrate to the wider public that migration has been a constant feature of life on Tyneside since 1840. In particular, Little recognised that this intervention helped her `understand the significance of the Orange Order in the region [which] has also informed the character selection [for the six planned life narratives] and the curatorial process more broadly'. Of the six life narratives that had originally been selected to frame the exhibition three were changed as a result of this early dialogue to reflect the occupational, gender and ethnic realties of nineteenth-century migration to the North East (Source 1). One of these life narratives is derived in whole from McRaild's research (`Mrs Montgomery'), whilst a further two are also substantially based on it. Thus, over 50% of the exhibition content has been shaped by Northumbria-based research. The research has also supported the production of a script (translated from academic outputs with a popular audience in mind) for an actor playing the local Orangewoman, Eliza Montgomery (Source 3).

In addition, research derived from the `Isonymy' project provides the material for an interactive `hub' area in the exhibition. The museum staff reported that the narratives had provided `invaluable historical research in a format that has been tailored in order to allow museum staff to access key information in the most efficient way and then to feed that into the curatorial process.' (Source 1). This work has not only informed the display content and shape of the exhibition, but it has also enabled the museum to develop durable partnerships with Northumbria academics. Gleeson has been organising training sessions for Archive and Museum Staff at Northumbria around transforming public history into academic research as well has helping museum and archive staff develop professional academic development plans (Source 5). The former Director of TWAM notes: `As a result of academic involvement, staff have been exposed to new academic thought which has encouraged them to engage in further research themselves. Newly acquired knowledge and skills have then been applied to museum practice, for example, gallery text writing, guidebook publication or delivery of a conference paper. Museum staff involved in the planning of our new gallery, Destination Tyneside, benefited hugely from the breadth and depth of academic subject knowledge and the advice and guidance offered as to how to break down the information to fit gallery themes and audiences.' (Source 5).

Northumbria staff also supported the Discovery Museum's successful Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid in 2012 (Source 2). This has enabled a two-year activity programme, starting in July 2013 when the exhibition opened, that is directly associated with the content of the permanent exhibition. The programme is designed to engage local communities and to give expression to their own `tales of migration and belonging.'

In terms of more direct impact on the public in the North East and beyond, the AHRC-funded `Locating the Hidden Diaspora' team, led by Co-I and impact coordinator Gleeson, held a series of public lectures entitled `Icons of Englishness' linked to research for the English Diaspora project on the global images of Englishness, at the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle in April 2013, culminating on St. George's Day with an examination of the Global St. George (based on the Bueltmann and MacRaild article). Over 120 people came to the series and 86 completed surveys with 85% agreeing that the lecture they attended had `increased their knowledge of a symbol of Englishness' and 79% agreed that their `knowledge of the connections between English symbols and English identity' had `increased.' One wrote that the discussion of the Global St. George `brought my attention to symbols of Englishness about which I had not previously thought.' Another learned that `people away from England celebrate Englishness more than those remaining.' At the session on Morris dancing one respondent noted the talk made him/her think more about `the selective ways which aspects of Englishness are embraced and manipulated at home and abroad' (Source 4).

Gleeson, Bueltmann and MacRaild organised and opened an exhibition at the College of Charleston library in Charleston, South Carolina, in May 2013 entitled `England the English and English Culture in North America', to run through the major arts festival week in Charleston (Piccolo/SpoletoUSA), and helped bring the Hexham Morris Group to participate in the Piccolo festival and perform a concert on the history of Morris to an American audience linked to grant research on English culture in North America. Charleston is a city with strong English connections and has the oldest St. George's Society in North America. These activities resulted in a request by the Lowcountry Digital Library, a major open source archive on American history, to establish a permanent digital exhibit on its website with links to primary sources used in the project research. This digital exhibition will become a role model on its site for how physical exhibitions can become permanent digital ones, thus expanding the scope and purpose of the Library (Source 6).

Sources to corroborate the impact

1) Email letter from History Keeper, Discovery Museum [corroborates impact of MacRaild's research and advice on the curatorial practice in TWAM exhibition]

2) HLF bid support letter from Northumbria University [corroborates support for HLF bid]

3) Email letter from Producer, Centre Screen Productions [corroborates impact of MacRaild's research to TWAM exhibition film]

4) English Diaspora website: [corroborates feedback from Icons of Englishness and includes links to press coverage]

5) Email letter from former Director of TWAM [Corroborates training sessions for TWAM staff]

6) Email letter from Director of the Lowcountry Digital Library, [corroborates Charleston exhibition and digital exhibition]