‘A public display of its own capabilities and resources': A Cultural History of Irish Identity on Display, 1851-2015

Shahmima Akhtar

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis traces constructions of Irish identity in national and international displays between 1851 and 1939 as Ireland moved from a colonial to an independent state. As a cultural history of Irish identity, the thesis argues that the exhibitions were a formative platform for imagining a host of Irish pasts, presents and futures. Fair organisers responded to the contexts of famine and poverty, migration and diasporic settlement, independence movements and partition, and my original insight is to demonstrate how Irish businesses and labourers as well as the elite organisers of the fairs presented their own identity. The central malleability of Irish identity on display emerged in tandem with the unfolding of Ireland’s political transformation from a colony of the British Empire, a migrant community in the United States, to a divided Ireland in the form of the Republic and Northern Ireland – a separation that continues today. Exhibitions are a key conduit for assessing the changing landscape of Irishness over two centuries by focusing on the politics of display. This thesis presents an original account of neglected exhibitions of the Irish and so provides an important contribution to historiographies on Exhibitions, Ireland and Empire, and Race.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Birmingham
Award date2 Sept 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019

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