Hi Sarah. What brought you to the University of Manchester?
I was lucky enough, in 2011, to be offered a position working on an ESRC [Economic and Social Research Council] project led by Julie-Marie Strange and Bertrand Taithe.
What first interested you in history?
There’s the standard answer, I suppose, that it was always my favourite subject at school. But some of my earliest memories are also of walking around the area I grew up in with my father, and him dispensing little historical facts about the place. Some of them were probably wrong, admittedly – it turns out that the Duke of Wellington didn’t get married in the ruined church in our village – but it got me interested!
What is your current and future research, and what are you teaching this year?
I’m in the final stages of preparing a book on religion and emigration from nineteenth-century Ireland, to be published next year. I’m also planning a couple of spin-offs from this, the first of which concerns religious fundraising among the Irish at home and abroad. If you’ve ever been in any Catholic church in Ireland, particularly, you do tend to wonder how a supposedly ‘peasant’ society managed to pay for what are often such amazing buildings.
This year I’m teaching one module: a level three course on the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s.
You’re currently working on an ERSC project, could you tell us a bit about it?
Yes, it’s about charity fundraising in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. The theory is that it was a time of enormous competition and innovation in charitable entrepreneurship, and at a time of a rising consumer society. Historians have tended to be preoccupied with the work done with the money raised rather than how the money was generated in the first place. It has a genuine relevance for charities and NGOs working today, and it’s interesting to see that many of the same kinds of fundraising methods they use were being employed 150 years ago.
Do you have a favourite historian, and if so, what makes this historian stand out?
I don’t really go in for favourites in any field, but there are obviously historians I like for different reasons. Reading the American historian of migration Kerby Miller is what set me off on my initial research; he’s full of provocative and engaging opinions. I also like the work of the late historian of Ireland and Australia, Patrick O’Farrell. He wrote very well, which I think is important for an historian, but not always achieved. His book ‘Ireland’s English question’ is an underrated classic of Irish history, I think.
And finally, have you got any words of wisdom for undergraduates?
When I was a first year undergraduate I can remember a tutor telling me about this great new website called ‘Google’, but I guess you’ve all heard of that now! No, I would say read as many books as you can, both for your modules and outside of them, because you may never have as much time to do so again.