President Michael D. Higgins Launches New Research Theme on Changing Identities in Times of Crises

Posted on: 25 April 2013

President Michael D. Higgins launched a major new research theme for Trinity College Dublin at its flagship arts and humanities research institute, the Trinity Long Room Hub.

Identities in Transformation is a research priority theme for the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute and also one of Trinity’s 19 strategic multi-disciplinary research areas. These are research fields in which TCD has a critical mass of world-class researchers, and which have the scale, resources and ability to address important research challenges with considerable social, cultural and economic impact.

The Identities in Transformation theme is a new overarching research focus led by the Trinity Long Room Hub. At its launch, Prof Juergen Barkhoff, the Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub and theme convener, explained what is meant by identity:

“A sense of who we are, what has shaped us, what values we hold, and what drives us, is, in fact, something deeply rooted and very personal. It has its origins in the way family history and national history relate, but also in stories, in public myth and popular imagination. These are the seeds from which many of our convictions and attitudes grow, and as such, they are a particularly important and a rich field of investigation.”

“A clear understanding of identity, both on the level of the individual and the collective, contributes to a strong sense of self and to active and responsible citizenship, especially in times of rapid change and disorientation.  In a period of globalisation, migration as well as increasingly individualised lifestyle choices, research in this area has particular relevance.”

“The new research theme Identities in Transformation will undertake a multi-faceted exploration of the memories and stories that contribute to a sense of identity within Ireland and within Europe, especially where these are contested memories. The results of this research will be most valuable for the discussions about the future of Irish society. It will also enable us to relate with more openness and insight to other cultures and will allow us to position ourselves as a nation with more confidence and a better understanding of the choices we have in a changing European and global landscape.”


As part of ongoing research being conducted in this area, an international research consortium led by Trinity College Dublin has just been awarded over half a million euro in funding from the European Commission. The global research network Spectress, led by Trinity, is investigating how national identities are disrupted by the traumas of history and how societies and nations reshape their collective identities after political and cultural traumas such as war, civil war, genocide, occupation or economic crash.

The network includes cutting-edge global researchers from Yale, the University of Tokyo, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, the University of Sao Paulo as well as from leading institutions in Croatia, Estonia, Germany and Poland. It will offer research fellowships for senior researchers as well as for doctoral students at the participating institutions and will bring the research teams together for five thematic conferences. In Trinity College, it is led by Dr Jennifer Edmond and includes researchers from across the partner Schools of the Trinity Long Room Hub.

Over 70 researchers and their postgraduate research students across 10 of the 24 Schools in Trinity are actively involved in this research theme. They represent and bring together fields as varied as History, Classics, Art History, Music, Drama and Film Studies, English and Irish Studies, Literary and Cultural Studies, Linguistics, Philosophy, Health Sciences, Theology, Peace Studies, Gender Studies, Sociology, Psychology and Neuroscience.


Pictured at the launch of a major new research theme at the Trinity Long Room Hub were Jürgen Barkhoff, Director of TLRH, Professor James Wickham, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, President Michael D. Higgins and Professor Linda Hogan, Vice Provost.

Speaking on the occasion of the launch, President  Michael D. Higgins said: “Culture is fundamental to any considerations of identity. While the term ‘Identity’ might be perceived by some to be an abstract theoretical concept that is difficult to define, there is nothing abstract about the concept of a shared cultural space that carries the open categories of memory and imagination. Rather, it is the space within which various forms of human activity are made possible and becomes, not only a location for artistic endeavour, but also a source of vision for what constitutes a flourishing society, and for Utopian possibilities.”

“I am pleased, therefore, to see that this important research into Identities in Transformation is being undertaken in a multidisciplinary setting. This best allows for an exploration of historic and artistic roots, as well as a fuller discussion on the component elements of identities – including historical myth-making, ethics of memory and the way in which identity discourses are often used, or indeed abused, in pursuit of specific political agendas.”

“I have spoken in the past, and more recently when addressing UNESCO of the importance of the cultural space; of not allowing it to be marginalised and dominated by any narrow model of economics. In recent years we have come to sadly understand and experience the consequences of fragmentation in the social sciences, and we have encountered the results of embracing narrow models at the expense of a more rounded view of what is required to sustain a healthy and flourishing society.”

“We must now create I suggest an agenda for living which recognises the cultural space as a much wider space than any economic space of contestation between the strong and the weak.”

“We must acknowledge the yearning by our citizens for the language of community solidarity and social cohesion and for a distinct identity, both at the level of the individual and the collective that contributes to a strong sense of personal self-worth and to active and participative citizenship.”

“A multi-faceted exploration of the narratives and memories that contribute to our identity within Ireland and within Europe is indispensable for the necessary discussion about what we want Irish society to be and how we wish to shape our destiny.”

Copy of the President’s speech is available at