Irish professor wins €2.5m grant to study migration in Victorian Britain
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Irish professor wins €2.5m grant to study migration in Victorian Britain

A PROFESSOR of English at University College Dublin (UCD) has been awarded a significant grant to research migration in Victorian-era Britain and its impact on society.

Professor Gerardine Meaney, an expert on the application of new digital methodologies to humanities research at UCD, has received the European Research Council’s (ERC) Advanced Grant of €2.5 million for the five-year study.

She will lead a team of researchers on the project, which will focus on migration and culture in the Victorian period and involve text analysis of nearly 36,000 books held in the British Library Nineteenth Century Corpus - which will be shared with the team in digital format.

“I am delighted to have been awarded this ERC Advanced Grant which will allow me and the team to identify the long term impact of immigration on Victorian culture and the influence of Victorian attitudes in the 21st century,” Professor Meaney, a Professor of Cultural Theory at UCD’s School of English, Drama and Film and Director of UCD’s Centre for Cultural Analytics, said.

"The project will address these questions through analysis of a very large scale dataset,  but it is ultimately concerned with the potential of literature to create a shared culture, to allow us to reimagine and rewrite the stories we tell ourselves about who we were, who we are and who we might become.”

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The study, titled European Migrants in the British Imagination: Victorian and Neo-Victorian Culture (VICTEUR), will combine data analytics and literary criticism to investigate representations of migrants and by migrants in Victorian fiction.

The main Victorian case studies will be Irish, Italian and Eastern European Jewish migrants, while the study will also compare and contrast the representation of migration in neo-Victorian global transmedia in the 21st century.

Dr Derek Greene, an Assistant Professor in the UCD School of Computer Science, and an expert in the field of machine learning, will collaborate with Professor Meaney on the study. Dr Greene is also a Funded Investigator at the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics at UCD, which will provide computational support for the project.

He said: “As part of this study, we will apply text mining methods to study a corpus consisting of nearly 36,000 digitised books from the British Library, using UCD’s Curatr natural language processing platform.

"Based on these analyses, the project will then trace the residual impact of these cultural representations in modern neo-Victorian fiction, film, and television, by combining methodologies from data science, digital humanities, and cultural memory studies.”

Professor Meaney is one of 185 researchers and scientists from across Europe who have received funding in the recent round of ERC Advanced Grants - which were worth a total of €450 million - as part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

ERC Advanced Grants are awarded under the ‘excellent science pillar’ of Horizon 2020 and awardees are exceptional leaders in their field with track records of significant research achievements in the last ten years.

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Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact, said: “Congratulations to Professor Gerardine Meaney on securing this highly competitive and prestigious ERC Advanced Grant. Her project, conducted in collaboration with Dr Derek Greene, is an excellent example of how digital techniques can be combined with humanities research, and how examination of the past can illuminate the present.”

The ERC evaluated 1,881 research proposals in the latest competition, just under 10 per cent of which were selected for funding.

The grantees will carry out their projects at universities and research centres in 20 countries across Europe.

The grants will also lead to the creation of some 1,800 new jobs for postdocs, PhD students and other research staff.