My project investigates the evolution of agrarian secret societies in Ireland from their resurgence at the eve of the Famine to their eventual decline and absorption into nationalist mass politics during the Land War. I will explore insufficiently understood aspects of this phenomenon, especially how these initially purely agrarian combinations managed to adapt to urban or industrial settings and function as a sort of violent, basic trade union. A key problem in this research context has been the unreliability of the source material, which is usually written from a hostile perspective. Through applying cutting-edge digital methods, I will be able to interrogate this perspective and reconstruct a picture of the activities of historical actors excluded from written discourse.
I will make use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), mapping secret society activity throughout the surveyed period to investigate organisational spread and spatial, infrastructural, and demographic factors that influenced secret society activity. The GIS-based analysis will be complemented by a reading against the grain of source documents and regression analysis to further investigate key incidents and test hypotheses established by the existing literature.
My research touches upon a range of themes which are hotly debated in the humanities and social sciences, such as policing and violence in (post)colonial contexts, dynamics of class in pre-industrial settings, and the role of space and spatiality. It has the potential to make a profound impact in the broader field of historical research in (post)colonial contexts, where similar problems with hostile source material are common. Developing a methodological approach that enables a qualified judgment on the veracity of this source material will be game-changing for this area of study.
My Master’s thesis, which deals with a related phenomenon, can be found here: https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1564817&dswid=-9453.