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Research profile: Dr Rachel Murphy

RachelMurphy_IntlWomensDayBlogDr Rachel Murphy, Department of History, University of Limerick

I have been lecturing on the MA History of Family at the University of Limerick since September 2018.  I am myself an alumna of this course, having studied here under course director Dr Ciara Breathnach in 2008.  I am very much enjoying being back at UL where I teach a wonderful group of students who are passionate about their research.

The history of family considers the changing concept of family and related subjects such as childhood, historical demography, marriage patterns, migration and inheritance as they existed in the past.  The MA History of Family is taught simultaneously in the classroom and online – we can be in a classroom in Limerick discussing a journal article with students in Australia or Canada. The course has a broad appeal and the diversity of our students makes our classes particularly engaging.

Although much of my time is spent on teaching and supervision, like all academics I must also generate and disseminate new research.  I am currently working on three journal articles: two on aspects of the history of family and a third on environmental history.  I will also be delivering a paper at the European Society of Historical Demography’s annual conference in Pécs, Hungary this summer.

As well as the history of family, my research interests include landed estates and landholding, rural history, environmental history, local history and digital and spatial humanities. 

These are reflected in my doctoral thesis: ‘Place, Community and Organisation on the Courtown Estates, 1649-1977’.  I received four years’ funding from the Irish government to complete my PhD in History and Digital Humanities at University College Cork (UCC), learning to apply digital tools and techniques to historical research. During this time I undertook a Higher Diploma in Geographical Information Systems, and was one of a team of six who created a digital edition of Mary Martin’s diary: ‘A Family at War: Mary Martin’s Diary, 1 January – 25 May 1916’.

For my PhD internship I worked with the Irish Historic Towns Atlas (IHTA) project at the Royal Irish Academy.  I devised a digital strategy for them which resulted in the creation of IHTA Digital. This provides access to digital editions of the atlases and GIS-based projects, such as the Digital Atlas of Fethard, a project I was involved in last year, funded by the Heritage Council and Fethard Historical Society.  I continue to work with the IHTA on a consultancy basis.

I enjoy collaborating with others, particularly on interdisciplinary projects. Before returning to UL, I was a postdoctoral researcher on the Irish Research Council-funded project Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures, based at UCC.  The principal investigators were Prof. Claire Connolly (English) and Dr Rob McAllen (Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences).  Other team members included an archaeologist, art historian, ecologist and marine biologist. I learned a great deal working with colleagues from other disciplines.

IWD Rachel

In terms of my career history, I am not perhaps your typical history lecturer.  After completing my first degree at the University of Oxford I spent twenty years working in business before returning to academia.  I enjoyed a varied career – from business development in China at Lloyd’s of London to strategy consulting with Accenture.  After achieving a Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered institute of Marketing, I worked as marketing manager for PayPal UK and then as head of marketing for eBay Ireland.  I have found that many of the skills I learned in business are transferrable to academia.

This International Women’s Day the theme is #balanceforbetter – and as a woman in academia I am acutely aware that we have some way to go before we will achieve gender equality.  Programmes such as the Advance HE Aurora development programme bring together leadership experts and higher education institutions to facilitate women in achieving their leadership potential. While at UCC I was selected to be one of the 2017/18 Aurora cohort in Ireland and it certainly made me think differently about what I could achieve in my own career.

Over the course of my working life I have learned the importance of having good mentors and role models. I have received so much support from colleagues, male and female, over the years in this regard and I firmly believe in ‘paying it forward’.  This is embodied for me in Libby Vander Ploeg’s animated GIF “We Got This” (AKA Lift Each Other Up).

Small acts of kindness can go a long way towards achieving #balanceforbetter.

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