JMCE Summer Research Award Profile

Northern Ireland & the Political Impacts of Territorial Identity

At the top of one hill in the “City of Saints and Scholars,” statues of saints at the Roman Catholic church gaze across town to the Church of Ireland atop another hill. Both churches are named after St. Patrick. (Armagh, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom)

Are you curious about where CES grants take UNC students? Meet Stephanie Shady, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in UNC’s Political Science Program. A double-major undergrad in Spanish and Political Science from Texas Christian University, she participated in a National Science Foundation summer research fellowship at the University of North Texas. She was awarded the James W. Prothro Award for Research Excellence 2019 for her M.A. thesis, which explores “the effects of internal party division on the clarity of the party’s issue positions across Europe.” Stephanie is very active with National Model United Nations, and teaches political sciences courses at UNC. This summer, Stephanie was a recipient of the CES Jean Monnet Center of Excellence Summer Research Award, and took this opportunity to study the political impacts of territorial identity in Northern Ireland.

Q: What is your primary research focus?

A: I am interested in the role of territorial identities in shaping political attitudes and behavior. My dissertation seeks to understand the intersection of overlapping territorial and other social identities as they affect European identity and attitudes towards the EU, and I am currently comparing responses to Brexit across different social groups in the United Kingdom to study these dynamics. In particular, I am unpacking the ways in which religion and subnational identities interact to shape public opinion. I plan to expand this research to a more generalizable theory about the way that subnational identities influence individuals’ identification with Europe and attitudes towards European integration.

Pictured Left: A unionist mural on the side of a home memorializes a man who died during the Troubles. Unionist murals are often characterized by dedications to individuals and military honor. (Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom) Pictured Right: Some murals, such as this one painted by Irish nationalists, express solidarity with other communities worldwide who are minority populations inside a nation-state. (Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom)

Q: How has the JMCE Summer Research Award enriched your research on the EU?

A: The JMCE Summer Research Award allowed me to travel to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to enrich the theoretical portion of my dissertation. During my stay in Belfast, I participated in city council events designed to promote dialogue between the Catholic and Protestant communities; consulted a set of interdisciplinary faculty who research nationalism, religion, and terrorism in Northern Ireland as a Visiting Research Associate at Queen’s University Belfast; and interviewed a member of the Northern Ireland regional assembly about his party’s strategies for appealing to voters in a divided society. I also immersed myself in two smaller towns near the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where I spoke with people about the ways they are wrestling with the uncertainty that continues to surround Brexit. This trip has enhanced my understanding of the complexities of this island from a variety of different social, economic, and political angles, which has helped me progress in developing not only my dissertation project, but also a larger research agenda for my future work.

Q: What was your favorite part of traveling in Northern Ireland?

A: My favorite part of the trip was a walking tour of murals and the ‘Peace Wall’ in north Belfast with the Good Relations unit of the City Council. A professor led the group, which included residents from both unionist (predominantly Protestant) and nationalist (predominantly Catholic) communities, and explained differences in the way the communities use murals to communicate their message. Something that particularly stood out to me was the conversations that participants held as we walked. One man remarked that he had served jury duty at the now crumbling courthouse in the 1980s; another woman said she used to be a nurse in the nearby hospital but had not been to this part of town in years.

Along the Falls Road, a memorial garden that is still actively tended to today memorializes those who died during the Troubles in both English and Irish Gaelic. (Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom)

One Protestant woman said this was the first time she had set foot on the Falls Road (a predominantly Catholic street where Sinn Féin’s office and an Irish Republican Army memorial garden are located). The experience in these neighborhoods was, of course, totally new to me, but I was struck by the fact that some of the places we walked were also new to people who had grown up in Belfast. It was a poignant illustration of the parallel lives each community experiences despite their proximity in the same city, not only during the Troubles, but to some extent even today.

Q: What advice would you give to someone applying for the JMCE Award?

A: Make sure that your proposal highlights the background work you have already done on your proposed topic and how your travel will expand upon that work. It is likely that the trip will present opportunities you do not expect or teach you something you did not anticipate, but if you have done thorough background research, you will have the tools to analyze those unexpected turns. Additionally, highlight the broader skills and topics in which you have developed expertise, and think creatively in your proposal about how this set of skills makes you uniquely qualified to conduct your research from the specific angle you are proposing.

A huge thank-you to Stephanie Shady for providing responses and photos of her travels, and we wish her the best as she continues her research!

To learn more about where CES grants send students, visit the Student section of our blog.

For more information on the JMCE Summer Research Award, and how to apply, visit CES’s website.

This post was written by EURO Major Brett Harris.

The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.