Dr Colleen Taylor
School of English
Colleen Taylor joins UCC after earning her PhD from Boston College, where she researched and taught eighteenth-century British and Irish literature. She also holds an M.Phil from Trinity College Dublin and a BA from Fordham University. Colleen has been the recipient of the Dalsimer Fellowship, the Queens University Belfast Irish Studies Exchange fellowship, the IASIL scholarship, and the American Conference for Eighteenth-century Studies Innovative Course Design award. Her work has appeared in journals such as Eire-Ireland, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, and Persuasions, and the essay collection Ireland, Enlightenment, and the English Stage, 1740-1820 (Cambridge UP). Colleen also writes a music column for The Irish Echo in New York.
“Irish Writing and the New Materialism: Objects of Irish Character, 1720-1830”
Tourist shops in Ireland today display popular objects that have emblematized Irish identity since the eighteenth century: things like handmade cloaks, Celtic ornaments, and white linen. My project takes a closer look at these quintessential Irish materials to study how they influenced development of Irish national literature. What happens when we look at these objects as more than just symbols?
This project applies recent theoretical work in new materialism to Irish studies. A field emerging against the background of a changing globe, new materialism addresses the limits of human power by embracing matter’s agency in shaping human culture.
I analyze four significant objects in eighteenth-century Ireland—coins, mantles, flax, and spinning wheels—as case studies for a changing Irish identity and emerging Irish novelistic subject between 1720 and 1830, moving from the national writings of Jonathan Swift to the feminist novels of Sydney Owenson. My research sees these objects as actively shaping Britain’s paternalistic model of Anglo-Irish relations. For example, coins stamped with the Hibernian typeface helped express a conflicted sense of Irish national identity in the wake of the Williamite wars, while methods of spinning flax for linen naturalized the feminine characterization of Ireland within Britain’s imperial ideology.
In examining how matter shaped Irish culture, I seek to challenge dominant Anglocentric models of literary character. Literary critics now agree we can trace the novelistic aesthetic of human depth and interiority to the eighteenth century. I analyze the material details of eighteenth-century Irish life to demonstrate how the development of that deep, psychological character unfolds in a unique way in Irish literature. These objects structure an interior but inaccessible depth to Irish character that points to gendered, colonial violence. Using Ireland, I demonstrate how theories of character must be grounded in specific material contexts and argue for the integration of new materialist and postcolonial approaches to literary study.