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Horizon Europe Starting Grants awarded to UCD Arts & Humanities researchers

Posted 11 January 2022

Researchers at University College Dublin have been awarded almost €3 million in funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the EU’s new research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe.

Some 397 early career researchers across Europe received Starting Grants, totalling €619 million, including two academics from UCD College of Arts and Humanities.

Dr Ailise Bulfin, from UCD School of English, Drama and Film, was awarded €1.5m over five years for her project, CSAReps - 'Investigating Fictional Representations of Child Sexual Abuse in Contemporary Culture: Myths and Understanding'. This grant will include funding for two postdoctoral researchers and one research assistant.

The CSAReps project explores the culturally significant but neglected body of fictional works which depict child sexual abuse (CSA), examining not only their representational strategies but also their potential role in shaping people’s understandings of CSA. CSA is a critical issue facing contemporary societies, and one which inspires many fictional representations in creative cultural works.

Despite CSA’s prevalence and potentially serious consequences, it remains relatively taboo and stakeholders refer to a societal ‘flinch’ from engaging with the issue which hinders survivors’ wellbeing. This avoidant response seems to have been inadvertently replicated in literary and cultural studies, in which CSA as a theme is widely overlooked, meaning that its full cultural implications are currently unknown.

"The scale of this ERC award means that my project can shed light not just on how the critical issue of child sexual abuse is represented across the wide range of cultural works that depict it, but also on the ways that these works may affect their audiences," said Dr Bulfin.

"Throughout its conception, the project has been generously supported by the insights and advice of survivors of CSA and support professionals who work with survivors. The award allows me to create knowledge that will be of benefit to these groups and to the wider community as it aims ultimately to illuminate how fictional works may shape public understandings of CSA, which in turn affect CSA prevention efforts and survivors’ health outcomes.

Professor John Brannigan, Head of UCD School of English, Drama and Film said: "We congratulate Ailise on the ERC award for this new and vital research project, which adds to the School's existing strengths on the relationship between literature and public health. Ailise's project will contribute new knowledge of how fictional works provide an important medium for representing child sexual abuse, and in doing so can have wide-ranging consequences from perpetuating damaging myths to enhancing public understandings of the impact of abuse."

Dr Alice Mauger, from UCD School of History, has been awarded €1.4m over five years for her work DIASPORA - 'Deciphering Irish Alcohol and Substance use: Post-war Representations and Accounts', which also includes funding for two postdoctoral researchers and one PhD student.

This project will focus on the Irish in post-war London and New York to provide a nuanced and penetrative investigation of the intersections between alcohol, drug use, mental health, migration and ethnicity.

Among the areas it will look at will be the cultural and societal implications of the ubiquitous ‘drunken Irish’ label; as well as examining expert, State, religious and cultural representations of the Irish in the UK and USA contrasted against the first-hand accounts of Irish migrants.

"I am exceptionally grateful and delighted to receive this ERC Starting Grant. This funding will enable me to lead a team of talented researchers from the fields of alcohol and drugs history and the history of medicine, welfare and mental health to conduct ground-breaking research into the experiences and representations of the Irish using the lens of alcohol and drug use," said Dr Mauger.

“Together, the team will explore how portrayals of the Irish as heavy drinkers, often prone to alcoholism and in some cases drug abuse, has impacted on their lived experiences in post-war London and New York. In particular, we will interrogate why the ‘drunken Irish’ stereotype has remained so prevalent since the Second World War and how it has evolved. In doing so, the project hopes to provide us with a new way of understanding ethnic and racial inequalities and prejudices at a time when these issues are becoming urgent both within and beyond historical scholarship."

Professor William Mulligan, Head of UCD School of History, said: "Alice’s exciting new project, DIASPORA, interrogates long-standing stereotypes and poses significant questions about the complex relationship between migration, ethnic identities, and alcohol and drug use amongst Irish people living in London and New York. Her work enhances UCD School of History’s strengths in the history of medicine, Irish history, and migration."

A total of eight Ireland-based researchers were awarded ERC Starting Grants, which are aim to help “ambitious younger researchers launch their own projects, form their teams and pursue their best ideas.”

The other new Irish awardees are:

  • Dr Maria Aburto, SFI Research Centre APC Microbiome, University College Cork.
  • Dr Eoghan Cunnane, School of Engineering, University of Limerick.
  • Dr Sarah Guerin, SFI Research Centre for Pharmaceuticals, University of Limerick.
  • Dr Piotr Kowalski, SFI Research Centre APC Microbiome, University College Cork.
  • Dr Aisling McMahon, Department of Law, Maynooth University.
  • Dr Qian Lijuan, Department of Music, University College Cork.

“With this very first round of long-awaited grants, I am glad to see the European Research Council remaining a flagship for excellent and curiosity-driven science under the Horizon Europe programme,” said Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

“I am looking forward to seeing what new breakthroughs and opportunities the new ERC laureates will bring, and how they will inspire young people to follow their curiosity and make discoveries for the benefit of us all.”

UCD Vice President for Research Innovation and Impact, Professor Orla Feely added: “I would like to congratulate Ailise and Alice on their success in the highly competitive ERC Starter Grant programme. Their work will deliver insight and impact in two very important areas of research.”

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Caroline Byrne, UCD Research and Innovation)