Dr Sorcha O'Brien

School: School of Critical Studies and Creative Industries
Position: Senior Lecturer in Design History & Theory

Biography

Sorcha is a design historian interested in technology and identity, in both physical and digital forms. She is currently working on an AHRC-funded research project on the introduction of electrical products into the Irish home in the wake of rural electrification in the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on issues of domesticity and gender roles, as well the promotion and meaning of these mostly imported products.

Sorcha joined the Faculty in 2012, having spent more than 10 years teaching design history and theory at NCAD and the Institute of Art, Design & Technology in Dun Laoghaire. She completed her AHRC-funded PhD dissertation on the representation of electrical technology in 1920s Ireland at the University of Brighton, part of which has been published in the anthology Ireland, Design and Visual Culture: Negotiating Modernity 1922-1992.

She is the co-editor of the anthology Love Objects: Emotion, Design and Material Culture, which examines the emotional potency of objects as physical embodiments of love, particularly in relation to identity and relationships. Sorcha is also a subject editor for the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, looking after approximately 450 entries on designers and studios, written by a group of 40 international scholars.

Related links

Research expertise

My research interests focus around two main issues, that of technology and identity in design and material culture. I am currently an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow, working on a research project entitled 'The Electrification of the Rural Irish Home: Housewives, Electrical Products and Domesticity in the 1950s and 1960s', in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland, Country Life. This project looks at the influence of the rural electrification project carried out in the Republic of Ireland by the Electricity Supply Board, which allowed many rural Irish households access to electricity for the first time.

Although domestic electric products, particularly 'labour saving devices' for preparing food or cleaning, were seen as modernising and liberating technologies in many other countries, this project will use object analysis, archival research and oral history to consider to what extent these meanings held in the Republic of Ireland. This research will be carried out in the context of dominant Irish establishment attitudes to the domestic role of women, at a time when established gender roles were unchallenged by war work and prioritised domesticity for married women.

In addition, I am also interested in wider issues surrounding technology and identity in design, whether digital or analogue. With a background in industrial and digital design, I am interested in issues surrounding the design of computers and networked devices, critical design and the creation of online and filmic worlds, as well as the pedagogy involved in using digital technology in education. I welcome research students pursuing research in any of these areas, as well as national or personal identity in relation to product or domestic design and technology.

Research student supervision


Nina Holmes: State-Issued Design in the 20th Century: Irish Government Health Campaigns (1970s - 1990s) (PhD)


Maria Costantino: The Contemporary Fitted Kitchen: Object, Space and Sign (MRes, 2013)

Teaching areas & responsibilities

Design History & Theory – BA(Hons) Product & Furniture Design

Professional activity

  • 2012 - 2014External Examiner, BA Product Design, BA Digital Media Design & BA Graphic Design, Letterkenny Institute of Technology
  • 2008 - 2010External Examiner, BA Industrial Design & BA Product Design Innovation, Carlow Institute of Technology
  • 2007 - 2010External Examiner, BA Visual Communications & BA Ceramics, Cork Institute of Technology

Educational and professional qualifications

  • 2011PhD History of Design University of Brighton
  • 2008Postgraduate Certificate, Research Methodology University of Brighton
  • 1998MA History of Design Middlesex University
  • 1996BDes in Industrial Design National College of Art & Design

Conferences & events

'Look what Santa's Brought for You, Mummy': Women, Domesticity and the Vacuum Cleaner in 1950s and 1960s Ireland', Irish Women and Rural Society: From Medieval to Modern, Women's History Association of Ireland annual conference, Queen's University Belfast, March 2016

'The Domestic Spaceship: Visions of Future Home-Making in the Production Design of Serenity's Communal Living Spaces', at Space Craft: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space' interior design symposium, Kingston University, November 2015

'The Domestic Spaceship: Visions of Future Home-Making in the Production Design of Serenity's Communal Living Spaces', at How We Live and How We Might Live, the Design History Society annual conference, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, September 2015

'The Things I Love the Most', public talk at the Galway International Arts Festival: First Thought Talks, Jul 2015

'Look what Santa's Brought for You, Mummy': Women, Domesticity and the Vacuum Cleaner in 1950s and 1960s Ireland', Historical Geographies of Home session on domestic space and practice in the past Session for the 16th International Conference of Historical Geographers, July 2015

Keynote Chair, Faultlines: Bridging Knowledge Spaces, design research conference, Institute of Technology Carlow, June 2015

Joint Organiser, Love Objects Studio Session, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, October 2014

'Power Games: British and German Influences in Irish Electrical Power Generation Architecture', at the Latitudes: Irish Studies in an International Context/Banbha i gCéin, annual conference of ACIS/CAIS, Dublin, June 2014

'Making Meaning with Ephemera – Electrical Technology and Irish National Identity in the 1920s', at the Material and Consumer Culture network, European Social Science History Conference, Vienna, April 2014

'Men, Machines and Tourists: Visual Representations of the Shannon Scheme from advertisements to postcards', public lecture at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, October 2012

'Marvers, Machines and MakerBots: Historical Perspectives on Technology in Irish Cultural Production', keynote lecture at Between Art and Industry: New Models in a Post Industrial World, Crafts Council of Ireland, Kilkenny, June 2012

'The Shannon Scheme: Technology, Modernity and National Identity in the Irish Free State', at Ireland and Modernity: An Interdisciplinary Conference, Queens University, Belfast, November 2010

'Photographic Connections: electrical technology in the making in Ireland in the 1920s', at Networks of Design, Design History Society annual conference, Falmouth, September 2008

Joint Conference Organiser, 'Love Objects: engaging material culture', National College of Art & Design, Dublin, February 2008

'National Style and the Imagined Community: the transfer of electricity generation from Germany to Ireland, 1924-1932', at the International Committee for the History of Technology annual conference, Copenhagen, August 2007

'The Shannon Scheme: Representing Technology, Modernity and National Identity in the Irish Free State, 1924-32', at the Seeing Things: Irish Studies and Visual Culture conference, University of Limerick, June 2007

'The Shannon Scheme: Electricity, technology and modernisation in the Irish Free State, 1924-32', Faculty of Arts Research Student Day, University of Brighton, May 2007

'Technological utopianism and the idea of progress in the Irish Free State', at the British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference, University of Brighton, January 2006 and the Science Ireland conference, University of London, July 2006

'The Shannon Scheme: The representation of technology in the Irish Free State', to the Irish Historical Society, Trinity College Dublin, April 2006

'The Shannon Scheme: the politics of representation in the Irish Free State', at The Politics of Design, Design History Society annual conference, University of Ulster, Belfast, September 2004

'Ardnacrusha: Technology, modernism and national discourses', at the On The Edge? conference on Irish design at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire, October 2003

Grants, funding and awards

  • 2016Arts & Humanities Research Council Early Career Leadership Fellow
  • 2015Design History Society Research Travel Grant
  • 2015Fundació Història del Disseny 2nd Alfaro Hofmann Collection Research Grant for the Study of Domestic Appliances: The Vacuum Cleaner
  • 2014Society for the History of Technology Brooke Hindle Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • 2007Society for History of Technology Travel Grant
  • 2005Art & Humanities Research Council Doctoral Award
  • 2005Royal Hibernian Academy Thomas Damman Junior Memorial Trust Award

Research groups & programmes

Research supervision


Publications

Number of items: 31.

Article

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Siemens Archive Munich Travel Report. Design History Society Blog - Reports,

O'Brien, Sorcha (2014) Review of The Story of Design. Journal of Design History, 27(4), pp. 413-414. ISSN (print) 0952-4649

O'Brien, Sorcha (2011) Exhibition Review of: 'The moderns: the arts in Ireland from the 1900s to the 1970s' at The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. Artefact(5), pp. 83-89. ISSN (print) 2009-0528

Book

Edwards, Clive , O'Brien, Sorcha , Atkinson, Harriet , Kettley, Sarah , Bhagat, Dipti , Raizman, David and Willis, Anne-Marie, eds. (2015) Bloomsbury encyclopedia of design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. 1533p. ISBN 9781472521576

Moran, Anna and O'Brien, Sorcha, eds. (2014) Love objects: emotion, design and material culture. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury. 184p. ISBN 9781472517197

Book Section

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Bouroullec, Ronan (1971–) and Erwan (1976–). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 184. ISBN 9781472521545

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Dunne & Raby (Dunne, Anthony 1964–; Raby, Fiona 1963–). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 444-445. ISBN 9781472521545

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Guixé, Martí (1964–). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 124. ISBN 9781472521552

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Heatherwick, Thomas (1970–). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 139. ISBN 9781472521552

O'Brien, Sorcha and Chesters, Robert (2016) Jongerius, Hella (1963-). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury encyclopedia of design. London. U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 262. ISBN 9781472521552

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Rittel, Horst (1930–90). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 163-164. ISBN 9781472521569

O'Brien, Sorcha (2011) Technology and modernity: the Shannon Scheme and visions of national progress. In: King, Linda and Sisson, Elaine, (eds.) Ireland, design and visual culture: negotiating modernity, 1922-1992. Cork, Ireland : Cork University Press. pp. 59-71. ISBN 9781859184721

O'Brien, Sorcha (2009) Images of Ardnacrusha: photography, electrical technology, and modernity in the Irish Free State. In: Flannery, Eoin and Griffin, Michael, (eds.) Ireland in Focus: film, photography, and popular culture. Syracuse, New York, U.S. : Syracuse University Press. pp. 71-85. (Irish Studies) ISBN 9780815632030

O'Brien, Sorcha (2009) Photographic connections: electrical technology in the making of Ireland in the 1920s. In: Glynne, Jonathan , Hackney, Fiona and Minton, Viv, (eds.) Networks of design: proceedings of the 2008 annual international conference of the Design History Society (UK): University College Falmouth 3-6 September. Boca Raton, Florida, U.S. : Universal Publishers. pp. 246-253. ISBN 9781599429069

Conference or Workshop Item

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Housewives, electrical products and domesticity in 1950s and 1960s rural Ireland. In: MSt History of Design Dissertation Forum; 10 - 11 Jun 2017, Oxford, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'brien, Sorcha (2017) Researching housewives, electrical products and domesticity in 1950s and 1960s rural Ireland. In: Domesticating Energy; 26 - 27 May 2017, Cambridge, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Early Career Researcher grant funding presentation. In: it AHRC Peer Review College Early Career History Event; 08 Mar 2017, Leicester, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Electric Irish homes : rural electrification, domestic products and Irish women in the 1950s and 1960s. In: Modern Interiors Research Centre Research Symposium 2017; 17-18 Jan 2017, Kingston upon Thames. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Visions of home : nostalgia and mobility in Serenity's domestic interior. In: Interiors : Film, Theater, Television; 18 Nov 2016, New York, U.S.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) 'Shining clean machines' : the promotion of vacuum cleaners in 1950s and 1960s Ireland. In: Mise Eire : shaping a nation through design; 04 - 05 Nov 2016, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) "Look what Santa’s brought for you, mummy”: women, domesticity and the vacuum cleaner in 1950s and 1960s Ireland’. In: Irish Women and Rural Society: from Medieval to Modern; 11-12 Mar 2016, Belfast, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) The domestic spaceship: visions of future home-making in the production design of Serenity’s communal living spaces. In: Space Craft : Ladies and Gentlemen, we are floating in space; Nov 2015, Kingston upon Thames, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) The domestic spaceship : visions of future home-making in the production design of Serenity’s communal living spaces. In: "How We Live, and How We Might Live": Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism; 11-13 Sep 2015, San Francisco, U.S.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) The things I love the most. In: Galway International Arts Festival: First Thought Talks; 13-26 Jul 2015, Galway, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) "Look what Santa’s brought for you, Mummy" : women, domesticity and the vacuum cleaner in post-war Ireland. In: Historical geographies of home session on domestic space and practice in the past, 16th International Conference of Historical Geographers; 07 Jul 2015, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha [Organizer of meeting], Moran, Anna [Organizer of meeting], Hemmings, Jessica [Commentator], Carter, Frances [Speaker], Wilson, Ann [Speaker] and McGuire, Noreen [Speaker] (2014) Love Objects Studio Session. In: Love Objects Studio Session; 1 Oct 2014, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2014) Power games: British and German influences in Irish electrical power generation architecture. In: American Association for Irish Studies and the Canadian Association for Irish Studies Annual Conference; 11 - 14 Jun 2014, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2014) Making meaning with ephemera: electrical technology and Irish national identity in the 1920s. In: 10th European Social Science History Conference; 23-26 Apr 2014, Vienna, Austria. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2012) Men, machines and tourists: Visual representations of the Shannon Scheme from advertisements to postcards. In: Revealing the Modern in Post-Civil War Ireland: Lecture Series to Coincide with ‘Seán Keating and the ESB: Enlightenment and Legacy’ at the RHA Dublin; 12 Sep - 17 Oct 2012, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2012) Between art & industry. In: Between Art and Industry: New Models in a Post Industrial World; 29 Jun 2012, Kilkenny, Ireland. (Unpublished)

Database or Web Resource

O'Brien, Sorcha (2013) Behind the Interface: Space, Time and Infrastructure in Internet-Based Delivery for Design Education.

This list was generated on Mon Jun 26 04:24:47 2017 BST.
Sorcha_OBrien_VIS2751.jpg
ESB exhibition kitchen at the Spring Show, 1962 (Courtesy of the ESB Archives)
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Love Objects: Emotion, Design and Material Culture (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014)
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Ardnacrusha Hydro-electric Power Station, turbine hall, photograph by Sorcha O'Brien, 2008. Courtesy of the ESB.
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Ardnacrusha Hydro-electric Power Station, exterior of penstocks, photograph by Sorcha O'Brien, 2008. Courtesy of the ESB.