Shahmima Akhtar, "Exhibiting Irishness: Empire, Race and Nation, c. 1850-1970" (Manchester UP, 2024)


Shahmima Akhtar is a historian of race, migration and empire and an assistant professor of Black and Asian British History at the University of Birmingham. She previously worked at the Royal Historical Society to improve BME representation in UK History, whether working with schools and the curriculum, cultural institutions, community groups or other learned societies. Dr. Akhtar has also worked closely with museums and heritage sites as a researcher and consultant on shaping histories of the British Empire for today’s populace.

In this interview, she discusses her new book, Exhibiting Irishness: Empire, Race and Nation, c. 1850-1970 (Manchester UP, 2024), which studies differing visions of Irish racial identities as displayed at various international fairs and expos.

Exhibiting Irishness analyses how exhibitions enabled Irish individuals and groups to work out (privately and publicly) their politicised existences across two centuries. As a cultural history of Irish identity, the book considers exhibitions as a formative platform for imagining a host of Irish pasts, presents and futures. Fair organisers responded to the contexts of famine and poverty, migration and diasporic settlement, independence movements and partition, as well as post-colonial nation building. Exhibiting Irishness demonstrates how Irish businesses and labourers, the elite organisers of the fairs and successive Irish governments curated Irishness. The central malleability of Irish identity on display emerged in tandem with the unfolding of Ireland's political transformation from a colony of the British Empire, a migrant community in the United States, to a divided Ireland in the form of the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Aidan Beatty is a lecturer in the history department at Carnegie Mellon University

Your Host

Aidan Beatty

Aidan Beatty teaches in the history department at Carnegie Mellon University.

View Profile