Dr Karen Dempsey

BA, MA, PhD

Contact Details

Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellow
E: kdempsey@nuigalway.ie
 
researcher
 

Biography

My research to date has focused upon the medieval and historic periods of Ireland as well as medieval Britain and France. My work blends the theoretical perspectives of prehistoric, historic and anthropological archaeology as well as material culture and heritage studies. I am very interested in how present societies utilise past material culture to negotiate and legitimise their views or ideals, something that is very visible in the world today. One of the core themes in my research is that space and place are intrinsic to how communities make themselves; therefore, I believe that communities’ engagement with cultural heritage enables people to make meaningful contributions to their individual and shared identities. I am keen to demonstrate and share how relevant the medieval world is for contemporary debates, particular relating to social and structural inequality. New research focussing on the Global Middle Ages, especially with regards to critical race theory in is ground-breaking.

Research Interests

My new postdoctoral research fellowship funded by the Irish Research Council entitled ‘Home is Where the Heart(h) is’: an investigation of medieval houses in Ireland 1100-1600 AD. During this period, Ireland, like many other places across Europe, experienced cultural upheavals, population displacement, invasions and settlement. Ireland was ‘home’ to many different people from ladies and merchants to labourers and craftworkers. Yet, studies typically concentrate on high-status homes (castles) or religious institutions (monasteries), and few explorations have been made of where or how ordinary women, men and children lived. Previously, a lack of evidence impeded such research; however, large amounts of relevant archaeological data were recorded during Ireland’s recent economic boom that have not been fully explored. A unique opportunity now exists to analyse this new archaeological evidence in order to fully understand what medieval houses looked like, what they contained and where they were located. For the first time, it is possible to investigate ordinary medieval houses and households in Ireland to ask how people ‘made a house a home’? What things (objects) were used in the creation of households? How was daily-life structured and experienced?

By setting ordinary medieval households within their appropriate historical context, utilising comparative work from across Europe and incorporating contemporary historical and literary sources, this project examines how different people in the past organised their houses and what shaped their decisions. For example, were houses structured differently depending on cultural identity i.e. Anglo-Norman or Gaelic-Irish? Were there particular gendered tasks for medieval men and women within the home? Addressing these questions will deliver a more socially diverse picture of medieval households that encompasses family life and gender roles. The results will be shared through an academic book, public talks and a short documentary. This focuses on interviews with experts about medieval and modern households, and also, the elderly living in community-care who carry generational knowledge of 'home'. Therefore, diverse audiences will benefit from the new knowledge that this project creates. I am particularly interested in medieval social spaces throughout the hierarchical medieval world as can be seen through my doctoral research funded by the Irish Research Council, at University College Dublin, in which I explored the role of architecture in the construction of social identity.

My recent Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship https://medievalcastlesandwomen.wordpress.com/ at University of Reading (2017-2019) was a new venture: it focused on feminist practice in archaeology as well as creating new gendered understandings of medieval castles with an emphasis on medieval women. Methodologically, this incorporated studies of people, places and things together with medieval castles to create more dynamic accounts of the medieval past. Essentially this means telling the story of medieval people, especially women, through the things that they used and cared about, within the spaces they inhabited, through the lens of what we know of the medieval past. This approach navigates away from traditional scholarship that often comprises accounts of seemingly static landscapes or buildings. HeRSTORY challenged current male-orientated views of the medieval world, so typical of castle-studies, which have largely excluded the everyday experiences and lives of women.


I also aim to reach a wider audience by using different media to share my research  - everybody should be able to access the joys of the medieval world. Collaboratively, with Caroline Teng I am in the process of creating an adult graphic novella about medieval women’s daily life. In ‘Home is Where the Heart(h) is’, I will venture into the world of documentary making.

Research Projects

  Project Start Date End Date
'Feeling Home': telling a digital sensorial story of Irish medieval houses 03-MAR-20 27-NOV-20
Sowing Seeds of Interdisciplinary Work: Relict Plants at Medieval Castles 03-FEB-20 01-NOV-20
Home is Where the Heart(h) is': investigating medieval houses in Ireland 1100-1600 AD 01-OCT-19 30-SEP-21
Small Things of Greater Importance: Exploring the Sensory Relationship of Medieval People and Objects 01-APR-19 01-NOV-20
HeRSTORY 01-OCT-17 30-SEP-19

Peer Reviewed Journals

  Year Publication
(2020) 'Special Issue: “Small Things of Greater Importance: Exploring the Sensory Relationship of Medieval People and Objects”'
Karen Dempsey and Jitske Jasperse (eds) (2020) 'Special Issue: “Small Things of Greater Importance: Exploring the Sensory Relationship of Medieval People and Objects”'. Das Mittelalter, 25 (2) [Details]
(2020) 'Home is Where the Heart(h) is': investigating medieval houses in Ireland 1100-1600 AD'
Karen Dempsey (2020) 'Home is Where the Heart(h) is': investigating medieval houses in Ireland 1100-1600 AD'. Archaeology Ireland, 34 (1):49-51 [Details]
(2020) 'Planting new ideas: a feminist gaze on medieval castles'
Karen Dempsey (2020) 'Planting new ideas: a feminist gaze on medieval castles'. Château Gaillard, Caen, 29 [Details]
(2019) 'Gender and medieval archaeology: storming the castle'
Dempsey, K (2019) 'Gender and medieval archaeology: storming the castle'. Antiquity, 93 :772-788 [DOI] [ARAN Link] [Details]
(2019) 'Beyond the martial facade: gender, heritage and medieval castles'
Dempsey, K;Gilchrist, R;Ashbee, J;Sagrott, S;Stones, S (2019) 'Beyond the martial facade: gender, heritage and medieval castles'. International Journal of Heritage Studies, [DOI] [ARAN Link] [Details]
(2018) 'Lea Castle: looking outwards'
Karen Dempsey (2018) 'Lea Castle: looking outwards'. Château Gaillard, Caen, 28 :113-119 [ARAN Link] [Details]
(2017) 'Understanding 'Hall-Houses': Debating Seigneurial Buildings in Ireland in the 13th Century'
Dempsey, K (2017) 'Understanding 'Hall-Houses': Debating Seigneurial Buildings in Ireland in the 13th Century'. Medieval Archaeology, 61 :372-399 [DOI] [ARAN Link] [Details]
(2016) 'Free-standing rectangular halls and chamber-towers in thirteenth century Ireland'
Karen Dempsey (2016) 'Free-standing rectangular halls and chamber-towers in thirteenth century Ireland'. Château Gaillard, Caen, 27 :113-119 [ARAN Link] [Details]
(2016) 'Lea Castle: the story so far'
Karen Dempsey (2016) 'Lea Castle: the story so far'. The Castle Studies Group Journal, :77-89 [ARAN Link] [Details]

Book Chapters

  Year Publication
(2015) 'Lea Castle: an architectural description'
Karen Dempsey (2015) 'Lea Castle: an architectural description' In: Lea Castle. Portarlington: Frenchpress. [Details]

Book Review

  Year Publication
(2019) Book Review. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. By Geraldine Heng.
Karen Dempsey (2019) Book Review. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. By Geraldine Heng. Book Review [DOI] [ARAN Link] [Details]
(2018) Book review: The lived experience in the Later Middle Ages: studies of Bodiam and other elite landscapes in south-eastern England. Wiley.
Karen Dempsey (2018) Book review: The lived experience in the Later Middle Ages: studies of Bodiam and other elite landscapes in south-eastern England. Wiley. Book Review [DOI] [ARAN Link] [Details]

Editorship of Journals

  Year Publication
(2012) Trowel XIII.
Karen Dempsey & Susan Curran (2012) Trowel XIII. Editorship of Journals [Details]

Honours and Awards

  Year Title Awarding Body
2020 Royal Irish Academy Charlemont Grant Royal Irish Academy
2015 Heritage Bursary Roscommon County Council