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Miriam Phelan

MPhil work

Crisis, Commemoration and Dress: Designing Memory of the Revolutionary Period in Ireland.

This thesis analyses the commemoration of the Revolutionary Period (1912 -1923) in Ireland during the current Decade of Centenaries from 2012 to 2023 by exploring the embodiment of memory through dress. It addresses the impact of remembrance culture on constructions of masculine and national identity and questions how dress contributes to changing attitudes towards the Revolutionary Period and how it is remembered. This thesis also addresses how material and visual culture of memory and commemoration of this period can aid in contextualising historic conflict within the context of current global conflict and commemorations. These questions are concerned with the materialisation of national memory and the continual reshaping of material culture as commemoration. 

 The Revolutionary Period saw a series of violent conflicts and political crises erupt across Ireland that led to the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, and eventually the Republic of Ireland in 1949.  As of 2012, Ireland has entered a period of centenary commemorations that enables a re-examination of both the performance of memory and the re-enactment of this period of Irish history.  Recent research into the commemoration of the Revolutionary Period has focussed on the 1916 Rising while failing to question more challenging remembrance of events such as the Civil War. This research will reconcile the history of the Revolutionary Period with the history of commemoration, with a particular focus on how Irish masculinity and nationhood are articulated in history making and the relationship between embodied memory and the materials of dress.

 By utilising an interdisciplinary methodological framework, this thesis will use dress as an embodiment of history and memory to analyse how the Revolutionary Period has and is being commemorated in museum exhibitions, theatre and performance and digital media. The research will use the materiality of dress as embodied memory to complicate the idea of Irish cultural memory, demonstrating the significance of the materials of war, conflict, and crisis in the process of commemoration and in cultivating a national or collective memory. This thesis, thus, is concerned with the role of design and dress in commemoration, how it shapes our memory of historical conflict and crisis and how it informs our understanding of the lived experience of that history.


MA work

Masculinity in Conflict: Sartorial Resistance in Britain and Ireland, 1914-1918

Conflict, as a powerful agent of change, has shaped countries, cities and the lives of the people who experience it. However within the atmosphere of conflict, there is resistance, and it is resistance during conflict that frames my examination of masculinity and male dress in Britain and Ireland from 1914 to 1918. My dissertation explores civilian dress in opposition to military uniform and its role shaping perceptions of wartime masculinity. When Britain declared war in 1914, the khaki uniform became the new outward expression of manliness and as a result civilian dress came to symbolise antithesis of masculinity. However, civilian men’s dress has largely been omitted from the history of men’s dress in the early twentieth century. My dissertation argues that civilian dress played a central role in the manifestation and execution of resistance during WW1 in Britain and the nationalist uprising in Ireland in 1916. Conscientious Objectors in Britain resisted the destruction of war and maintained their pacifist principles by wearing civilian dress. Male civilian dress during the nationalist rebellion in Dublin in 1916 brought to light the power of visibility in urban conflict. I have therefore aimed to reassesses the narratives of WW1 and the 1916 Rising by looking at the everyday objects of civilian men’s dress. I have begun to expose the power of resistance in conflict as a device that shaped wartime masculinity as seen through men’s dress.


  • Miriam Phelan
  • MPhil


    School of Arts & Humanities


    History of Design, 2017–

  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2015

  • Miriam is an AHRC funded PhD student in the school of Arts and Humanities. Miriam's research focusses on the impact of commemoration on constructions of masculine and national identity through an examination of dress and the body. Miriam's research uses dress as a lens to understand the relationship between the body and memory working with dress collections in theatre and performance, as part of living history and re-enactment and in museums archives. Miriam previously worked as an assistant curator at the Jewish Museum and has most recently as a researcher at the Charles Dickens Museum researching Charles Dickens's dress and the Museum's textile collection. 

  • Degrees

  • MA History of Design, Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum, (Distinction) 2015; BA Fashion Design, National College of Art and Design, (First-class honours) 2012
  • Experience

  • Researcher, Charles Dickens Museum, London, 2018–2019; Co-convenor of 'Memory and Borders: Nationalism, Identity and Material Culture' workshop at Victoria and Albert Museum, 2019; Assistant Curator, Jewish Museum London, 2015–2017
  • Exhibitions

  • Curator of 'Radical Women' display at Jewish Museum London, 2017; Assistant curator of 'Moses, Mods and Mr Fish: The Menswear Revolution' exhibition at Jewish Museum London, 2016
  • Awards

  • TECHNE AHRC Doctoral Training Scholarship, 2017–2020; Design History Society Outreach & Events Grant, 2019; V&A/RCA History of Design Montjoie Award, 2014; National College of Art and Design Staff Prize, 2012
  • Conferences

  • 'The Fashion of Charles Dickens, 1837–1870', The Victorian Age: A History of Dress, Textiles, and Accessories, 1819–1901, Association of Dress Historians, 2019; 'Crisis, Commemoration and Dress: Designing Memory of the Revolutionary Period in Ireland', Deeds not Words? Assessing a Century of Change, National Museum of Ireland, 2018; 'Masculinity in Conflict: Sartorial Resistance in England and Ireland, 1914 to 1918', Fashion: Conform or Resist, Costume Society, 2016