"Shifting Ground: Urban Trauma and the Spatial Impacts of The Troubles In Derry, Northern Ireland"

Walker, Austin, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Li, Shiqiao, Department of Architecture, University of Virginia
Robbins, Christa, Department of Art, University of Virginia

While providing an extensive foundational basis, previous scholarship on the Troubles in Northern Ireland has tended to focus largely on the historical, socio-cultural, and political aspects underlying the conflict, with minimal attention paid to examining the relationship between urban conflict, the built environment, and symbolic spaces and landscapes. This thesis examines the Bogside neighborhood in Derry – a symbolic epicenter of the conflict – as a site of inquiry into the relationship between contested spatial history and symbolic urban practice. The first chapter situates two defining events of the conflict – the Battle of the Bogside (1969) and Bloody Sunday (1972) – within the broader context of political and urban upheaval that defined Derry during the mid-1960s to mid-1970s in order to elucidate the precarious nature of everyday urban spaces during the period. The second chapter traces the integral role of this spatial history in shaping the more symbolic tactics that have largely come to define the conflict in Derry from the early 1980s up to the present day. Focusing on the city’s iconic political murals along with a broader matrix of ephemeral objects and practices, this chapter illustrates how many of the same urban spaces upended during the early years of the conflict would again become battlegrounds in a new war of political images and ephemera. The conclusion of this thesis draws from on-site experiences in the Bogside in an effort to frame this narrative of contested urban space with an eye toward the future. While the years since the Good Friday Agreement have seen the peace process tentatively move towards diffusing sectarian tensions in Derry and throughout Northern Ireland, the impacts of the Troubles remain both deeply embedded and symbolically present in the everyday spaces of the Bogside, where collective memory of the conflict and a lasting legacy of political murals and ephemeral tactics continue to shape the urban landscape. As such, understanding the spatial history and symbolic landscape in Derry remains vital not only to the city itself moving forward, but also to more fully understanding the impacts of violent conflict, systemic inequality, and sustained precarity in contemporary cities.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
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