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Cóilín Parsons

I’m an Assistant Professor of English at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, but I retain strong links to the University of Cape Town, where I spent three very happy years as a lecturer in the English department. I am still in almost daily contact with colleagues at UCT thanks to a project to publish a selection of lectures given at the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts in the Great Texts / Big Questions. A large number of the contributors to this exciting intervention in the public culture of South Africa are affiliated to APC, and my co-editors, Dr Alex Dodd and Prof Imraan Coovadia, are also affiliated.

My research and teaching interests include Irish literature, Modernism, theories of geography and space, cartography, Victorian studies, and postcolonial literature and theory. I've published on the origins of literary study in Ireland and India, on a novel about India published in Ireland in the nineteenth century, on a contemporary Indian painter who remakes medieval mappae mundi, on South African novelist Zoë Wicomb, and on Samuel Beckett’s and James Clarence Mangan’s (an Irish poet of the nineteenth century) uses and abuses of archives.

The latter two articles, on Beckett and Mangan, form part of a completed book manuscript, Mapping Modernity: Modern Irish Literature and the Ordnance Survey, which is currently under review at a university press. Beginning with the archives of the Ordnance Survey, which mapped Ireland between 1824 and 1846, the book argues that the roots of Irish literary modernism lie in the attempt by the Survey to produce a ‘full-face portrait’ of a land emerging rapidly into modernity. Drawing on literary theory, studies of space, the history of cartography and Irish Studies, the book paints a picture of Irish literature deeply engaged in the representation of the multi-layered landscape.

My next book project began, as all good intellectual projects do, in Cape Town, where I became interested in the history of the McClean telescope at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Obs, which was built in Dublin. That casual discovery has resulted in a whole new project that reads the ubiquitous presence of the astronomical telescope in modernist writing in Ireland, South Africa, Britain and India as a figure for global imagination. The book will, of course, open with a detailed examination of the archives of the Grubb telescope company in Dublin, and the dispersal of their instruments throughout the British empire.

I'm particularly interested in the Archive and Public Culture project because my work has always been historical and archival. I was torn by having to make the choice between the disciplines of History and English when doing my PhD, but I have developed a research trajectory that has allowed me to venture into historical as well as literary work.