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Prof Matthew Kelly

Professor of Modern History

Department: Humanities

Matthew works on modern British history, focusing on the development of environmental policy in the post-war period, the cultural history of landscape, and the history of National Parks and nature conservation.

Matthew Kelly is Professor of Modern History in the Department of Humanities. He works on modern British history, focusing on the development of environmental policy in the post-war period, the cultural history of landscape, and the history of National Parks and nature conservation.

Matthew joined Northumbria in 2016 as a professor. Between 2006 and 2016, he was a lecturer and then associate professor at the University of Southampton, and between 2003 and 2006 he was a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. In 2012-13, he was a Fellow of the Rachel Carson Center, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich and in 2016 he was a Visiting Researcher at St. John’s College, Oxford for Michaelmas term.

0191 227 4005


Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, 2007

DPhil (Oxon) in Modern History, 2002

MSt (Oxon) in Historical Research, 1998

BA hons (Oxon) in Modern History, 1997

Research Themes and Scholarly Interests

I work in the broad area of environmental history, focusing mainly on how the environment became a subject of politics and state in the modern period. I’m especially interested in the peculiar status of Britain’s uplands and the degree to which successive governments empowered the state, and the National Park authorities in particular, to protect them. At the heart of this work is a set of key historical questions about how the growth of environmental awareness generated particular notions of the public good that challenged conventional ideas about the rights of private property.  

I also have significant interests in the history of Irish nationalism, the subject of my doctoral work, and I have written and published extensively on the history of Irish nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’m also interested in the history of modern Poland and my Finding Poland. From Tavistock to Hruzsowa and Back Again was published by Jonathan Cape in 2010. This book traces the experiences of the Poles deported by the Soviet Union from occupied eastern Poland in 1940, taking the reader to Kazakhstan, Iran, India and, finally, the U.K. The Polish translation—Ocaleni. Wojenna tułaczka kresowej rodziny (2011)—was a finalist for the Ambasador Nowej Europy book prize, 2012.

Professional Activity

Member of the Inner Board of the Irish Research Council (post-graduate funding).

Peer review for Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Manchester University Press, Liverpool University Press, Palgrave Macmillan, English Historical Review, Historical Journal, Journal of British Studies, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Irish Historical Studies and Journal of British Studies

Current/Recent Projects

My Quartz and Feldspar. Dartmoor: A British Landscape in Modern Times (London, 2015) traces the way this upland has been a contested space from the late-eighteenth-century, when the ‘improvers’ attempted to transform the agricultural productivity of the moor, through to the challenge posed by the present debate about re-wilding. I focus particularly on Dartmoor’s history as a national park and the battles that shaped its politics in the post-war period. Under particular scrutiny are the shifting ideas of the preservationists and the conservationists and the gradual supersession of the concept of ‘amenity’ with the ‘biodiversity’ principle in policy making and governance. I’m currently developing these interests in three main directions. First, working with colleagues from around the world, we are attempting to conceptualize the ‘Nature State’, arguing that the complex of government policies predicated on nature conservation found throughout the modern world can be understood historically in way that comparable policy formations have been labelled the ‘welfare state’, the ‘warfare state’ or the ‘security state’. Routledge will publish a set of essays based on this collaboration in 2017. Second, I am looking at the ‘environmental turn’ in post-war British history by focusing on the long gestation of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, a landmark piece of legislation who importance has yet to be properly understood historically. Third, the move to Newcastle has inevitably turned my attention to Northumberland National Park and I’m starting to think about what makes its history distinctive. Finally, I’m editing a volume on nature and the environment in nineteenth-century Ireland.

Key Publications

Quartz and Feldspar: A History of Modern Dartmoor (Jonathan Cape: London, 2015)

Finding Poland. From Tavistock to Hruzdowa and Back Again (Jonathan Cape: London, 2010)

The Fenian Ideal and Irish Nationalism, 1882-1916 (Boydell and Brewer: Woodbridge, 2006, 2008)


Articles in refereed journals:

‘Languages of Radicalism, Race, and Religion in Irish Nationalism: The French Affinity, 1848-1871’, in Journal of British Studies, 49, 4 (Oct. 2010)

‘Irish Nationalist Opinion and the British Empire in the 1850s and 1860s’ in Past & Present, no. 204 (Aug. 2009)

‘The politics of Irish protestant street preaching in the 1890s’, Historical Journal, 48, 1 (2005).

‘“Parnell’s Old Brigade”: the Redmondite-Fenian nexus in the 1890s’, Irish Historical Studies, 33 (November, 2002).

‘Dublin Fenianism in the 1880s: “the Irish culture of the future”?’, Historical Journal, 43, 2 (2000).


Articles and chapters in edited volumes:

‘Radical nationalisms, 1882-1916’ in Tom Bartlett (ed.), The New Cambridge History of Ireland (forthcoming: 2017)

‘Political autobiography. From Wolfe Tone to Ernie O’Malley’ in Liam Harte (ed), The Cambridge History of Irish Autobiography (forthcoming: 2017)

‘Irish nationalisms’ in Richard Bourke & Ian McBride (eds), The Princeton Guide to Irish History (Princeton, 2015)

‘Home Rule and its Enemies, 1870-1916’ in Alvin Jackson (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History, 1600-2000 (Oxford, 2014)

'Nationalism' in David Craig and James Thompson (eds), Languages of Politics in Nineteenth-Century Britain, contracted to Palgrave (Basingstoke, 2013)

‘Providence, revolution and the conditional defence of the union: Paul Cullen and the Fenians’ in Daire Keogh (ed.), Cardinal Cullen’s World (Dublin, 2010)

‘The Irish People and the disciplining of dissent’ in James McConnel & Fearghal McGarry (eds), The Black Hand of Irish Republicanism: Fenianism in Modern Ireland (Dublin, 2009).

(with Dr. James McConnel), ‘Devolution, federalism and imperial circuitry: Ireland, South Africa and India’ in Duncan Tanner, Chris Williams,  W. P. Griffith, & Andrew Edwards (eds), Debating nationhood and government in Britain, 1885-1939: Perspectives from Four Nations (Manchester, 2006)

‘The Irish Volunteers: a Machiavellian moment?’ in D. George Boyce and Alan O’Day (eds), The Ulster Crisis (London, 2005).

‘The end of Parnellism and the ideological dilemmas of Sinn Féin’ in D. George Boyce and Alan O’Day (eds), Ireland in Transition, 1867-1921 (London, 2004).

Postgraduate Supervision

I would welcome enquiries from students wishing to pursue postgraduate research in any area of modern British environmental history.


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