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Biography

Alvin Jackson was educated at Corpus Christi College and Nuffield College, Oxford, and has lectured at University College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast, where he was Professor of Modern Irish History.  Since 2005 he has been Sir Richard Lodge Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh, and has also served as Head of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology and as Dean of Research and Deputy Head of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

 

Jackson has worked extensively in the field of modern Irish and British political history, and particularly in the history of unions and unionism within the United Kingdom and more widely.  He is the author of seven books and over fifty articles or essays in learned journals and collections, and has lectured in seventeen countries.  His first work, The Ulster Party (OUP: 1989) won the ACIS prize for a best first work in any field relating to Ireland.  His Ireland 1798-1998:  Politics and War (Blackwell: 1999) was shortlisted for the Ewart-Biggs prize and is now in its second edition, while his The Two Unions (OUP: 2012) was shortlisted for national prizes in both Ireland and Scotland.  He has edited the Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History, which appeared in paperback with OUP in 2017. 

 

His most recent work, Judging Redmond and Carson, which was published in March 2018 by the Royal Irish Academy, was launched by the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, who described Jackson as 'one of the finest historians writing about Irish and British history, and [this book] adds to his already considerable reputation … it represents a more nuanced and mature approach to the conflicts that shaped the Irish state and the state of Northern Ireland as each approach their centenary’.   Speaking at Wexford in April 2018, the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, praised Judging Redmond and Carson as 'a very good book indeed'.

 

Jackson has a long track-record of supervising and examining research students.  He has been primary supervisor of 14 successful doctoral students, and has examined doctoral theses in many universities in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the USA. 

 

Jackson has won a variety of research funding, including a British Academy Post-doctoral Fellowship, a British Academy Research Readership, a British Academy-Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship and (most recently) a Major Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship.  He has been Burns Visiting Professor at Boston College.  He is an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Member of the Academia Europaea, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. 

 

Reviews of Alvin Jackson's recent work:

 

Alvin Jackson, Judging Redmond and Carson: comparative Irish lives (Royal Irish Academy, 2018)

 “[Jackson is] one of the finest historians writing about Irish and British history, and [this book] adds to his already considerable reputation … it represents a more nuanced and mature approach to the conflicts that shaped the Irish state and the state of Northern Ireland as each approach their centenary … if we can approach the past with toleration, respect and understanding, then perhaps we can approach our challenges of the present in the same way as well’.  An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, Royal Irish Academy (6 March 2018)

“Alvin Jackson brings to life two contrasting characters, Redmond and Carson, who despite their political rivalries, remained friends … excellent book, which helps us to understand critical moments in Irish history … Alvin Jackson writes with verve and is confident in his judgements.  He delves into the character of each man and allows the reader to get to know them as people, rather than as the political icons they became’.  John Bruton, former Taoiseach of Ireland (1994-97), Irish Times (10 March 2018)

‘a terrific read, and told by Alvin Jackson with great brio …’ Ronan McGreevy, Irish Times

‘the fifth volume in the Royal Irish Academy’s superbly produced and illustrated Judging series, which seeks to reassess major Irish historical figure.  Whereas previous volumes focused on individuals like de Valera or Cosgrave, this is the first to explore the genre of comparative biography … the concept works excellently here … it lets Jackson throw up fascinating juxtapositions, contradictions and commonalities between the two men, contextualising their actions in the complex game of political chess played out between them before 1914 … an insightful reappraisal of two contrasting figures whose triumphs and failures take on a greater resonance for being considered alongside those of their greatest rival’ Dermot Bolger, Sunday Business Post (18 March 2018)

‘original and insightful joint biography’  The Tablet (28 February 2018)

‘Given the re-emerging debate around Northern Ireland’s constitutional position after Brexit, last June’s Conservative Party-DUP confidence-and-supply pact at Westminster, and the relatively new leaderships of nationalism and unionism (Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill), this book provokes as many questions for us today as it explores about the past, in addition to the many lessons it provides … The closing of the 1990s coincided with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and hopes for a better Irish century.  Political dialogue and peace have shown we have more in common in Northern Ireland than we think.  And so did these men.  On the twentieth anniversary of the Agreement, this reassessment of the two men and their legacies is both original and much needed’.  Connor Daly, ‘Northern Slant’ and ‘Medium’ online reviews.

'This dual biography by one of Ireland’s most distinguished historians, Professor Alvin Jackson of Edinburgh University, is premised on the notion that – to quote its author – “the parallel lives of great rivals or great antagonists (or great friends) … [can] achieve an analytical traction that might not otherwise be possible with the consideration of an individual life”.  It certainly succeeds in challenging many popular perceptions of its subjects, John Redmond and Edward Carson, through a skilful comparative study of their personalities, values and actions'. Felix Larkin, The Irish Catholic (15 April 2018)

'Now that Brexit has made the Irish border a live political issue once again, the origins of partition a century ago have never been more relevant.  This comparative biography by Alvin Jackson illuminates with insight and wisdom the lives of the two politicians and treats of the great events in which they participated ... He is not only of the foremost historians of the period, he also has the ability to be both fair and critical of his subjects.  Too many historians have little sympathy or understanding for the kinds of dilemma faced by politicians on a daily basis.  Jackson teases out the choices faced by Redmond and Carson, without ever underestimating the challenges faced by both'.  Stephen Collins, Studies:  an Irish Quarterly Review (Summer 2018)

'Jackson takes a surgical approach to his material, prising open the public personae of Carson and Redmond to find the complexities and contradictions underneath'. Daniel Murray, Eireann Ascendant (July, 2018)

'packs a punch ... fair and balanced ... subtle and compelling ... his summing up gets the personal intertwined contrasts and paradoxes neatly ... a particular strength of the book is Jackson's depiction of the very different personalities and temperaments of his two protagonists'.  John Swift, Dublin Review of Books

 

 

 

Alvin Jackson (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History (OUP: 2014, 2017)

"Each chapter is not only an insightful discussion of a particular theme or period, but also a brief digest of important scholarly work, with particular attention for lacunae in the scholarship  ...  the Handbook is both an excellent introduction to Irish history and an important reference work" -  The Times Literary Supplement

“fully up to the standard of the celebrated Oxford Handbooks series … Jackson’s fine opening essay draws on his widely admired archival research on the avatars of professionalism in the Irish historical scene – Robin Dudley Edwards, TW Moody and JC Beckett” – Paul Bew, Irish Times

 “what Alvin Jackson has done with this overview is to provide one of the most extensive overviews of Irish history, calling on 36 leading scholars from a wide range of disciplines … as such this is very much a handbook which should be in the possession of anyone studying and researching Irish history – not only does it offer a useful introduction to Irish history and historiography, it is also a crucial reference work”  – English Historical Review

 “it is likely to become an essential first port of call for anyone with a serious interest in Irish history for years to come” – Irish Catholic Books of the Year

 “truly a blockbuster … 37 chapters from leading scholars on a comprehensive range of topics, from thematic studies to more chronological accounts of Irish history since the late 16th century, cumulatively amounting to a panoramic prospectus of the current state of Irish historiogaphy” – History Ireland

"the work is an excellent contribution to the field ... [and] an excellent teaching tool" - Irish Studies Review

"The OUP Handbook of Modern Irish History, ranging over the last five centuries, imaginatively and expertly edited by Alvin Jackson, offers a rich cornucopia of perspectives from the 36 contributors, skilfully blending the chronological with the thematic in summarising the most recent understanding of topics and periods, while frequently and fruitfully meditating on possible future directions of enquiry. It is essential reading for understanding both how Ireland has got here, and for pondering possible further approaches to the historiography of the past five centuries" - J.J. Lee, New York University

"this substantial (786 pages) collection of essays manifests all that is admirable and valuable [in the Handbook series] ... the volume is fundamentally exciting and stimulating ... [Jackson's introduction] is invaluable ... the volume provides a much-needed, substantial, conscious attempt to provide a timetable and destination guide to a new emergent Irish history ... [and] intelligent and thought-provoking guidance for understanding new themes and research ... this work will be extraordinarily useful for students and scholars of Irish studies everywhere" - Paul Townend, Irish Literary Supplement

  

Alvin Jackson, The Two Unions:  Ireland, Scotland and the Survival of the United Kingdom, 1707-2007  (OUP, 2012, 2013)

-          Short-Listed, Saltire Society, Scottish History Book of the Year (2012)

 -          Short-Listed, Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize in Irish History, Politics and Literature (2013)

“In this lucid, powerfully argued and often witty book, Alvin Jackson sets out to compare systematically the genesis, complex histories and contrasting fortunes of the Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-Irish unions … nobody has matched the ambition, scope and indeed mastery of this work … a summary does scant justice to the complexity and richness of Jackson’s arguments and anatomisation of the two unions.  This is a book based on considerable original research and a talent for synthesis and assimilation of a voluminous secondary literature.  It sets an agenda for thinking about the union and unionisms … Politicians at Westminster may well wish to read this book, and ponder hard’ – Bob Harris, English Historical Review

"In this distinguished book ... Jackson sets out to provide a rigorous comparative treatment of the Irish and Scottish experience of union, and to explain why both have endured, if only partly in the Irish case.  The result is a richly textured work by a historian at the top of his game.  Jackson's command of the historiographical debates pertaining to a daunting range of periods and issues in the history of the two unions, and his lucidly argued judgements and insights combine to put this book in a pole position in the area of comparative historical studies concerning these islands.  It is a book that could hardly have been timelier …”  - Graham Walker,  Irish Historical Studies

 "What is illuminating is Jackson's brilliantly executed comparative approach to his subject ... [the state of the Union] is made crystal clear in what is an utterly compelling book." - Christopher Whatley,  BBC History Magazine

"Why was the one union a success, while the other failed? Alvin Jackson brings the tools of modern historical scholarship to answer this question in his impressive book. The Two Unions offers welcome relief from the usual polemics." - Vernon Bogdanor,  Literary Review

"A superb run-through of 300 years of critical issues with lots of topical relevance and interest ... [Two Unions] comes highly recommended from Talking History." -  Patrick Geoghegan, 'Talking History' programme, Newstalk Radio

"Alvin Jackson, the author of two excellent histories of Ireland in (and not in) the United Kingdom, now broadens his canvas in a timely account of one [union's] death and the other's survival - so far." - Iain McLean, Times Literary Supplement

 “There could be no better moment to produce the first detailed scholarly history of the two unions.  Its author, Alvin Jackson, spans them.  A tough-minded, unsentimental Ulsterman, with a string of books on Irish history to his credit, he is now a professor at Edinburgh University. With this new  work he has performed an extraordinarily valuable service … Jackson is the first person to describe the strengths and achievements of the two unions over their entire lifetimes …perfect academic detachment is preserved …  a superb book”  - A.B. Cooke, Lord Lexden,  The House -  Parliament’s Magazine

’Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?’For those interested in an excellent and up-to-date history of the relationship between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, I would suggest Alvin Jackson’s The Two Unions: Ireland, Scotland, and the Survival of the United Kingdom, 1707–2007’” – Douglas Kanter, American Historical Association, “AHA Today”.

“[Two Unions is] enlightening and even fun … smart, wonderfully learned and witty.  [This] book would make a splendid present for anyone interested in Irish (or Scottish) history” – Jude Collins, ‘Book Programme’, Radio Ulster

“This superb book provides the first complete political and cultural history of the unions … highly recommended” – D.R. Bisson, Choice

“The study is based on a very wide range of sources, is elegantly written, and is filled with new insights.  It is in every respect a triumph, managing to provoke historians of both Scotland and Ireland, while offering a fresh and timely perspective on the history of the Unions … the relationship of both Scotland and Ireland to the British Empire is also brilliantly delineated … the central achievement of this important book is that it can no longer be claimed that the Irish Union was doomed to failure from the start – or that the Scottish Union was destined to succeed “ – Thomas Bartlett,  Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature

“a distinguished analysis, subtle, balanced and insightful ... tightly organised and closely argued”  - John Swift,  Dublin Review of Books

“meticulously researched ... conceptually important ... an important book [which] is likely to secure its place as a work that will be read after the current debates are forgotten or have become potent myths and memories” - James Mitchell,  Journal of British Studies

“Alvin Jackson’s latest book may be about the survival of the union for the past 300 years, but it has considerable relevance and resonance for contemporary political debate on the future of the union … Written with vim, wit and a keen eye for historical paradox … this is a story of decline, but one which stresses that, for long periods, the union in both Scotland and Ireland survived and, at times, prospered. As such, this book will be invaluable to historians of both countries and should be required reading for all those interested in the constitutional future of the United Kingdom” - A. J. MacPherson,  Northern Scotland

 

 

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