M4C Logo AHRC Logo

Niamh Lawlor

Languages and Literature, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

Creative responses to pre-historic monuments in early twentieth century literature: 1900-1950

My research explores creative responses to ancient monuments between 1900-1950. By using a ‘ground up’ research approach which emphasises the importance of gaining an insight into the cultural and historic status of each site and how this was manifested during the first half of the twentieth century, this project offers a localised orientation point from which to consider landscapes in early twentieth-century literature and will ask what modern and modernist literature looks like from the perspective of these ancient spaces. By selecting five British and Irish monuments and outlining their topographical appearance as well as how they were interacted with both locally and publicly, my research offers a physical starting point from which to consider why ancient sites appealed so strongly to the early twentieth-century imagination. By exploring how modern writers approached specific monuments, my research explores how these sites often became symbols of ‘universal’ myths whilst remaining distinctly local landmarks. 

My research considers a diverse range of local sources including parish records, archaeological reports, folklore collections, local history journals and newspaper reports– building a survey of voices responding to each site in turn and tracing their cultural status and how this changed over the early twentieth century. This local study provides the background against which to consider the diverse ways in which they were appropriated and adopted by writer as emblems of distinctly modern ideas. This project offers a unique perspective from which to consider the value of local history in interpreting representations of ancient spaces whilst staging a dialogue between localised cultural history and early twentieth century-literary criticism. 

I am particularly interested in the literary representations of pre-historic sites by a number of twentieth century writers including: Edith Olivier, John Cowper Powys and Liam O’Flaherty as they are figures who moved between the avant-garde, modernist artistic circles of the early twentieth century and distinctly local communities. My work aims to explore how these writers act as mediators between these two distinct worlds and the implications of this when considered alongside critical discussions about literary modernism.

Research Area

  • English Language and Literature
  • Languages and Literature


'A Very Modern Monument: Avebury Neolithic Stone Circle in the Early Twentieth Century,' Changing Landscapes PGR Conference, LCAHM - 1 May 2024

Other Research Interests

I am particularly interested in local history as an unerestimated starting point from which to consider literary represetations of monuments, landscapes and communities. I am also interested in both modernist and mainstream early twentieth-century writing and how writers explore debates surrouning religion and spiritualism in an increasingly secular society.