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Dr Helen O'Shea

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am a Staff Tutor and Senior Lecturer in History. Originally from Co. Cork in Ireland and based in Edinburgh since 2003, I was awarded my PhD in history from the University of Edinburgh in 2010. I first started working as an Associate Lecturer in History with the Open University in 2012 and since then have also worked as a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Dundee. I currently cluster manage A111 (Discovering the Arts & Humanties) and A113 (Revolutions) modules and I'm a member of the A225 module team (The British Isles and the Modern World: 1789-1914). I was also on the production team for our new module A328 (Empire: Power, Resistance, Legacies) authoring two units on British formal and informal imperialism in the Middle East.

My research has been supported by grants from the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. I am a Fellow of the HIgher Education Academy and the Royal Historical Society.

Research interests

My research interests include comparative decolonisation, insurgency and counter-insurgency in the British Empire, the British colonial legal service and modern Irish history in transnational and comparative contexts. My first book was published in 2015 under the title Ireland and the End of the British Empire: The Republic and Its Role in the Cyprus Emergency and was reprinted in paperback in 2020 by Bloomsbury Publishing. It has since been updated and translated into Greek and published by Aigaion (Nicosia, 2023) and a recent appraisal of it can be found in the Cyprus ReviewI am currently researching emergency law and order in the post-war British Empire using three major emergency periods - Palestine (1945-48), Malaya (1948-60) and Kenya (1952-59) - as case studies. Within the OU's research clusters, I'm a member of the Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice and the Centre for Empire and Postcolonial Studies.

Lately, I've also been revisiting the history of women's work in Scotland, which I first became interested in when working for the National Union of Students in Scotland, prior to entering academia. Along with fellow colleagues at the Open University in Scotland, I've collaborated with the STUC on an OpenLearn project around these issues entitled Women and Workplace Struggles: Scotland 1900-2022 and was one of the academic leads for the the BBC Scotland three-part series Women Who Changed Modern Scotland  presented by Kirsty Wark which first aired in February 2023. Building on several of the themes raised in this series, I've guest-edited the latest edition of Scottish Affairs ahead of International Women's Day 2024 with Prof. Kim Barker. 

Over the years I've taught on several modules encompassing Irish, British and imperial history and continue to teach on A225 (The British Isles and the Modern World, 1789-1914). One of the most rewarding aspects of my role is the opportunity to transfer this knowledge through BBC-Open University co-productions. Alongside Prof. Gerry Mooney and Dr Dan Taylor, I was an OU-nominated academic on Union, a four-part BBC2 series presented by Professor David Olusoga which aired in October 2023. 

In the field of HE policy, I'm interested in issues of student access, retention and progression in the context of higher education and under-represented adult learners, especially unpaid carers.

Teaching interests

Modern Irish and British History

The Twentieth Century British Empire

Impact and engagement

Recent Knowledge Exchange Activities

OU Panel Member, along with Prof. Gerry Mooney and Dr Dan Taylor, at the PolicyWISE launch event with Professor David Olusoga (Westminster, 15 November 2023)

OU Panel Member with Kirsty Wark and Gabriella Bennett (National Museum of Scotland, 7 February 2023)

Recent Media & Blogs

International Women’s Day: We’ve had our fill of hashtags (Edinburgh University Press Blog, 6 March 2024) (with Kim Barker)

'The Progress Made by Women Requires Constant Nurturing' (The Scotsman, 7 March 2023).

'The Kaye Adams Programme', BBC Radio Scotland, 23 February 2023.

Committee Membership

Open History Society Edinburgh

External collaborations

Project member of the OpenLearn 'Women and Workplace Struggles: Scotland 1900-2022' project in collaboration with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC)


Guest Editorial (2024)
O'Shea, Helen and Barker, Kim
Scottish Affairs, 33(1) (pp. 1-3)

Politics of the Heart: In Conversation with Porty Pride (2024)
O'Shea, Helen
Scottish Affairs, 33(1) (pp. 36-46)

Cultural histories, reproductive rights and collective remembering: Contemporary Ireland and Scotland in a post-Roe v. Wade world (2022)
O'Shea, Helen
Scottish Affairs, 31(4) (pp. 473-479)

Book Review of Kalypso Nicolaidis, Berny Sèbe, Gabrielle Maas (eds.), Echoes of Empire: Memory, Identity and Colonial Legacies (London, 2015) in Political Studies Review, Vol. 51, Issue 1 (2017). (2017-02)
O'Shea, Helen
Political Studies Review, 15(1)

Irish Legal Geographies in the Era of Emergency: Independent Ireland, Colonial Kenya and the British Colonial Legal Service (2016-08-31)
O'Shea, Helen
Éire-Ireland: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Irish Studies, 51(1 & 2) (pp. 243-265)

Ireland and the End of the British Empire: The Republic and its Role in the Cyprus Emergency (2020-03-19)
O'Shea, Helen
ISBN : 9781350156340 | Publisher : Bloomsbury | Published : London

Ireland and the End of the British Empire: The Republic and its Role in the Cyprus Emergency (2014-10-16)
O'Shea, Helen
ISBN : 9781780767529 | Publisher : I.B. Tauris | Published : London

‘Personally I Think it Would be Positively Hilarious’: The European Convention, the Cyprus Question and Frank Aiken’s State of Exception (2014-04-14)
O'Shea, Helen
In: Kelly, Stephen and Evans, Bryce eds. Frank Aiken: Nationalist and Internationalist (pp. 233-249)
ISBN : 978-0716532392 | Publisher : Irish Academic Press | Published : Kildare

"Cyprus on the Brain": Irish Identity, the Imperial Imagination and the Beginnings of British Cyprus. (2013)
O'Shea, Helen
In: Georgis, Giorgos and Kazamias, Georgios eds. Ireland-Cyprus: Parallel Journeys. Common Aspirations (pp. 212-245)
ISBN : 9789963691920 | Publisher : En tipis Publications | Published : Nicosia

Irish Law Graduates, the colonial legal service and the Cyprus Emergency, 1955-59 (2012-11-23)
O'Shea, Helen
In: Dickson, David; Pyz, Justyna and Shepard, Christopher eds. Irish Classrooms and the British Empire: Imperial Contexts in the Origins of Modern Education (pp. 223-230)
ISBN : 978-1846823497 | Publisher : Four Courts Press | Published : Dublin

Colonial Reparations, Collective Redress and the Colonial Legal Service in the Post-War British Empire (2016-11)
O'Shea, Helen
In : 3rd Academic International Conference on Interdisciplinary Legal Studies (1-3 Mar 2016, University of Oxford) (pp. 16-24)