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Dr Sorcha O'Brien

Senior Lecturer in Design History & Theory


I am a design historian interested in technology and identity, in both physical and digital forms. I am currently an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow, working on a research project on the introduction of electrical products into the Irish home in the wake of rural electrification in the 1950s and 1960s, in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland. Although domestic electric products were seen as modernising technologies in many other countries, this project uses object analysis, archival research and oral history to consider to what extent these meanings held in the Republic of Ireland.

I joined Kingston in 2012, having previously taught Design History and Theory at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin and IADT in Dun Laoghaire. I completed my AHRC-funded PhD dissertation on the representation of electrical technology in 1920s Ireland at the University of Brighton, which was published in 2017 by Irish Academic Press.

Areas of specialism

  • History of Design
  • Material Culture
  • Visual Culture
  • Irish Design
  • eLearning


  • PhD History of Design, University of Brighton, 2012
  • PGCert Research Methodology, University of Brighton, 2008
  • MA History of Design, Middlesex University, 1998
  • BDes Industrial Design, National College of Art & Design, 1996

Professional membership

Design History Society

Society for the History of Technology (SHOT)

Institute of Designers in Ireland (Education section)


My research interests focus around two main issues, that of technology and identity in design and material culture. I am also interested in wider issues surrounding technology and identity in design, whether digital or analogue. With a background in industrial and digital design, I am interested in issues surrounding the design of computers and networked devices at work and in the home, critical design and the creation of online and filmic worlds, as well as the pedagogy involved in using digital technology in education. I welcome research students pursuing research in any of these areas, as well as national or personal identity in relation to product or domestic design and technology. 

Research student supervision


Number of items: 41.


O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) 'Made in Ireland'? National narratives and hybrid identities in Irish design history. Writing Visual Culture, 8, ISSN (online) 2049-7180

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Siemens Archive Munich Travel Report. Design History Society Blog - Reports,

O'Brien, Sorcha (2014) Review of The Story of Design. Journal of Design History, 27(4), pp. 413-414. ISSN (print) 0952-4649

O'Brien, Sorcha (2011) Exhibition Review of: 'The moderns: the arts in Ireland from the 1900s to the 1970s' at The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. Artefact(5), pp. 83-89. ISSN (print) 2009-0528


O'brien, Sorcha (2017) Powering the nation: images of the Shannon scheme and electricity in Ireland. Newbridge, Ireland : Irish Academic Press. 344p. ISBN 9781911024675

Edwards, Clive , O'Brien, Sorcha , Atkinson, Harriet , Kettley, Sarah , Bhagat, Dipti , Raizman, David and Willis, Anne-Marie, eds. (2015) Bloomsbury encyclopedia of design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. 1533p. ISBN 9781472521576

Moran, Anna and O'Brien, Sorcha, eds. (2014) Love objects: emotion, design and material culture. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury. 184p. ISBN 9781472517197

Book Section

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Bouroullec, Ronan (1971–) and Erwan (1976–). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 184. ISBN 9781472521545

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Dunne & Raby (Dunne, Anthony 1964–; Raby, Fiona 1963–). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 444-445. ISBN 9781472521545

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Guixé, Martí (1964–). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 124. ISBN 9781472521552

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Heatherwick, Thomas (1970–). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 139. ISBN 9781472521552

O'Brien, Sorcha and Chesters, Robert (2016) Jongerius, Hella (1963-). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury encyclopedia of design. London. U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 262. ISBN 9781472521552

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Rittel, Horst (1930–90). In: Edwards, Clive, (ed.) The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 163-164. ISBN 9781472521569

O'Brien, Sorcha (2011) Technology and modernity: the Shannon Scheme and visions of national progress. In: King, Linda and Sisson, Elaine, (eds.) Ireland, design and visual culture: negotiating modernity, 1922-1992. Cork, Ireland : Cork University Press. pp. 59-71. ISBN 9781859184721

O'Brien, Sorcha (2009) Images of Ardnacrusha: photography, electrical technology, and modernity in the Irish Free State. In: Flannery, Eoin and Griffin, Michael, (eds.) Ireland in Focus: film, photography, and popular culture. Syracuse, New York, U.S. : Syracuse University Press. pp. 71-85. (Irish Studies) ISBN 9780815632030

O'Brien, Sorcha (2009) Photographic connections: electrical technology in the making of Ireland in the 1920s. In: Glynne, Jonathan , Hackney, Fiona and Minton, Viv, (eds.) Networks of design: proceedings of the 2008 annual international conference of the Design History Society (UK): University College Falmouth 3-6 September. Boca Raton, Florida, U.S. : Universal Publishers. pp. 246-253. ISBN 9781599429069

Conference or Workshop Item

O'Brien, Sorcha (2018) Electric Irish homes : rural electrification, domestic products and Irish housewives in the 1950s and 1960s. In: TVAD Talks; 07 Feb 2018, Hatfield, UK. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2018) Electrical demonstrators and Irish countrywomen : official and voluntary promotion of Irish rural electrification. In: European Social Science History Conference 2018; 04 - 07 Apr 2018, Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Brown bread and washing machines : nostalgia and perspective in Irish women’s experience of rural electrification. In: Oral Histories of Work & Leisure : Oral History Network of Ireland 2017 Conference; 23-24 Jun 2017, Galway, Republic of Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Early Career Researcher grant funding presentation. In: it AHRC Peer Review College Early Career History Event; 08 Mar 2017, Leicester, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Electric Irish homes. In: Go for Life taster day; 01 Sep 2017, Termonfeckin, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Electric Irish homes : rural electrification, domestic products and Irish women in the 1950s and 1960s. In: Modern Interiors Research Centre Research Symposium 2017; 17-18 Jan 2017, Kingston upon Thames. (Unpublished)

O'brien, Sorcha (2017) Electric Irish homes: researching housewives, electric products and domesticity in rural 1950s and 1960s Ireland. In: Kingston University Research Week; 3-7 April 2017, Knights Park campus, Kingston University. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Housewives, electrical products and domesticity in 1950s and 1960s rural Ireland. In: MSt History of Design Dissertation Forum; 10 - 11 Jun 2017, Oxford, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) 'Made in Ireland'? : National narratives and transnational networks in Irish design history. In: Making and Unmaking the Environment : Design History Society Annual Conference; 07 - 09 Sep 2017, Oslo, Norway. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) Powering the nation : visions of the Shannon Scheme and electricity in Ireland. In: Dublin Festival of History 2017; 29 Sep - 14 Oct, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'brien, Sorcha (2017) Researching housewives, electrical products and domesticity in 1950s and 1960s rural Ireland. In: Domesticating Energy; 26 - 27 May 2017, Cambridge, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) "Look what Santa’s brought for you, mummy”: women, domesticity and the vacuum cleaner in 1950s and 1960s Ireland’. In: Irish Women and Rural Society: from Medieval to Modern; 11-12 Mar 2016, Belfast, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) 'Shining clean machines' : the promotion of vacuum cleaners in 1950s and 1960s Ireland. In: Mise Eire : shaping a nation through design; 04 - 05 Nov 2016, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2016) Visions of home : nostalgia and mobility in Serenity's domestic interior. In: Interiors : Film, Theater, Television; 18 Nov 2016, New York, U.S.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) "Look what Santa’s brought for you, Mummy" : women, domesticity and the vacuum cleaner in post-war Ireland. In: Historical geographies of home session on domestic space and practice in the past, 16th International Conference of Historical Geographers; 07 Jul 2015, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) The domestic spaceship : visions of future home-making in the production design of Serenity’s communal living spaces. In: "How We Live, and How We Might Live": Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism; 11-13 Sep 2015, San Francisco, U.S.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) The domestic spaceship: visions of future home-making in the production design of Serenity’s communal living spaces. In: Space Craft : Ladies and Gentlemen, we are floating in space; Nov 2015, Kingston upon Thames, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) The things I love the most. In: Galway International Arts Festival: First Thought Talks; 13-26 Jul 2015, Galway, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha [Organizer of meeting], Moran, Anna [Organizer of meeting], Hemmings, Jessica [Commentator], Carter, Frances [Speaker], Wilson, Ann [Speaker] and McGuire, Noreen [Speaker] (2014) Love Objects Studio Session. In: Love Objects Studio Session; 1 Oct 2014, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2014) Making meaning with ephemera: electrical technology and Irish national identity in the 1920s. In: 10th European Social Science History Conference; 23-26 Apr 2014, Vienna, Austria. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2014) Power games: British and German influences in Irish electrical power generation architecture. In: American Association for Irish Studies and the Canadian Association for Irish Studies Annual Conference; 11 - 14 Jun 2014, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2012) Between art & industry. In: Between Art and Industry: New Models in a Post Industrial World; 29 Jun 2012, Kilkenny, Ireland. (Unpublished)

O'Brien, Sorcha (2012) Men, machines and tourists: Visual representations of the Shannon Scheme from advertisements to postcards. In: Revealing the Modern in Post-Civil War Ireland: Lecture Series to Coincide with ‘Seán Keating and the ESB: Enlightenment and Legacy’ at the RHA Dublin; 12 Sep - 17 Oct 2012, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)


O'brien, Sorcha [Designer] (2017) Electric Irish Homes audio installation. Kingston Research Week exhibition. .

Database or Web Resource

O'Brien, Sorcha (2013) Behind the Interface: Space, Time and Infrastructure in Internet-Based Delivery for Design Education.

This list was generated on Fri Jun 22 04:21:56 2018 BST.

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