August 2016 Scholar Spotlight

Jill C. Bender, UNC Greensboro

Posted by Nicholas on July 30, 2016

benderArea of Research
My focus is the history of the nineteenth-century British empire, and I am particularly interested in Ireland as a case study of imperialism. My recent book, The 1857 Indian Uprising and the British Empire (Cambridge, 2016), examines the impact of the 1857 uprising on four different colonial sites: Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, and the Cape Colony in southern Africa.

Tell us why you decided to pursue your chosen field of study.
To be honest, the study of Ireland and empire has interested me since high school when I read a footnote in my American history textbook suggesting that England’s colonization efforts in Ireland had shaped later attempts in North America. That one footnote piqued my interest in colonial comparisons; a love of travel, an interest in imperial history, and the support of numerous academic mentors encouraged me to pursue these interests further.

What have been your most rewarding experiences during your studies? Your most challenging?
The opportunity to travel has been immensely rewarding—my research has taken me to Ireland, Britain, South Africa, and New Zealand. I have met extraordinary people in each location, both within academia and outside. I can’t think of a most challenging moment. I think our work by nature is challenging, but that is also what makes it deeply rewarding.

What are you currently working on?
My newest project examines the role of the British state in nineteenth-century migration schemes, and I am particularly interested in migration projects involving Irish women. I conducted research in Ireland this summer—in Dublin and Cork—tracking a number of women who migrated (or contemplated migrating) to southern Africa during the 1850s. The project appeals to me because it is quite different from my last, but also allows me to draw on my interests in colonial networks and Ireland’s place within the mid-nineteenth-century British empire.

What are you currently reading?
I am reading a few different books at the moment. I often try to read one curriculum-related book over the summer—this year it’s The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, which applies the concepts of the slow food movement to academia. While parts of the book relate to teaching and learning, it is actually about the academic lifestyle more broadly. I am also reading Maharini’s Misery: Narratives of a Passage from India to the Caribbean, by Verene A. Shepherd. This is a rather heartbreaking study of an indentured laborer’s experience en route to the Caribbean during the 1880s, and I am considering it for a course on the history of the British empire. Next on my list is Ellen Boucher’s Empire’s Children: Child Emigration, Welfare, and the Decline of the British World, 1869–1967. Finally, my guilty pleasure is mystery books, and I almost always have one by my bedside. At the moment, it’s Tana French’s The Secret Place, but I also have John Sandford’s Extreme Prey waiting in the wings.

How do you hope your work will impact Irish studies?
While Irish historians have not shied away from studying Ireland within an imperial context, I find that historians of the British Empire have been less inclined to include the island in comparative studies. I hope to continue to bridge this gap, and demonstrate that Ireland not only played an important role in the British empire, but should also play an important role in networked studies of empire.

What are your future plans?
At the moment, I am pretty focused on last-minute preparations for the coming school year, and also getting my research in a place where I can easily continue it once classes start up.