Professor Ralph O'Connor

Professor Ralph O'Connor

Professor in the Literature and Culture of Britain, Ireland & Iceland

Professor Ralph O'Connor
Professor Ralph O'Connor

Contact Details

work +44 (0)1224 272467
fax 01224 - 272203
The University of Aberdeen School of Divinity, History and Philosophy,
Crombie Annexe,
Meston Walk,
King's College,
University of Aberdeen,
Old Aberdeen,
AB24 3FX
Room: 215

Research Overview

My research currently falls into four linked areas: mediaeval Celtic literature, mediaeval Icelandic and Scandinavian literature, modern history of science, and literary history c. 1750-1920. My specific interests within these fields are:

  • Science and literature, and the literary study of science-writing, 1750-1950 (mainly in Britain and America)
  • The prehistory of science fiction, 1850-1950 (Britain, America, France)
  • The history of popular science and science communication, 1750-present
  • Myth, religion and the physical sciences since 1800
  • Mediaeval Irish legendary, historical and mythological narrative, 700-1700
  • Mediaeval Icelandic legendary, historical, mythological and chivalric narrative, 1200-1900
  • Fictionality and genre in mediaeval narrative
  • Kingship ideology and inauguration rituals in mediaeval and early modern Ireland and Scotland
  • Mediaeval and modern monsters and their functions
  • Literature, art and music of the Celtic Revival and its aftermath in Ireland, Scotland and England, c. 1880-1950

Current Research

I am currently completing my seventh and eighth books: a monograph on perceptions of historicity and fictionality in the writing and rewriting of Icelandic sagas, 1200-1900 (funded by a two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship), and a new edition of Hugh Miller's much-loved masterpiece of Victorian science and landscape writing, The Old Red Sandstone (co-edited with Dr. Michael A. Taylor). I am also engaged in ongoing studies of secular inauguration-rituals in mediaeval and early modern Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, the symbolic linkages between dragons and dinosaurs in modern science and its communication, and a comparison of Irish and Icelandic versions of the Phaidra-Hippolytos story-pattern. The comparative study of frenzied warriors and shapeshifters in mediaeval Irish and Icelandic sagas which I produced during my year as Research Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study, Oslo (2012-13) has recently been published in Kings and Warriors in Early North-West Europe, ed. Jan Erik Rekdal and Charles Doherty (Dublin: Four Courts, 2016).

Research Funding and Grants

2009-10: my research was supported by the AHRC-funded Research Leave Scheme. This award was made via the Modern Languages panel in order to enable me to finish my book The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel, published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

2012-13: teaching cover grant and stipend from the Centre for Advanced Study in Oslo (at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters) where I was resident Research Fellow for the year.

2015-17: Leverhulme Research Fellowship (teaching cover and research travel award)


Teaching Responsibilities

  • HI 1518 Vikings!
  • CE 1028 Romans, Celts, Druids, and Warriors
  • CE 2027 Arthur in Medieval Welsh and Gaelic Literature
  • CE 2028 The Vikings in Scotland AD 795-1266
  • CE 2529 History of the Celtic Languages
  • CU 2507 Brains, Breeding and the Bomb: From Enlightenment to Scepticism
  • CU 3011 Science and Religion: From Galileo to Creationism
  • CE 3585/4585 Tales of Vengeance and Enchantment: Mediaeval Irish Sagas
  • CE 3575/4575 Celtic Myth in the Modern World: From Ossian to the New Age
  • EL 40BL Frankenstein to Einstein: Literature and Science
  • CU 4029 Aspects of Culture
  • HA 4057 Critical Perspectives in Art History
  • HI 5029 Mediaeval Texts and Manuscripts
  • CU 5510 Trolls, Druids and the Walking Dead: Visions of the Pagan Past in Mediaeval Ireland and Iceland

I am currently supervising the following PhD projects:

  • The Circulation of Phrenological Knowledge and the British Phrenological Periodical Press in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century (Liz Neesam, History)
  • Adam Ferguson’s Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic: Passions, Epistemology, and Politics in the Late Scottish Enlightenment (Xandra Bello, Irish and Scottish Studies)
  • An Aesthetic of Seasonal Variation in the Landscape Art of Baltic Germany and Scandinavia, 1800-1920 (Sophie Dietrich, History or Art)
  • Authority and the Archetype of the Liminal Wise Man in the Sagas of Icelanders (Barrett Sink, Scandinavian Studies)

I have supervised the following completed PhD projects:

  • Understanding the Content, Form and Purpose of Hero Myths as Symbolic Resources of Nation and Insurgency: The Case of the Provisional IRA in the Northern Ireland Conflict, 1969-1998 (Lawrence Butler Perks, Politics & International Relations)
  • Madness and Deception in Medieval Irish and Norse-Icelandic Sagas (Laura Matheson, Celtic)
  • 'Let each man show his manhood': Masculinity and Status in Old Norse and Medieval Irish Literature (Lisa Wotherspoon, Scandinavian Studies)





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  • A Critical Study of Hugh Miller's Old Red Sandstone, 1838-1920

    O'Connor, R. J., Taylor, M. A.

    National Museums Scotland Publishing, Edinburgh

    Books and Reports: Books

  • Hugh Miller, The Old Red Sandstone; or, New Walks in an Old Field

    O'Connor, R. J. (ed.), Taylor, M. A. (ed.)

    National Museums Scotland Publishing, Edinburgh

    Books and Reports: Scholarly Editions

  • Dating the publication of Hugh Miller’s Testimony of the Rocks (1857)

    Taylor, M., O'Connor, R., Overstreet, L. K.

    Archives of Natural History

    Contributions to Journals: Articles

  • Romance, legend and the remote past: historical framing in late medieval Icelandic sagas

    O'Connor, R. J.

    'Vera Lex Historiae'?: Constructions of Truth in Medieval Historical Narrative. Taranu, C. (ed.). Gracchi Books

    Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters

  • Geology and paleontology

    O'Connor, R. J.

    The Routledge Companion to Victorian Literature. Denisoff, D., Schaffer, T. (eds.). Routledge, pp. 401-413, 13 pages

    Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters

  • Putrid fables and true histories: Perceptions of authenticity and the management of scepticism in Northern humanist fornaldarsaga scholarship

    O'Connor, R.

    The Legendary Legacy. Driscoll, M., Hufnagel, S., Lavender, P., Stegmann, B. (eds.). University Press of Southern Denmark, pp. 117-159, 43 pages

    Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters

  • Science for the General Reader

    O'Connor, R.

    The Routledge Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Science. Holmes, J., Ruston, S. (eds.). Routledge, pp. 155-171, 17 pages

    Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters

  • History and Fiction

    O'Connor, R. J.

    The Routledge Companion to the Medieval Icelandic Saga. Jakobsson, A., Jakobsson, S. (eds.). Routledge, pp. 88-110, 24 pages

    Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters

  • Monsters of the tribe: berserk fury, shapeshifting and social dysfunction in Táin Bó Cúailnge, Egils saga and Hrólfs saga kraka

    O'Connor, R.

    Kings and Warriors in Early North-West Europe. Rekdal, J. E., Doherty, C. (eds.). Four Courts Press, pp. 180-236, 57 pages

    Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters

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