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Identity, Memory, Nationhood and Post-Colonial Society

Unit(s) of assessment: Law

School: Nottingham Law School


Legal systems, in common with all other social structures, metamorphosise and adapt in response to a changing world.   A number of our researchers are exploring the relationship between law, and evolving understandings of identity, belonging and accountability.  Their work encompasses a range of perspectives and levels, from the individual and community, right through to the national and international nation.

Tom Lewis

Tom Lewis has researched for many years in the fields of human rights and has a particular interest freedom of expression and freedom of relgion or belief.  In the course of his research he has explored the intersection of human rights law with such areas as: religious dress, symbol and rites, controversial art, political speech, broadcasting and democratic rights.

Tom is currently working on the complex and fascinating relationship between human rights, history, and collective memory & identity, especially in respect of recent heated debates over statues and memorials dedicated to controversial figures from Britain’s past such as the slave trader Edward Colston and the colonialist Cecil Rhodes. In such ‘statue wars’ opposing battle lines tend to be drawn up between those who argue that it is unacceptable to tolerate such monuments in the public square versus those who argue that to remove them is to ‘censor our past’ and ‘lie about history’. Tom’s current work explores the question of whether, in the midst of such disputes, human rights law can help us to reach balanced resolutions:

‘The law should not protect public memorials to slave traders’ Legal Week, 10 February 2021.

Human Rights and Toppled Statues: Can the European Convention on Human Rights provide solutions to de-commemoration disputes?’ in Sarah Gensburger and Jenny Wustenberg (eds) De-Commemoration: Making Sense of Contemporary Calls for Tearing Down Statures and Renaming Places (Berghan Books 2021) (in press).

‘What to do with the Buried Giant? Collective Historical Memory and Identity in the Freedom of Expression Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights’ (co-authored with P. Cumper) in J. Marshall (ed) Personal Identity at the European Court of Human Rights (Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2022).

Gerard Maguire

Gerard’s doctoral research focused primarily on international human rights law, with a focus on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. His research questioned the use of education systems as both tools of oppression and that for furthering the right to self-determination in the context of Indigenous Peoples. This research also crossed into issues of public international law and international criminal law and examined how States interact with Indigenous groups and questioned the legitimacy of cultural genocide as an international crime. The research drew on the experiences of the First Nations of Canada under the Canadian Residential School System and a more contemporary examination of the educational provision for Tribal children in French Guiana.

More recently, Gerard’s research now examines issues of climate justice and is examining instances of Solastalgia and Topophilia in the context of Island Peoples and how these terms could answer the question of environmental protections for vulnerable groups suffering most from climate change during the Anthropocene. Gerard’s current research projects include the writing of a Monograph titled ‘Education Systems: Denier or Facilitator of the Right to Self-Determination’ with Intersentia Publishing and an extended academic journal article for LAWS titled ‘Beyond Intent: Investigating Cultural Genocide of the Indigenous Peoples of French Guiana’. Gerard has previously published on issues such as: Cultural Genocide, Group Rights, Trauma and Memory and Climate Justice.  He is currently the group convenor for the Development Studies Association of Ireland (DSAI) group on Climate and Development and is also on the Management Committee for an EU COST Action project investigating justice constellations in relation to atrocity crimes.


Maguire, Gerard “Human Erosion: Indigenous Peoples and Well-Being in the Anthropocene” (2020) Journal of Irish Studies in International Affairs

Maguire, Gerard “The Unacknowledged Genocide: The Guatemalan Mayan Quest for Justice” (2020) MURAL

Maguire, Gerard and Higgins, Noelle “Language, Indigenous Peoples, and the Right to Self-Determination” (2019) 31(2) New England Journal of Public Policy

Maguire, Gerard “Cultural Genocide: A Legitimate Crime?” (2018) 10 Citizen's Rights Watch

Maguire, Gerard “A Genocide by Any Other Name; Cultural Genocide in the Context of Indigenous Peoples and the Role of International Law” (2018) 4 Strathclyde Law Review

Maguire, G et al DSAI Podcast Series on Climate and Development

Link to special issue of LAWS for which I was the guest editor

Helen Hall

Questions around nationhood, culture, religion/belief and identity are recurring themes in Helen’s work. She has written widely on issues in Constitutional and human rights law, and her studies frequently drawn upon history and anthropology.   Her first book Law, Religion and the Constitution: Balancing Beliefs in Britain(Routledge 2017) was co-authored with Prof Javier Garcia Oliva at the University of Manchester, and explored the treatment of religion within the UK Constitutional framework, and paid particular attention to the position of often unseen minority groups, such as Gaelic speaking and religiously conservative population of the Outer Hebrides.

In collaboration with the same colleague, Helen has recently completed a second book, due to be published by Toronto University Press in 2023, Constitutional Culture, Independence and Rights: Insights from Quebec, Scotland and Catalonia.   As the title suggests, this volume addresses questions around identity, self-determination and the importance of Constitutions for individuals on the street.

Her current book project addresses Law and the Supernatural and focuses on the United Kingdom and North America, in both historical and contemporary times.  The treatment of marginalised groups, alongside the impact of colonialism and slavery on topics such as magic, exorcism/possession, haunting and folk-medicine are fundamental questions in the discussion.

Alongside these monographs, Helen has written a number of articles which address themes of identity, belonging and rights within Constitutions.  She is also interested in the development of Anglophone legal and political thought in the Early Modern Era, particularly with reference to justice, rights and sovereignty, against the backdrop of encounters with “New Worlds” both real and imagined.   She has written on Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World, and the title of the boardgame which she developed with Tom Lewis and Javier Garcia Oliva is Brave New World, in reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

In addition, Helen’s research covers freedom of religion and belief in Spain and Latin America, in particular in relation to exorcism.   Within this field legal and societal attitudes towards indigenous culture, values and beliefs shapes official responses to practices, and the balance struck between respect for personal autonomy/religious freedom on the one hand, and the imperative to protect the vulnerable from exploitation and harm on the other.

Prof Jonathan Doak

Professor Jonathan Doak has a particular interest in the roles of memory and identity in context of the Northern Ireland peace process. Jonathan’s research has explored the role of the so-called ‘contact hypothesis’  in building public trust in the criminal justice system and the normative role of the State as an actor in conflict-resolution.