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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Dr Niall Cunningham

Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41865
Fax: +44 (0) 191 33 41801
Room number: 228

Contact Dr Niall Cunningham (email at


I joined the Geography Department at Durham in April 2015 from Sociology at Manchester University. Between February 2011 and March 2015 I was a Research Associate at CRESC: The ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester, and latterly, in the Sociology Department where I worked under the Head of Manchester Business School, Professor Fiona Devine. CRESC was the ESRC’s primary investment into issues of contemporary cultural and social change. I conducted quantitative research contributing to CRESC’s Theme 5 agenda, ‘Trajectories of Inequality and Participation’ where I worked with and alongside sociologists, anthropologists, historians and economists addressing issues of social change from a wide range of precepts. You can find out more about the work of CRESC via the link below.

I started off in academia at Lancaster University where between 2008 and 2010 I was a Research Associate in the History Department at Lancaster University working on a project entitled, 'Troubled Geographies: Two Centuries of Religious Division in Ireland', which was funded under the AHRC's 'Religion and Society' scheme. The project had two core strands: the first was the construction of an Historical GIS (HGIS) of Ireland’s ethnic, economic and social geographies over the long period from the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century; the second was a examination of the geography of the Northern Ireland Troubles from 1969 to 2001. Led by Professor Ian Gregory (Lancaster) in collaboration with colleagues at Queen’s University Belfast and the City University of New York, in November 2010 'Troubled Geographies' was judged to be 'outstanding' by the award body. Again, you can find out more about ‘Troubled Geographies’ via the link below.

I studied Irish history at University College Dublin (1997-98) and Irish Studies at Liverpool University (1994-97) before qualifying as a History teacher and working in schools in the UK and Japan. I hold a PGCE from the Institute of Education (2000-01) and I undertook the MSc in Geographical Information Systems at the University of Leeds during session 2006-2007. 

In March 2014 I completed part-time doctoral studies at Lancaster with the thesis, 'Repertoires of Violence: The Geography of Political Conflict in Belfast During the Twentieth Century'. It explores how political violence in the city during the Troubles relates to segregation, deprivation, material/social boundaries and historical patterns of conflict. Three chapters have been published in full or altered format in the Journal of Historical Geography, Irish Geography and Political Geography.


'Study finds Manchester is home of new ‘affluent’ working class who love gym and rap music', Manchester Evening News, 22 April 2013.

'Status update', Sunday Times, 1 November 2015.

Savage, Mike. 'End class wars', Nature 537(7621), 21 September 2016. (cartography)

Research Interests

My interests lie in the spatial and statistical analysis of social and historical change, cohering around the themes of political conflict and social inequality, and methodologically focused on the possibilities and limitations of geographical information systems (GIS) to address these issues. Much of my published work has explored these themes in the Irish context, with a focus on Belfast as a key global laboratory for analysing the intersection of issues of ethnicity, inequality, urban materiality and conflict.

Another important vehicle for pursuing some of these interests over the past few years has been the BBC's Great British Class Survey (GBCS), a major web survey conducted between 2011 and 2013 to examine the role and relevance of social class in the UK today. This was the most significant exercise in 'public sociology' yet undertaken. This link gives an overview of the ideas behind the project when it was launched:  In April 2013, the initial results of our analysis of the GBCS were published in the journal Sociology as 'A New Model of Social Class: Findings from the BBC's Great British Class Survey Experiment' and in 2015 in the book Social Class in the 21st Century (London: Penguin).

I would be very pleased to receive enquiries from prospective doctoral students who share my interests in applying quantitative approaches in social and historical geography.


I am currently working on a range of projects and proposals. These include a collaboration with colleagues from institutions in the UK and across Europe using data from the European Commission's EUCROSS survey to assess cross-border movements, lifestyles and identities. I am also part of the project team on a Horizon 2020 project called NATURVATION which is tasked with measuring and asessing the effectiveness of nature-based solutions in urban innovation and design. The project, led by colleagues at Durham (Professors Harriet Bulkeley and Louise Bracken) is a large-scale collaboration involving a consortium of fourteen institutions across Europe inside and outside academia. You can find out more about the project below.

Extending my work on urban space and inequality I am about to commence research as Co-I on a project funded under the ESRC’s Secondary Data Analysis Initiative seeking to understand the relationship between space and mental illness in Scotland under conditions of economic austerity. The project is led by Professor Jamie Pearce at the University of Edinburgh.

I am also working on a small grant funded by the British Academy which uses historical census data, street directories and archival material in order to repopulate contested interface areas in Belfast just before the partition of Ireland. The objective is to try and assess the social and demographic impact of residential housing destruction on the re-affirming of inter-communal boundaries in the city at that pivotal historical moment. 

Teaching & Administration

I convene 'Social Research in Geography', a large, core module taken by all human geography students at Durham at level 2. I also deliver training in GIS and statistics on the module. Also at level 2, I lecture on the option module 'Social & Cultural Geography' and have a lecture block on the level 3 political geography option, 'Power, Politics and Space'. For taught postgraduates, I also deliver methods training and epistemologies on 'Using Geographical Skills and Techniques'.

At an administrative level, I am Deputy Chair of the Board of Examiners, the body which oversees and manages all aspects of assessment and conduct relating to academic work submitted in the Department. The Board deals with and deliberates upon issues which may impact on the quality of work submitted such as 'Serious Adverse Circumstances (SACs)'. The Board also organise external examination boards and liaise with Faculty and University committees to maintain and benchmark assessment standards within the Department.



Journal Article

Authored book

Chapter in book

  • Cunningham, Niall Miles, Andrew & Leguina, Adrian The Ghosts of Class: Space, Waste and Hope in the Ex-Industrial North. In: Dodsworth, Francis & Walford, Antonia A World Laid Waste? Responding to the Social, Cultural and Political Consequences of Globalisation. Routledge; 2018.
  • Cunningham, Niall, Snee, Helene & Devine, Fiona A Classless Society? Making Sense of Inequalities in the UK with the Great British Class Survey. In: Fée, David & Kober-Smith, Anémone Inequalities in the UK: Perceptions, Actions, Evolutions. Emerald Publishing; 2017.
  • Savage, Mike, Hecht, Katharina Hjellbrekke, Johs, Cunningham, Niall & Laurison, Daniel An Anatomy of the British Economic Elite. In: Bühlmann, Felix & Korsnes, Olav Changing Elites in Europe. Routledge; 2017.
  • Cunningham, Niall & Gregory, Ian Appendix: Mapping Ireland's Changing Demography, 1834-2002. In: Biagini, Eugenio F & Daly, Mary E The Cambridge Social History of Modern Ireland. Cambridge University Press; 2017:604-620.
  • Gregory, I.N., Cunningham, N. & Shuttleworth, I.G. Geographical Information Systems as a research tool for religious studies. In: Woodhead, L. Innovative Methods in the Study of Religion: Research in Practice. Oxford University Press; 2015.
  • Cunningham, N. & Brown, L. Immigrant Gateways and Urban Renewal. In: Brook, R. & Dodge, M. Post-War Manchester: Plans and Projects. Bauprint; 2015.
  • Ell, P.S., Cunningham, N. & Gregory, I.N. No spatial watershed: religious geographies of Ireland pre-and post-Famine. In: Corporaal, M., van den Beuken, R., Cusack, C. & Janssen, L. Global Legacies of the Great Irish Famine: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Peter Lang; 2014:197-224.
  • Cunningham, N. Troubled Geographies: A Historical GIS of Religion, Society and Conflict in Ireland Since the Great Famine. In: Gregory, I.N. & Geddes, A. Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History. Indiana University Press; 2014:62-88.

Conference Paper

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

Working Paper

Related Links

Selected Grants

  • 2017: ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Inititiative: (Co-I) 'Recession and Mental Health in Scotland: Do Personal or Community Factors Promote Resilience to Labour Market Change?' (£163,000)
  • 2016: European Commision Horizon 2020: (Co-I.) ‘NATure-based URban innoVATION’. H2020-EU. ID: 730243 (€7.8 million)
  • 2013: ESRC Festival of Social Science 2013: (P.I.) ‘Class Matters: Understanding Inequality in Contemporary Britain’, Public Event, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, 8 November 2013 (£1,750)
  • 2010: British Academy: (named researcher) 'Mapping the Congregations of God: The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, 1851-2001' SG090803 (£7,031)