The transformation of the symbolic landscape of Northern Ireland is an important arena for identification, conflict, political discourse, peacebuilding, and community development in Northern Ireland.
The Mural Mapping Project uses geographic information systems (GIS) technology and statistical and qualitative methods of inquiry to analyze murals and other ethnic and political displays in West Belfast and the Greater Shankill Road area, such as memorial gardens, monuments, sculptures, and other forms of public art.
We have begun research in West Belfast, in both Protestant and Catholic areas, with more than 400 murals documented to date. An electronic dataset is in development, which will grow as we conduct further phases of field research and analysis.
While precisely locating and counting murals and other similar displays, we will also study their changing proximities to interfaces, thoroughfares, parade routes, schools, places of worship, community centers, commercial venues, and other important features of the social terrain, such as distributions of political violence, wealth, poverty, and participation in politics. By following the addition, removal or replacement of murals over time, we will track their development alongside changing political, cultural, economic, and social backdrops, connecting the peace process and community-level voluntary action.
Close attention to the changing content of murals offers insight into changing attitudes and identities and can be compared to other publicly-available social survey results.
We will also track and evaluate state and grassroots reimaging initiatives to determine if and how they have encouraged others to engage in similar kinds of cultural work and whether their programs have influenced inter-group conflict.
We are consulting with established local community organizations and civil service agencies in planning and executing the research to ensure that our results can usefully inform community development and community relations initiatives. Partnering with local organizations will also help us navigate the political and cultural implications of the work.