The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Dr Niall Cunningham

Lecturer in Quantative Human Geography


I am a human geographer with an interest in the application of quantitative methods to issues of social and historical change. I have taught and conducted research at universities across the north of England and prior to that I taught at secondary schools in both the UK and Japan. I am a UK-state qualified secondary school teacher and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. My background spans the disciplines of history, sociology and geography. I started off in academia in 2008 as Research Associate and part-time doctoral student on an AHRC funded project mapping political violence and changing socio-economic geographies in Ireland. In 2011 I then joined CRESC: The ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change at the University of Manchester as Research Fellow in Quantitative Analysis of Socio-Cultural Change. I joined Newcastle in August 2019.


2008-2014: PhD in Historical Geography, Lancaster University, UK (Part-Time)

2006-2007: MSc in Geographical Information Systems, University of Leeds, UK

2000-2001: PGCE in Secondary Education (History), Institute of Education, University of London, UK 

1997-1998: MA in History, University College Dublin, Ireland

1994-1997: BA(Hons) in Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, UK

Previous University Posts

2008-2010 - Research Associate, Department of History, Lancaster University, UK

2011-2015 - Research Associate in Quantitative Analyses of Social and Cultural Participation, CRESC: ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change, University of Manchester, UK

2015-2019 - Assistant Professor of Human Geography, Department of Geography, University of Durham, UK


Boundaries, Belonging and Conflict

My research interests and outputs can be broadly classified into two main areas of activity. The first is within the sub-discipline of political geography and coheres around issues of identity, place and boundary-making. Most of my work in this area has focussed on the Irish context. I started off in academia working on the construction of an Historical Geographical Information System or HGIS using census and other statistical data to understand long-term changes in the socio-economic and ethnic composition of the island of Ireland over the period since the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century. My PhD was on spatial patterns of ethnic violence in the city of Belfast during the twentieth century, covering the two greatest periods of unrest in the city's history, those surrounding partition and the creation of Northern Ireland between 1920 and 1922, and the more protracted and better-known 'Troubles' from 1969 to 2001. More recently, I have become interested in microscale approaches to social and historical change and have recently completed work on a British Academy grant to virtually repopulate some of Belfast's most contested 'interface' areas using individual census returns, alongside large-scale mapping, gazetteers and other contemporaneous archive material. I maintain an active interest in using 'traditional' historical methodologies and sources alongside innovative digital approaches. In this strand of work I am also seeking to broaden out considerations of social and political borders to think through the selective permeability of national and neighbourhood boundaries based upon the inequalities associated with class and race.  


Class, Race, and Structures of Urban Inequality and Materiality

The other major thrust in my work lies around an engagement with issues of social class - its measurement and its implications, particularly in urban contexts. This interest stemmed from my time at CRESC: The ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), where one of the projects I was involved in was the BBC's 'Great British Class Survey' (GBCS). The GBCS sought to develop conceptions of social class beyond traditional 'employment aggregate' approaches to consider the wider social and cultural drivers and implications of class position through the adoption of a Bourdieusian conceptual lens. The initial findings were published as 'A New Model of Social Class' in 2013, and further developed in the popular monograph, Social Class in the 21st Century (Penguin: 2015). This has also led to a wider series of interventions on class structure in urban space, and I am currently thinking some of these issues through in a comparative context, through an AHRC/ESRC-funded grant, designed to build a network of scholarship between the UK and Japan with a series of events to be hosted in both countries in 2020. You can find out more at our website:,class,connection/. I am also deeply interested in the wider 'costs of class' and the implications of class location and social mobility for mental and physical health and wellbeing. 


External Grant Funding

2020: ESRC Advancing Business Collaboration (ABC) ECR Call 2020: (Co-I) 'Impact of Greening Wingrove and Arthur's Hill Community Interest Company on the Health and Wellbeing of the Community' (£3,250)

2019: ESRC Social Science Humanities Japan-UK Connections Call: (P.I.) 'Culture, Class, Connection: Bridging Debates on Social Class and Inequality in the UK and Japan' (£60,547)

2018: Recession and Mental Health in Scotland: Do Personal or Community Factors Promote Resilience to Labour Market (£9247.00 from ESRC Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in Genomics (INNOGEN))

2017: ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative: (Co-I) 'Recession and Mental Health in Scotland: Do Personal or Community Factors Promote Resilience to Labour Market Change?' (£163,000)

2016: British Academy: (PI) 'The Greatest Turn of the Ratchet: Belfast 1920-22' SG161841 (£5,857)

2016: European Commission 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)



In academic year 2020-21, I teach on the following modules:                                                                                                              

  • GEO1015: Human Geographies of the UK
  • GEO1096: Geographical Skills
  • GEO2110: Social Geographies (Module Leader)
  • GEO2043: Key Methods for Human Geographers (Module Leader)
  • GEO2111: Doing Human Geography Research: Theory and Practice
  • GEO8015: Doing Geographical Research

My consultation and feedback hours in 2020-21 are:

  • Mondays: 9-11
  • Tuesdays: 11-12
These are currently online. Please book an appointment at: 

I currently co-supervise three PhD students with colleagues at Durham and Northumbria Universities and have supervised the following students to successful completion to date: 

  1. Victoria Smith (May 2019) ‘Using Agent-Based Modelling and Social Network Analysis to understand power and interaction in CAtchment Based Approaches (CABA) to water network management’ 
  2. Mildred Ajebon (June 2019) ‘Geographical Perspectives on the Social Determinants of Inequalities in Under-Five Mortality in Nigeria: Towards an Integrated Approach. 
  3. Hannah Holmes (March 2020) 'Spaces of Demarginalisation: Processes, Policies and Politics in Addressing Territorial Stigma in Middlehaven, Middlesbrough'.
  4. Eleojo Abubaker (September 2020) 'Socio-spatial analysis of small-area need and accessibility of primary healthcare services in Nigeria: A sequential mixed methods study'.

I would be pleased to receive enquiries on potential PhD supervision relating to my areas of research activity.