Exhibitions Inside Exhibitions with The Digital Repository of Ireland

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly emphasized the importance of remote access and digital technologies to innovate interactions between Cultural Heritage Institutions and Humanities scholars. In our next guest post, Louise Nash, Master of Philosophy student in Digital Humanities and Culture at the Trinity College Dublin, currently spending her internship at DARIAH, is sharing her takes on the webinar “Using Digital Archives for Historical Research” organized by the The Digital Repository of Ireland. Enjoy!

The three-part research webinar series presented by The Digital Repository of Ireland kicked off on Wednesday, 23rd February in an effort to demonstrate the access potential of their digital collections. This was in rather fortuitous timing with the opportunity to write on the DARIAH Open Blog. I can’t help but feel a little green for the job; by virtue of the student internship I’m currently undertaking at DARIAH, I find myself in the unique position to speak a little bit about the experience in an environment where I’m certainly the new bee! In this case however, I think I may have been just the person to attend. The series advertised itself under the heading ‘Using Digital Archives for Academic Research’ and is “primarily aimed at early career researchers” which I suppose I may qualify as. Away from DARIAH, I am working toward my M.Phil. in Digital Humanities and Culture at Trinity College Dublin and am currently engaged in the frantic early stages of collating materials for a dissertation. I was interested to see the 2020 recipient of the DRI Early Career Research Award, Dr Siobhán Doyle, as one of the guest speakers for the event. Her presence suggested an innovative focus to the webinar. Indeed, the featured digital collections, The Inspiring Ireland Project, Bureau of Military History Collection and, of course, Beyond 2022 were strikingly resonant with this theme.

Other guest speakers included Dr Ciarán Wallace from Trinity College Dublin’s Department of History introducing the Beyond 2022 Project and Tara Doyle and Stephanie Rousseau representing the Dublin City Library and Archive. Each speaker provided a fascinating window into their work; Dr Ciarán Wallace went first, followed by Dr Siobhán Doyle, Tara Doyle and the session concluded with Stephanie Rousseau. What appeared to be a running thread was the sense that exhibitions, both as they pertained to cultural heritage material and in regards to digital curation, were not merely the final product of some larger endeavour but a scholarly pursuit in of themselves. The inspiration for the title of this post – Exhibitions Inside Exhibitions – came from this idea. As the speakers explained the context for their work; what it was comprised of, what had inspired it, who may benefit from the collections and why, the webinar almost became an extraordinarily meta rendition of the exhibition process. Each presentation was, in a sense, an exhibition in its own right, whose contents had been carefully curated to convey a certain theme aligned with the goals of the series and, potentially, of digitisation itself. Here’s what could be taken away as a theme for each one:

  • Dr Ciarán Wallace, Beyond 2022: Emerging From a Century of Lockdown: Accessibility and Technical Innovation
  • Dr Siobhán Doyle, Using Digital Resources for Researching Visual and Material Culture: Applications to Critique and Context
  • Tara Doyle, Fáilte Ireland Tourism Photographic Collection: We Collect, Care for and Share Dublin’s History: Storytelling and Cultural Representation
  • Stephanie Rousseau, Jacob’s Biscuit Factory: Digital Resources for Postgraduate Research: Reusability and Research Potential

These are, of course, subjective interpretations and these designations could certainly be shuffled around based on the personal takeaways of each audience member. Yet is that not too synonymous with the experience of cultural heritage? The technically innovative features of the Beyond 2022 Project are perhaps too many to name but highlighted in Dr Ciarán Wallace’s presentation was the virtual 3-D model reconstruction of the Records Treasury and text recognition platform Transkribus for the transcription of illegible documents. For Dr Siobhán Doyle, artefacts such as The Bullet in the Brick illuminate the contexts of cultural heritage material and how its display lends an almost malleable quality to its identity. In the photographs selected by Tara Doyle, we saw how digitisation may capture the rich cultural history of the day-to-day and from Stephanie Rousseau, how a single extensive collection can inform dozens of research areas, from historical marketing to food technology.

(Image sources: Dublin City Library and Archive, CC-BY 4.0. See detailed source information below.)

Like many events that have been shifted online in current circumstances, there was a sense of absence in the virtual webinar that was simply unavoidable. Indeed, it seems fair to say the value of tangible, face-to-face experiences has never been more evident; it can never be truly subsidised by the digital, however extensive our technological capacity may be. Despite this, the webinar offered valuable insight to the ways cultural heritage institutions are redefining research and education digitally. This blog post is a testament to that – meaning in the digital is something that evolves after the fact and not necessarily always in the moment and the virtual format facilitated global access to the DRI’s rich collections for scholars across the world. Is this necessarily a bad thing? For The Digital Repository of Ireland, the answer seems to be no. 

Cultural heritage has never been closer to us, with events such as these broadcasting artefacts straight into our own homes. From a strictly research perspective, whether or not these advances in digitisation will manifest in higher quality or simply ‘more’ academic output is yet to be seen.

If the goal of the webinar was simply to demonstrate the invaluable nature of digitally curated cultural heritage material however, they could not have picked a better moment than this. The monotony and often bleakness of modern life needs a spark of the innovative and for DARIAH, collaborations such as these propel the initiative for greater access to arts and humanities resources for all.

Attendance at the event was followed up by an email containing rich resource documentation. For access to the recording, webinar sign up and more, please see below.

Recording

Webinar Sign-Up

Research Resource Booklet

DRI Factsheet

Preparing Archival Collections Slideshare

Image source Information

Fáilte Ireland. Dublin Flower Seller, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution], https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.1g05tw138

Fáilte Ireland. Attendant, Trinity College, Dublin, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution], https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.57130r16m

Fáilte Ireland. Aran Islands – Aran mother and children, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution], https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.8049vq21b

Cite this article as: Louise Nash, "Exhibitions Inside Exhibitions with The Digital Repository of Ireland," in DARIAH Open, 01/03/2021, https://dariahopen.hypotheses.org/?p=1004.


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