About the project

Amplifying Change: A history of the Atlantic Philanthropies on the island of Ireland.

There is a tremendous privilege in being granted access to an archive that has only recently been designated as an archive: the history of an organisation, and in the case of the Atlantic Philanthropies, the countless lives touched by the support of this organisation, is laid before your eyes in detail heretofore unavailable. These details – from letters, impact statements, grant reports to programmes and itineraries – provide a window onto both the big picture and the minutiae of the organisation’s work, and they constitute an invaluable part of the historical record.

In 2015, Atlantic Philanthropies announced that the foundation’s records – occupying 2,000 cubic feet and spanning grantmaking in eight geographic regions over a period of 35 years – would be housed at Cornell University, in the Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC). Cornell University is the alma mater of Atlantic founder Chuck Feeney, and a significant beneficiary of the foundation’s grants. Atlantic had already announced more than a decade earlier that it would transition to a limited-life foundation, spending down its considerable resources and eventually shutting its doors in 2020. The creation of an archive accessible to researchers would provide deep insights into the work of Atlantic-funded organisations, but also into the inner workings of Atlantic, with its limited-life philosophy, and its history of making ‘big bets’ for social change.

The Digital Repository of Ireland was approached in 2016 to play a role in disseminating these archives, and to explore the impact of the achievements by Atlantic grantees in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Atlantic wanted to ensure that their archives, and the stories and lessons contained in those archives, could be of benefit to researchers as well as to potential philanthropists considering investing in Ireland. They had learned about DRI’s work through the Inspiring Ireland project, and how we combined existing archival documents with new stories from the public into thematic, curated digital exhibitions. We were both honoured and excited to be approached, and our discussions turned into a 3-year funded project to explore the range and impact of Atlantic grantmaking on the island of Ireland. The results of this project populate the website you are viewing right now.

The exhibitions you find here are organised loosely around three aggregate themes of Atlantic granting in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: Human Rights, Education, and Communities. The thematic exhibitions combine selects objects from Atlantic’s archive with newly collected oral histories. We are grateful to the interviewees who shared their time and stories with us, to enrich the archive, and to provide unique and often moving details about the important work they did. We are also grateful to our collaborators Cornell, who in the midst of their own massive accessioning and cataloguing effort made the digitisation and clearance of grant files from the island of Ireland a priority.

The Digital Repository of Ireland archives, preserves, and makes available Ireland’s social and cultural data. All of the documents, images and histories you find on this site have been preserved in DRI’s certified digital repository for long-term, persistent access. Amplifying Change is a very special project for us, not only because it enables us to play a role in preserving these histories, but also because it grants us the privilege of taking a deep dive into the records and the stories that surround significant social and cultural change. The digital exhibitions on this site explore the achievements enabled by Atlantic investment, across the geography of this island, and across decades, demographics, sectors, and perspectives. We hope you find the results of this project as rich and fascinating as we have found the process of selecting, researching, and curating them.