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Learning From Social Science Data Sets

by Dr Aileen O’Carroll, DRI Policy Manager

As the COVID-19 situation escalates, teachers and learners around the world are adjusting to shifting their activities online. There are a host of difficulties and complications involved in this process, stemming from the practical, financial, and psychological demands of both teaching and learning online. The Digital Repository of Ireland, as a national infrastructure for the preservation, curation and dissemination of Ireland’s humanities, social sciences, and cultural heritage data, offers rich source material that can help with some of the challenges posed by this situation. It is our hope that over the coming weeks, we can share some of the ways that the repository, and of course the DRI team, can help.

This blog post outlines, specifically, how social sciences data sets in the Digital Repository of Ireland might provide useful learning and research opportunities. The focus is on archived interviews, which feature particularly abundantly in the repository, and which can guide students in their methodological approach and function as pre-existing data sets for analysis.

How can students in the social sciences learn from archived interviews?

Archived interviews can be used in a number of ways. Firstly, the student can look at how the interview was conducted in order to observe how other researchers use their methodological tools—how do they frame the questions asked? It is useful to identify which questions provoke rich responses and which result in thin description. Many of the data sets have a detailed methodological appendix attached to them (for example the Growing Up in Ireland data set) others have shared consent forms or topic guides. These illustrate how research questions are operationalised in practice. 

Archived interviews as pre-existing data sets for analysis 

Secondly, the student can perform secondary analysis on a pre-existing data set. That is, they develop their own research questions, related to some of the material in the collections, and perform their own analysis. For example, the New Urban Living data set contains 171 essays written by children on where they live. A student could look at these to look at children's understanding of place, of play or of sibling relationships and friendships.

What data sets are available in the DRI?

A first step to learning from archived interviews, would be to look at the unrestricted data sets that are available in the Digital Repository of Ireland. Below we have outlined some of the collections that can easily be accessed by students:

The Magdalene Institutions: Recording an Oral and Archival History

Depositing Institution: Irish Qualitative Data Archive

Depositor: UCD Women's Studies Centre

Topic: Collection of interview transcripts and audio recordings from the research project Magdalene Institutions. The project collected 80 oral histories from 91 interviewees, including survivors who  worked and lived in the Magdalene Laundries, as well as relatives, members of the Religious Orders, regular visitors and anyone else who had a story to tell that relates to these institutions.

Open Data: 22 transcripts (pdf)


New Urban Living Essay Collection

Depositing Institution: Irish Qualitative Data Archive

Depositor: Mary P. Corcoran, Jane Gray and Michel Peillon, Maynooth University

Topic: An account of civic and social life in four Irish suburbs 

Open Data: 171 children’s essays on ‘The Place Where I live’ written by children aged 11-13 years of age between 2002 and 2004 (Jpegs and doc).


The Second World War and Irish Women

Depositing Institution: Irish Qualitative Data Archive

Depositor: Mary Muldowney (Trinity College Dublin)

Topic: Experiences of a group of Irish women living in Belfast (at war) and Dublin (neutral) during the Second World War 

Open Data: Transcripts of 27 interviews with women (pdf)


World Within Walls Psychiatric Hospitals in Ireland

Depositing Institution: Irish Qualitative Data Archive

Depositor: Health Service Executive

Topic: The histories and memories of the St. Davnet’s Campus psychiatric hospital in Monaghan town

Open Data:

32 Scanned organisational documents (jpg)

62 photographs and images of staff and buildings (jpg)

10 Scanned maps and plans (jpg)

152 Audio clips from interviews with staff, residents and others (mp3) 

These clips are organised by theme as follows: appearance and clothing; buildings; childhood memories; changes; community care; death and funerals; families; food; impressions; life at the hospital; recreation; religion; relationships; staff; stories of patients; treatments, diagnoses and services; visitors; work on the grounds; work on the wards. 


Life History and Social Change Open Access Collection

Depositing Institution: Irish Qualitative Data Archive 

Depositor: Aileen O’Carroll, Jane Gray, Sean O’Riain, Ruth Geraghty

Topic: Qualitative life story interviews with three cohorts of Irish citizens, each of which reached adulthood in the crucial decades of the 1950s (an era of socio-economic decline), the 1970s (an era of initial 'modernisation') and in the 1990s (the 'Celtic Tiger' boom). 

Data: 22 audio clips with transcripts (approx. 3 mins) (pdf, mp3)

Examples of topics that can be explored using this data include: 

• Periods of national struggle and change, and how they have affected the fortunes of families and individuals 

• Gender roles, changing relationships between Irish women and men, and changing roles within the family 

• The experience and impact of emigration on Irish communities 

• Changing relationship between the Catholic Church, the Irish State and the individual 

• Social inequalities in Irish communities and neighbourhoods 

• How Irish women and men have courted, dated, married and separated 

• Irish childhoods over the last 100 years, and the experience of growing up in Ireland 

• Our relationship with cinema, television, radio and the Internet; how we've been entertained, informed and sometimes changed by the media


Recall Initiative Memory & Life History

Depositing Institution: Irish Qualitative Data Archive  

Depositor: Andrew Allen et al

Topic:  Semi-structured reminiscence interviews with older Irish people on memories from early life, childhood and adolescence.

Open Data: 65 short audio clips (approx. 5 minutes), Mp3


Border Roads to Memories and Reconciliation

Depositing Institution: Monaghan County Council 

Depositor: David McMullan

Topic:  Interviews by young people from both sides of the community and the border in the Counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh with older residents on their experience of the border

Open Data: 20 video interviews (approx. 20 minutes), Mp4


Irish Women at Work Oral History Project

Depositing Institution: University College Cork 

Depositor: Elizabeth Kiely and Maire Leane

Topic:  Oral history interviews focused on the working lives of women (1930-1960) living in three counties of Ireland (Cork, Kerry and Limerick). The women’s accounts are woven into the broader narratives of their lives extending from childhood to adulthood and old age.

Open Data: 37 audio interviews (approx. 60), Mp3


We hope that this short blog post has provided a useful starting point for learning from pre-existing social sciences data sets. If you have responses, questions, or ideas for future blog topics, you can contact us through any of our email or social media channels:

[Image: Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash]