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DRI Blog: ‘Tell Your Story’: documenting the 1916 Rising through public memorabilia collection days

1916 memorabilia collection day in the National Library of Ireland, 2015. Photo: Caroline McGee

Author: Caroline McGee


‘Tell Your Story’: documenting the 1916 Rising through public memorabilia collection days

Irish people are globally renowned for being confident, eloquent storytellers. Marry that talent with a love of drama and a strong collective memory of historical events and the past comes alive. Telling the story of the 1916 Rising is an important element of the second stage of Inspiring Ireland, an interactive online resource that preserves and exhibits our national cultural assets and makes them accessible to a wide audience.

Inspiring Ireland 1916 brings public memorabilia and the extensive collections of 1916 material held in Irish cultural institutions –  the National Library, National Archives, National Museum, and RTE - together in one place. It presents high quality digital images of both familiar and lesser-known material alongside rich contextual interpretation provided by national and international historians. This will allow users to discover and make personal connections with the material and deepen their knowledge of the revolutionary period.  Exhibitions will go online on a rolling basis between January and May 2016. The first exhibition charts the experience of women during the Rising and showcases objects, documents, and ephemera that illustrate the ways in which everyday lives were impacted as a consequence of the fighting during Easter Week.

One practical way of creating digital content is to hold a community collection day to gather 1916-related memorabilia. This involves members of the public telling the story of their objects which are then photographed and documented before being returned to them.  The digitised content is exhibited as part of the Inspiring Ireland 1916 exhibitions and preserved using the technology infrastructure of the Digital Repository of Ireland. DRI is a national trusted repository whose mission is to digitise, preserve, and share Ireland’s social and cultural heritage for public viewing, educational use and scholarly research. This blogpost describes what takes place at an Inspiring Ireland 1916 public memorabilia collection day.


Collection Days

Capturing personal memories about 1916 is an essential part of writing our collective national history. Often these stories are linked to photos, diaries, objects and ephemera that may be lying buried under beds or in attics and cupboards throughout Ireland and further afield.  Inspiring Ireland has held two public memorabilia collection days in partnership with National Library of Ireland, which holds extensive digital collections of 1916-related material. Almost sixty contributors attended these events, along with members of their families. Some brought single objects such as a diary,a photograph or some medals. Others arrived with suitcases full of memorabilia, including  correspondence between political prisoners and their families, Cumann na mBan artefacts, albums of poetry and artwork and many other objects. Attendees had pre-registered their memorabilia at an earlier event in the GPO organized by the National Library of Ireland as part of RTE’s ‘Road to the Rising’ event, which was held in Dublin on April 6, 2015.

At the two recent collection days, volunteer interviewers from  UCD’s School of Information and Communications Studies were on hand to record the contributors’ 1916 stories. Before the contributors told their stories, they were asked to accept the terms of use for contributing their material to the DRI. These terms state that the contributor owns the copyright to the memorabilia being offered for digitisation and that as the owner of the material they authorise its re-use under a Creative Commons share-alike (CC-BY-SA) license. Each submission was then assigned with a unique ticket number so that contributors’ objects and stories could be kept together and tracked as they went through the digitisation process.


Tell Your Story

Volunteer interviewer gathers information about contributors' objects. Photo: Caroline McGee

Next, contributors were introduced to the volunteer interviewers who wrote down the story related to the item and assigned information  known as ‘metadata’ (or data about data) to the object -for example, the location of a photograph and the identity of the sitter, or the language in which a letter was written. Accurate and precise metadata is essential for successful digital archiving. Equally importantly,it must be meaningful and logical in order for the object record to be located by internet search engines.


Digitise Your Object

Staff at the National Library of Ireland digitise material. Photo: Caroline McGee

Once the stories and the metadata for each object were recorded on the submission form, contributors were brought to the digitisation check-in desk where a member of staff ensured that each object was tagged with the correct tracking identification number before being transferred to the digitisation suite where specialist staff used professional imaging equipment to record the contributors’ objects. The digital images and contributors’ submission forms were then transferred to the Inspiring Ireland 1916 team to be catalogued and tagged with metadata before being uploaded to a dedicated Inspiring Ireland 1916 collection space within the DRI. The final step in the digital archiving process is to populate the Inspiring Ireland 1916 digital platform with content from the DRI collection. Once this is complete, records can be viewed by anyone around the world.


Contribute to Research & Consult a Conservator

The many stages of a Collection Day. Photo: Digital Repository of Ireland

While they waited for their objects to be digitised, contributors had the option of taking part in a further interview with UCD researchers who are investigating the significance and meaning attached to the act of contributing to public memorabilia collection days. When digitisation of the objects was complete, check-in desk staff returned the item to the contributor who could then consult a representative from Ireland's professional body for conservators and restorers to get advice on caring for historical objects.


More chat….this time with cake!

Coffee and cake supplied by Cafe Joly in the National Library of Ireland! Photo: Digital Repository of Ireland

In between interviews and collecting their digitised objects, contributors had the opportunity to visit the National Library’s exhibitions. They also shared memories and made connections with other attendees, making the community collection day a real social occasion. This was assisted by copious quantities of steaming hot tea and coffee and scrumptious cakes (oh, the Bakewell squares!) which was provided by Café Joly at the National Library.


Inspiring Ireland 1916 Launch

Inspiring Ireland 1916 will be launched on January 19, 2016. It is supported by the Irish Government's Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Office of Diaspora Affairs and is represented in two State Centenary Programme strands: Historical Reflection and Global and Diaspora. Additional national (and international) collection days are planned for early 2016. Potential contributors will be required to pre-register the objects they would like to have digitised. Information will be available shortly on the News & Events page of Inspiring Ireland,on the events pages of the DRI website and the State Centenary Programme website.


To read more entries in the DRI blog, please visit the Blog Page.