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Recent Developments in Archiving Reproductive Health

Submitted on 5th July 2023


The last few months have been busy for the Archiving Reproductive Health project, with the project holding a Public Collection Day and presenting findings from the project at international archiving and digital preservation conferences.

Archiving Reproductive Health (ARH) is a Wellcome-funded project coordinated by the Digital Repository of Ireland, which is working to preserve digital material created by grassroots organisations working for reproductive justice in Ireland, especially during the 2018 referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution. To date, Archiving Reproductive Health has published collections from key organisations that were involved with the campaign, and a range of oral history interviews with feminist and reproductive rights activists working in Ireland over the last 40 years.  The project will continue until the end of 2023 and the collections it creates are safely deposited in the Digital Repository of Ireland for the long term.

Additional Collections and Public Collection Day

As well as our Stakeholder Collections, ARH has identified and preserved material from a number of additional organisations and stakeholders. Recently published material includes the Savita Halappanavar mural memorial collection, published by Dublin City Library and Archive; the How the Yes was Won podcast and material from the Public Collection Day held in March 2023. This event was part of the public outreach aspect of ARH, and at the event we worked with our partners Informa and Archives Ireland to digitise a cross-section of personal memorabilia relating to the history of the Eighth Amendment, and of reproductive health in Ireland more generally, over the last few decades.

Photograph from the Collection day, showing an early 20th century newspaper and a set of medical records.
Material from the Nurse Mary Ann Fanning Collection, DRI-ARH Collection day. Photo: Royal Irish Academy. CC BY 4.0.

Archives Society of Alberta Conference

In May 2023, ARH digital archivists Clare Lanigan and Dr Lorraine Grimes presented at the Archives Society of Alberta Biannual Conference in Alberta, Canada. The conference theme was ‘Care for the people in the archives’. This theme was very relevant to ARH, as we had developed a special protocol that recommends self-care principles for researchers working with sensitive and traumatic data. The protocol developed from the work Dr Grimes is carrying out analysing and cataloguing stories from the In Her Shoes Facebook page. In Her Shoes was a Facebook page where women shared their experiences of being refused healthcare, barriers to access, the experiences of travel for healthcare abroad, illegally ordering pills online, and the emotional impact of these experiences.

Picture of front page of Resaercher Self Care protocol.
Archiving Reproductive Health Researcher Self-Care Protocol. CC BY 4.0.

The conference itself was very interesting, discussing a number of projects that cover similar themes and challenges faced by ARH. Our presentation,  ‘Developing a self-care protocol for working with potentially traumatic data: the Archiving Reproductive Health experience’, outlined the background to the project and the process by which the protocol was developed. Dr Grimes shared her experience working with often challenging and upsetting stories featuring domestic violence, sexual assault and medical coercion, among other themes, and which self-care approaches helped her to continue productively with the work and avoid burnout. She also spoke about the phenomenon of ‘researcher guilt’ among people carrying out research and data analysis, a phenomenon that was familiar to many of the attendees who shared their own experiences. Attendees were very interested in the project and complimented the work done by ARH in developing the protocol and the methods of anonymisation used on stories that contained potentially identifying personal details.

The presentation can be accessed on the Zenodo database.

Summary of ARH presentation at Archives Society of Alberta Conference 2023.
Summary of ARH presentation at Archives Society of Alberta Conference 2023.

Many other speakers at the conference discussed similar themes and experiences to those of ARH. The keynote speaker was Jennifer Douglas, Associate Professor at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, who spoke about care in the archives and archiving as griefwork, drawing on her personal experiences and the memoirs of Canadian film director Sarah Polley. Other papers of particular interest to ARH included:

DARIAH Annual Event

In June, Clare Lanigan presented a paper by herself, Lorraine Grimes and Preetam Singhvi at the DARIAH Annual Event in Budapest. The theme of the event was Cultural Heritage Data as Humanities Research Data? and it was attended by representatives from digital archives and digital humanities projects from across Europe and internationally. The ARH paper was entitled ‘The Archiving Reproductive Health project as a FAIR data resource for humanities researchers’ and described ways in which data preserved by the project can used as a FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) data resource, and about DRI’s work in promoting the adoption of FAIR data standards. Attendees were interested in the technical formats used to preserving text files of stories extracted from Facebook, and the FAIR principles underpinning the collections.

The presentation can be accessed on the Zenodo database.

Clare Lanigan presenting at DARIAH Annual Event 2023, Budapest.
Clare Lanigan presenting at DARIAH Annual Event 2023, Budapest.

We were delighted to share our progress and learnings with peers in the fields of archiving, digital preservation, Open Science and digital humanities. More information about ARH’s publications and presentations can be found on the Archiving Reproductive Health project page.

DRI is funded by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) via the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Irish Research Council (IRC).

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