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Review and Recording of 'Using Digital Archives for Social Sciences Research’

By Áine Madden, April 2021

On 20 April 2021, the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) hosted ‘Using Digital Archives for Social Sciences Research’, the final event in our three-part public lecture series on using digital archives for academic research. 

Access to brick-and-mortar archives has been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, creating challenges for humanities researchers that rely on archival materials for their research. The aim of the webinar series has been to showcase the rich research resources contained in digital archival collections to early career researchers that might be struggling to access physical archives.  

Recordings of the three webinars in the ‘Using Digital Archives for Academic Research’ series – Historical Research (23 Feb 2021), Geographical and Archaeological Research (23 March 2021), and Social Sciences Research (21 April 2021) – have been preserved for long-term access in the DRI Event Videos collection in the Repository:

‘Using Digital Archives for Social Sciences Research’ was chaired by DRI Policy Manager Dr Aileen O’Carroll, who introduced the series and the work of the DRI as a national trusted digital repository (TDR) for Ireland’s social and cultural data that supports best practice in research data management and Open Research. Aileen also highlighted resources offered by DRI to support the work of early career researchers, such as the publication ‘Using Digital Archives for Academic Research’ which was developed to complement this series. This booklet lists digital archival collections covering a wide range of topics that are available on DRI and through our member institutions that PhD and MA students are encouraged to explore further. Aileen also drew attention to the annual DRI Early Career Research Award, which grants a bursary of €500 to an early career researcher for an original piece of research (e.g. research done for master’s or PhD thesis, article or publication) informed in whole, or part, by objects/collections deposited in DRI. More information on this Award can be found on the DRI website

Aileen introduced our first speaker, Dr David Landy, director of the Masters in Race, Ethnicity, Conflict in Trinity College Dublin. David’s talk focused on the ‘Repeal the Eighth and Reproductive Rights’ collection on DRI. This collection features 25 interviews conducted with Repeal activists as part of the Irish Research Council (IRC) funded research project 'Sharing Best Practices in how Civil Society Organisations use the Internet in Organising and Building for Socio-Economic Rights and Trust'. This project looked at how organisations build trust and resolve conflicts in the age of social media. It explored how digital tools were used in the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment to organise and build up the campaign, develop coalitions and connections, and also how the campaign dealt with the inevitable conflict that all movements have to handle. David shared valuable insights into the complex ethical protocol which was implemented during this project to protect the integrity of the research and the confidentiality and anonymity of research participants. This collection provides researchers with a rich educational resource on how activists resolve conflicts, organise for victory, and use digital tools to effect social change. David’s presentation is openly accessible on the DRI Slideshare for the benefit of anybody interested in learning more about this topic.


Our next speaker was Maria Ryan, web archivist at the National Library of Ireland (NLI). Maria introduced the audience to the important work undertaken by the NLI in collecting Irish websites, preserving them in an archival format, and then serving the archives for access and public use. NLI’s mission is to ‘collect, preserve, promote, and make accessible the documentary and intellectual life of Ireland’ so that our shared cultural heritage is accessible to future generations. Maria gave a fascinating overview of the NLI’s collecting work during a time of great social change and upheaval – the year 2020. Maria shared that it was anticipated that the General Election would be ‘the “Big” Event’ of 2020 and this was the initial focus of the Library’s collection work. The NLI's 'General Election 2020 collection' encompasses media sites, commentary, and news websites covering the election campaign, the results, and government formation and is a great resource for students of social studies and politics. From 12 March 2020, the web archival team had to make the switch to working from home and adjust their web archival approach in response to the rapidly unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. The web archivists at NLI have played an essential role on the front lines of the effort to document the Irish experience of the pandemic since COVID-19 collection work began in March 2020. The 'COVID-19 collection' has over 180 websites archived to date and collecting is continuing in 2021. The content that the Library has collected provides unique insight into the public’s response to the crisis that will be of critical benefit to future generations researching the social and cultural impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the digital research resources available through NLI by consulting Maria’s presentation on the DRI Slideshare.


Our third speaker, Dr Elizabeth Kiely from the School of Applied Social Studies in University College Cork, shared the 'Irish Women at Work Oral History Project' collection which has been preserved in the DRI. This collection includes 42 oral history interviews focused on the working lives of women (1930-1960) living in three counties of Ireland (Cork, Kerry and Limerick). Many of the interviews are accompanied by images chosen by the interviewees – one from early life and one from the time of interview. The interviews take a life course approach, focusing on women’s early family lives, education, entry into and experience of the workplace, marriage and motherhood. Gendered aspects of women’s lives were explored during interviews, as were women’s thoughts on their individual and collective acceptance of, or resistance to, prevailing gender expectations. This collection provides researchers with a wealth of data about women’s experiences of work, family life and schooling, and their impressions of social, generational, and cultural change. Máire highlighted potential themes and topics that could be developed further from the data available in the collection and stressed the value of engaging with digital archives to enrich existing research and explore new and unexpected interpretations of the collections. Máire’s presentation is openly accessible on the DRI Slideshare


Our final speaker, Professor Jane Gray from Maynooth University, focused on two collections deposited in the DRI by the Irish Qualitative Data Archive (IQDA), one of the founding members of the DRI. 'Life Histories and Social Change' is a large collection of 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). The research was funded by the Irish Research Council and a total of 113 life history interviews were conducted by researchers from Maynooth University between 2006 and 2008. The second collection, 'RESCuE-Ireland', was created as part of a cross-national European project that aimed to identify the contexts and practices associated with household resilience to the financial crisis of 2008. The dataset consists of 25 narrative interviews with people living in urban and rural settings in an Irish Midlands district. Jane shared helpful ideas for how to use or reuse qualitative social sciences data by, for example, revisiting ‘old’ data and comparing it to ‘new’ data and working across datasets to expand the scope and range of contiguous data. Jane’s presentation can be accessed on the DRI Slideshare.

'Using Digital Archives for Social Sciences Research’ had 163 registrants from Higher Education Institutes all over Ireland as well as parts of Europe. We are grateful to the audience for their active participation in the event using the webinar’s interactive features and to our speakers for taking the time to showcase some of the research resources that are available online for students to use to advance their studies. We hope that early career researchers have found this series to be useful and that students intending to use digital collections in their research will consider applying for the DRI Early Career Research Award when it opens at the end of July 2021.

Further Resources

Dagg, Jennifer, & Gray, Jane. (2021) RESCuE: Patterns of Resilience during Socioeconomic Crises among Households in Europe- Ireland, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Irish Qualitative Data Archive [Depositing Institution],

Digital Repository of Ireland. (2018) DRI Event Videos, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution],

Digital Repository of Ireland. DRI Factsheet No 2: Copyright, Licensing and Open Access, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution],

Digital Repository of Ireland. DRI Factsheet No 3: File formats, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution],

Digital Repository of Ireland. DRI Factsheet No 7: Persistent Identifiers and DOIs, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution],

Digital Repository of Ireland. Using Digital Archives for Academic Research, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution],

Digital Repository of Ireland. User Guides,

Gray, Jane, O'Carroll, Aileen, Ó Riain, Seán, & Geraghty, Ruth. (2015) Life Histories and Social Change collection, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Irish Qualitative Data Archive [Depositing Institution],

Kiely, Elizabeth, & Leane, Máire. (2017) Irish Women at Work Oral History Project, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], University College Cork [Depositing Institution],

National Library of Ireland, Web Archival Collections,

O’Carroll, Aileen, Landy, David, & Ní Mhórdha,  Máire. (2020) Repeal the Eighth and Reproductive Rights: Organiser Interviews, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Irish Qualitative Data Archive [Depositing Institution],