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'Using Digital Archives for Historical Research’ - Exploring Online Research Opportunities

 

On 23 Feb 2021, DRI hosted ‘Using Digital Archives for Historical Research’, the first 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 is to showcase the rich research resources contained in digital archival collections from different Irish cultural heritage institutions. The recording of the first webinar in the series has been preserved for long-term access in the repository for the benefit of anyone interested in this timely topic: https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.r4958772q 

To support the series, DRI developed a resource booklet listing digital archival collections that can be explored further for academic research. This publication is freely accessible in our DRI Early Career Research collection here. The publication also includes details of our 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 in part, by objects/collections deposited in DRI. The event was chaired by DRI Digital Archivist Kevin Long.

The first speaker was Dr Ciarán Wallace, Deputy Director at Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. This archival initiative aims to restore – as far as possible – the collections lost in the destruction of the Public Record Office (PROI) of Ireland in 1922, at the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. Ciarán described Beyond 2022 as an archive that is emerging ‘from a century of lockdown’ thanks to the opportunities afforded by digital technologies to recreate what was once lost. Bringing together copies of lost originals, held in archives and libraries around the world, Beyond 2022 is creating Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury and is due to launch in June 2022, at the centenary of the PROI’s destruction. Ciarán took us through the fascinating history of recordkeeping in Ireland and highlighted the importance of records for understanding our history. Attendees were also given a preview of the Virtual Reality prototype of the destroyed Record Treasury which is currently in development. His presentation can be accessed on the DRI Slideshare linked below.

 

Ciarán was followed by Dr Siobhán Doyle. Siobhán is part of the inventory team at the National Museum of Ireland and is the winner of DRI’s 2020 Early Career Research Award. Siobhán shared invaluable advice on using digital archives for academic research from the perspective of an early career researcher, focusing specifically on using digital resources for researching visual and material culture. Siobhán’s doctoral research focused on how death is represented in museum exhibitions commemorating the 1916 Rising and drew on the National Museum of Ireland’s visual collections relating to the 1916 Rising in the Repository. She outlined both the opportunities and the challenges associated with rigorous archival research and made the important point that ‘hitting a brick wall is a finding too’ and is all part of the research process! Her presentation can be accessed on the DRI Slideshare linked below.

 

 

Siobhán was followed by Tara Doyle, Senior Librarian at Dublin City Library and Archive (DCLA). Tara spoke about the Fáilte Ireland Tourism Photographic Collection. The Bórd Fáilte photographs were all taken by professional photographers and the collection covers all counties in the Republic of Ireland, with a concentration on topics relating to tourism. As Tara pointed out, the photographs tell the story of life in Ireland and while the focus is on tourism they are much more than marketing campaign material, they offer the historian an insight into everyday life in Ireland over several decades. These beautiful snapshots of evolving fashion in different decades, changes in built environments, and other aspects of everyday Irish life can be explored further in the Repository. Tara’s presentation slides can be accessed on the DRI Slideshare linked below.

 

 

Our final speaker, Stephanie Rousseau, Archivist at DCLA, spoke about the Jacob's Biscuit Factory Archive. The images in this collection document changing factory processes and machinery, factory buildings, the Jacob’s Radio and Television Awards, and advertising material, and reflect the company's history as a major employer in Dublin city. This history is brought to life by the many photographs of Jacob’s employees, many of whom were women. Stephanie highlighted the many research angles from which this collection could be explored, including art and design; marketing; Jacob’s work on community outreach; women in the workforce; staff welfare and activities; food technology and history; and Jacob’s initiatives during World War 1, such as sending care packages to staff on the front lines and contributing to relief funds for widows. The Jacob's Biscuit Factory Archive collection represents a rich and significant contribution to the study of business and commercial life in Dublin in the late 19th and 20th centuries and can be explored further in the Repository. Stephanie’s presentation slides can be accessed on the DRI Slideshare linked below.

 

 

The response to the webinar was very positive. We reached capacity booking at 500 registrants and were able to host early career researchers from Higher Education Institutions all over Ireland as well as archivists, librarians, and members of the public. The participants were active and engaged and there was a lively Q&A session after the talks with questions from the audience that helped to expand and enrich the discussion. 

We are grateful to our four speakers for sharing their expert knowledge and to our audience for their interactions and insightful comments and questions. The next webinar in the series will take place on Tuesday 23 March at 3 pm. For more information and to secure your place, please visit the events section on our website. The final webinar in the series will take place on 20 April and will focus on social sciences research. We look forward to hosting you at future sessions!

Further Resources

Digital Repository of Ireland. (2018) DRI Event Videos, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution], https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.3485bx88b

Digital Repository of Ireland. DRI Factsheet No 2: Copyright, Licensing and Open Access, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution], https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.rb699s72v 

Digital Repository of Ireland. DRI Factsheet No 3: File formats, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution], https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.jw82mv08x

Digital Repository of Ireland. DRI Factsheet No 7: Persistent Identifiers and DOIs, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution], https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.s752kt28n

Digital Repository of Ireland. Using Digital Archives for Academic Research, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Digital Repository of Ireland [Depositing Institution], https://doi.org/10.7486/DRI.9p29cz86d 

Digital Repository of Ireland. User Guides, https://guides.dri.ie/ 

 

 

By Áine Madden, March 2021