Archive for the ‘Archives’ Category

Heritage Week 2010

23 August 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The Department for Tourism Sport and Heritage have announced that there were over 1.4 million visitors to museums, galleries, archives, libraries and concert halls in Ireland in the first half of the year. Considering the decline in Irish tourism, this 9% rise is quite an astonishing number over a six month period and it shows that we are more committed than ever to supporting culture . The biggest cultural event of the year is taking place this week and I was prompted by their beautiful new tv advert for Heritage Week to go online and check out what is going on. The ad promises such a huge amount (art, music, history, archeology, genealogy… the list seemed endless!) which is not surprising considering so many organisations and institutions around Ireland can classify themselves as heritage and are taking part. The scale of the Heritage Week line-up suggests that it has not been hit by the budget cuts but this probably has more to do with the fact the week seems to run because of the  enthusiasm of already involved staff members who are keen to promote their organisations rather than increased government funding for a week a year. Indeed, with such an impressive list of free events its not surpsiring that Irish people are turning increasingly to events like this for entertainment. Read more

A hidden Irish contribution to WWII? Artist seeks former parachute factory workers

29 July 2010

Contributed by Carolyn Shadid Lewis

I have a small flare parachute dated 1944.  It first appears to be a delicate object made of silk fabric with flowing tendrils.  Yet, if it had lived out its purpose, it would have lit up the sky of a WWII battlefield.  My friend gave me the flare a few years ago after discovering my fascination with military parachutes, paratroopers, and WWII.  He explained to me that his Irish grandmother, Lucille McNulty, made the flare while she worked as a seamstress in a military parachute factory during WWII.  As we talked, I realized that the experience of Irish women workers like Lucille was an extremely compelling subject matter, one rich in poetic imagery, history, Irish culture, and female identity.

I have since lost touch with my friend, and although I cannot find any information on his grandmother, I have not forgotten her.  I have decided to explore her experience through the shared stories of others in a new documentary project.  I am an American artist, and I will be the artist-in-residence at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, Co. Cork for August and September.  While at Cobh, I hope to travel throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland recording interviews with women who worked as seamstresses in military parachute factories during WWII.

My proposed task has proven to be difficult, and I cannot seem to find women who have this experience. I am contributing to Pue’s Occurrences in the hopes that the history community here might be able to provide some insight. Read more

A toast, to the librarians and archivists

22 July 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It’s not all glamorous, you know. For the joys of the unexpected, earth-shattering, history-changing discoveries that lead to shrieks of ‘celebrity’ joy on Who Do You Think You Are: Azerbaijan, read piles of carbon-copied confidential reports and illegible hand-written memoranda. Professional historians are like figures from the nineteenth century American West: days spent panning fool’s gold rewarded by another small nugget to add to our hidden haul. Actually, there’s a metaphor that could go far: claims and counter-claims; years spent staking out territory; scraggly beards; wolves at the door; men and women, old beyond their years, growing ever more cantankerous and wisened in the wilderness.

So, since we’re in the midst of the summer archive rush, this post is a tribute to those who make our experience of Ireland’s archives and libraries all the more enjoyable. This month sees the retirement of Sally Corcoran, the remarkable custodian of UCD’s Development Studies Library, guardian of its unparalleled treasure trove of materials on aid in Ireland and beyond. And tomorrow, 23 July, marks the end of an era for those of us who spend days/weeks/months of every summer lost in the National Archives of Ireland. After years of putting up with the joys of cranky historians and wide-eyed ancestor-hunting tourists, Senan and Pat, the first friendly point of contact beyond the automatic doors at Bishop Street, take their leave of that august institution. No more Monday morning post-mortems on Louth’s latest defeat (yes, we’re still smarting over that), the weather, or the merits of the GAA’s qualifier system. No more ‘have you got your card’, ‘fill in the blue form’, ‘pencils only’, ‘leave your bags in the locker’, or ‘take the lift to the fifth floor and turn right to get your reader’s ticket’ (how many of them actually do?) Our lives will be all the poorer for it.

At What Price Independence?

4 July 2010

By Christina Morin

I’ve been trawling the net recently in the hopes of finding a local, Belfast supplier of authentic graham crackers so that I can celebrate the 4th with that quintessential Independence Day dessert – s’mores (pictured left). I haven’t had much luck, but I have turned up some interesting tidbits, including the fact that July plays host to a bevy of independence days. Canada Day, for instance, is on the 1st of July. Argentina celebrates the anniversary of its Declaration of Independence on 9 July, and, famously, France marks the fall of the Bastille on the 14th. Bahamians commemorate the anniversary of full self-rule on 10  July, and Liberia remembers the day on which freed American slaves declared the country’s independence in 1847 on 26 July. The list goes on and on. As I discovered all this, it struck me that other ex-pats from all over the world could be searching for imported delicacies to celebrate their respective independence days in the appropriate gastronomic fashion – what a unifying thought! A host of different nationalities brought together by the internet, the fact that our national independence days share the same month, and our determination to have a little bit of home abroad on such an important occasion no matter what the price. Read more

Digital projects in Ireland: Christ on the Cross at UCC

18 June 2010

Contributed by Juliet Mullins

First impressions of the Crucifixion scene in the tenth-century Irish Southampton Psalter might be that it is crude, simplistic and unsophisticated. When cataloguing the manuscript, M. R. James described its three images as affording: “most striking examples at once of skill in decoration and total inability to draw figures”. Even the colour palette seems to confirm that this image represents an impoverished and diminished descendent of the tradition which reached such heights in the Book of Kells. When we turn to contemporary Irish writings on the Crucifixion, however, we find poets and exegetes revelling in the complex symbolism that the Passion affords. The Cross functions as a sign of Christ’s suffering, a symbol of his saving grace and, finally, as an image of judgment and the end of earthly time. These symbols can be traced not only in literature, but also in images, the use of space, music and the liturgy. ‘Christ on the Cross’ is an interdisciplinary project that aims to provide a holistic approach to medieval culture that brings together these different areas of study into a shared space. Drawing upon the expertise of its constituent members, this research team aims to demonstrate that the Cross is the most potent of all objects in early medieval culture: it is a strikingly simple image in structural terms, yet its significance is profound and its readings multifaceted. Read More

The launch of the 1901 Census Online

9 June 2010

Contributed by Ciarán Wallace

Like the release of the next generation X-Box for historians and genealogists, the 1901 Census on-line was launched at the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) on 3 June.  The undoubted success of the 1911 Census project might make the 1901 launch seem less remarkable – but the availability of so much additional material greatly enhances the value of both sets of records.  Both Catríona Crowe, Head of Special Projects at the NAI, and Mary Hanafin TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, described how the 1901 data allows researchers to expand their findings from 1911.  Despite some cautious jokes about the website crashing under the strain of launch-day traffic, this reviewer found it only marginally slower than the excellent 1911 Census version – as the numbers level off this will no doubt correct itself.

The addition of the ‘show all information’ function some months ago makes the 1901 and 1911 censuses even more useful as a research tool.  Finding one Mary Byrne out of hundreds is far easier when you can see the occupation, religion and marital status entries at a glance. Read More

Newspapers and the Dictionary of Irish Biography

1 June 2010

Contributed by Felix M. Larkin

G.K. Chesterton once said that newspapers were ‘the largest work ever published anonymously since the great Christian cathedrals’.  This anonymity has huge implications for historians using newspapers as a source for their research.  Undoubtedly, newspapers are valuable sources of information.  However, there are obvious dangers in relying on any newspaper – or, indeed, periodical – without some background knowledge of the publication in question, in particular its political bias and the people who controlled it.  That is why research on the history of the press is so important – apart altogether from its inherent interest.  The new Dictionary of Irish Biography has made a significant contribution to lifting the veil of anonymity that has long shrouded the history of Irish newspapers.  Take, for example, the Freeman’s Journal – probably Dublin’s most distinguished newspaper, published continuously from 1763 to 1924.

The search mechanism on the Dictionary of Irish Biography website throws up 340 entries that contain a reference to the Freeman.  That’s over 3.75 per cent of the total.  Some are merely references to the newspaper in the bibliographical paragraph at the foot of the entries, and it seems to me that the option of excluding the bibliographies from a word-search would be a worthwhile modification to the website, enhancing the ease with which scholars can find entries relevant to their field of study. Read More

Promoting Dublin’s Urban history: The History of the City of Dublin Reasearch Group

24 May 2010

Contributed by Lisa Marie Griffith

One of the major problems facing anyone who undertakes research on urban history is that by its very nature the field is incredibly broad. It encompasses architects, art historians, historians and local historians, as well as genealogists and town planners. Even with a brilliant resource like Dublin City Library and Archive it can be incredibly difficult to make a detailed survey of all of the different areas you need to be familiar with in order to carry out research on Dublin. While the Friends of Medieval Dublin have successfully harnessed the interest of those who seek to preserve as much of Medieval Dublin as possible in order to promote research in the area, research iniatives for the modern period still fall short.  A new research group funded by the Centre for Irish-Scottish and Comparative Studies (CISCS) in Trinity College Dublin aims to redress this imbalance.

The history of the modern Irish capital has spurred countless studies and research projects but many of these studies are lost or difficult to come by.The History of the City of Dublin Research Group aims to promote research in the area by bringing together researchers currently working on Dublin History and detailing their project and published output so that this material can be found in one place. Read more

Katyn: a Polish tragedy in two acts?

19 May 2010

Contributed by Julia Eichenberg

On April 10th a Polish plane crashed at the small airport in Smolensk in Russia. No one on board survived the crash, the most famous victim being the then Polish president, Lech Kaczyński. A month after the crash the causes are still being investigated, but the discussion mainly focuses on history. The crash proved to be cataclysmic for the Polish nation because of the plane’s destination, because of the composition of the passenger list, and the political impact of the tragedy. Surprisingly, the tragic event might have had at least some positive side effects.

The plane was heading for Smolensk but the real destination of its passengers was the nearby town of Katyń, to commemorate a horrendous massacre committed during World War II. In 1940, the Soviet Army executed about 20,000 Polish Officers in the area, aiming to extinguish the Polish elite and facilitate Soviet rule over Poland. When the mass graves were discovered in 1943, Soviet Russia blamed Nazi Germany for the massacre. The official Soviet narrative of Katyń as a German war crime was held up, in Russia as well as by the Soviet-influenced Polish historiography, until the downfall of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was the first to admit Stalin’s orders to commit the massacre of Polish officers; Yeltsin opened Soviet archives containing historical sources proving Soviet guilt. But still in 2009, Polish victims of Katyń were denied the status of victims of Stalinist terror. Only this year did Putin agree to a binational commemoration ceremony in Katyń on 7th April 2010. While refusing to accept Katyń as a Russian responsibility, Putin now supported the recognition of its victims as Stalinist victims. Read more

Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War begins at the American National Archives in Washington

14 May 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The above photograph is part of a new exhibition at the American National Archives commemorating the American Civil war and shows a racially integrated Union naval crew aboard a ship probably the Mendota. The American Civil War is an event which is considered to have been as key to the development of the United States as the American Revolution. As such, it is an event that has attracted a huge amount of interest from historians, history students, documentary makers and of course the general population. This has led to an outpour and huge consumption of books on the war, reconstruction, slavery and Lincoln and this will no doubt continue over the next few years as commemoration steps up a gear. On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil war a new exhibition at the American National Archives, called ‘Discovering the Civil War’, which brings together online 6,000 digitized records has sought out new ways of analysing, interpreting and viewing the civil war. While the material is not new it is welcome. The archive hopes that it will encourage visitors to ‘take a fresh look at the Civil War through little-known stories, seldom-seen documents, and unusual perspectives; consider and ask questions about the evidence; listen to a wide variety of voices; and make up your own mind about the struggle that tore apart these United States.’ The availability of so much of this material online is commendable and encouraging. The site is well worth a look offering a good example of how exhibits can be appreciated by those who can visit a location directly. It is geared towards a broad audience and with personal accounts of soldiers on both sides of the war, photographs which depict ‘camp life, routines, war preparations, the moments just prior to battle, and the aftermath of battle’,  as well as a section entitled ‘Teachable texts from the National Archives at New York City’ this is an excellent teaching resource. The exhibition falls into two sections; the first ‘Beginnings’ opened 30 April while the second section ‘Consequences’ opens 10 November.  The New York Times reviews the first section of the exhibit here.