Show, Tell, Share: Day of DH 2014

My One Fine #DayofDH was very fine indeed. My final post for Day of DH 2014 is about sharing resources for teaching and learning about nineteenth-century Irish history and plans by the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland for revealing the hidden treasures of its library….

Over the last two years I have collected thousands of images of Irish church architecture and furnishings as part of my doctoral research. Time to organize and share them so I’m building an Omeka-powered website! Having worked with the downloadable version of Omeka for Gothic Past, which we customized and had hosted on a stand-alone server, I opted to have the new site – Building Catholic Ireland – hosted on the platform. There are pros and cons for both but the hosted version was attractive as it is free (*depending on the plan you choose) and there’s no need for a server. This makes it a great option for students – like me! You can read about the differences between the hosted and downloadable versions of Omeka here.

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 21.59.53

I had a look at the showcase before selecting the Rhythm theme and opting for the Fall style – a strong palette of red, ochre and grey. The latter forms the background for item display and was well suited the kind of images my collection contains. I was able to upload content and complete the Dublin Core metadata fields quickly. (At the time of writing there’s just a small selection of images in the collection but there are more to come!)

Plug-ins for this theme include the Exhibit builder option which allows images to be curated into a narrative that incorporates text. All in all I’m really pleased with the progress I managed to make in a very short period of time. I plan on using the resource with first year History of Art and Architecture students at Trinity College Dublin in order to give them a taste of the possibilities offered by DH – and hopefully encourage them to become more active members of the #DHie community. (Students come in many guises – I am also about to start working with some ‘lifelong learners’ who want to curate their family history resources using the Omeka platform!) You can check out the Building Catholic Ireland beta site here.


Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 23.46.36As I mentioned in my very first post for the Day of DH 2014 I am a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (RSAI) and also sit on its governing Council. One of the most exciting moves forward for the Society this year is our review of the Library holdings – no mean task as it has more than 10,000 printed works! We are cataloguing and organizing all of the collections- books, journals, manuscripts and images – in order to make them available online. This week was set aside for preparing the data for ingestion into a cloud-based content management system.

The library was laid out a year after the Society took up residence in Merrion Square in 1917 and the collection includes Irish and international sources on archaeology, folklore and local history. The interactive visual nature of the new interface will revolutionize the means by which readers explore the collections. We hope this will encourage new research – trust me, there’s a wealth of PhD topics nesting in these collections!

IMG_3989When the project is complete we look forward to welcoming actual and virtual visitors to the Reading Room at 63 Merrion Square, Dublin (currently closed due to staff shortages.) Meanwhile — drop by our website and grab a bargain: we have surplus stock to practically give away :-) The RSAI was founded in 1849 making it the oldest archaeological and history society in Ireland —membership begins at just €30.

Twitter: To hear more on developments at the RSAI follow @RSAINews. If you want to find out how the Gothic Past or Building Catholic Ireland Omeka-powered sites are doing follow @Caroline McGee 


Screen shot 2014-04-10 at 00.08.57I’ve really enjoyed taking part in Day of DH 2014 — looking forward to next year already. Thanks to all at Matrix, the Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University for organizing everything so well, to Emma Clarke for all her hard work with the #DHie group and to Shawn Day, Karolina Badzmierowska and all the other great folks who made this initiative such a fun and informative experience. CMG.



Gothic Past – A Bedtime Story for the #DayofDH 2014

Bravo to all the #DHie folks who worked like Trojans to tell you what it means/takes to ‘Do DH in Ireland’. Gather round all you tired people — it’s time for bed (or the Champions League match) so here’s a little story….an extended post for the Day of DH 2014 : The Tale of Gothic Past…..

Once upon a time there was an American scholar whose Harvard PhD topic focused on Irish medieval architecture. His name was Edwin C. Rae (1911 – 2002) and beginning in the 1930s he spent much time in Ireland photographing its ancient buildings and sculpture. In 1942 he earned his doctorate and soon after joined the US army and travelled to Europe. He went on to become one of the ‘Monuments Men‘ (yes, that’s right – the  George Clooney and Matt Damon et al kind of Monuments Men!) When the war ended Captain Rae, as he was now known, was appointed Chief of Fine Arts and Archives and was stationed in Munich. He worked with the staff of many cultural institutions in Bavaria, helping them to rebuild their collections. He organized one of the first exhibitions of German Renaissance art in Germany in the post-war years and was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government for services to art history. A wonderful man n’est pas? But there’s more…..

Rae continued to visit Ireland and document its ancient buildings in film and photographic slides. (He was also Professor of the History of Art at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). In 2002 Rae gifted his collection of images to the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College. Everyone was very happy with this lovely present – none more so than Professor Roger Stalley who had also been making images of Ireland’s ancient buildings and sculpture since starting work as a rookie architectural historian in the Department in 1974. Like Rae, Stalley also took lots of images of European medieval architecture and sculpture and used them to teach hordes of enthusiastic History of Art and Architecture students over the years. Yipee, said they all in the Department! With the Stalley and Rae Collections we now have two amazing resources for the study of medieval art and architecture images. But there was more…..

Around 2008 along came a young PhD scholar from Cork named Danielle O’Donovan. As part of her study of the Butler Lordship (c. 1405 – 1552) she had travelled the highways and byways of Ireland making measurements of moulding profiles of different parts of medieval buildings — archways of doors and windows and piers and….oh, lots more things that emphasize  important parts of the building through the play of light and shade created by the mouldings. She too had amassed lots of images and wondered how she could share these resources with others who were teaching and learning about the history of Irish medieval architecture and sculpture. (Danielle is now an Irish Research Council Post-Doctoral Enterprise Fellow at the Centre for Research in Information Technology in Education in Trinity College)

As luck would have it that very same year, 2008,  a very exciting research project got underway in Triarc – the Irish Art Research Centre at Trinity College. It was called ‘Reconstructions of the Gothic Past’ and guess who was its Principal Investigator? Why, none other than Roger Stalley — he of the collection of medieval architecture and sculpture images.  The project team also included the now President of the RSAI, the narrator of this tale and a young doctoral fellow.  When the project was nearing completion (after three years of generous financial support from the Irish Research Council) the team knocked heads together with the intrepid collector of moulding profiles and a dynamic duo: one from the Research Informatics department of Trinity College Library  (Niamh Brennan) and an up-and-coming dev by the name of Deirdre O’Regan.

Long days passed as they all toiled to think of a way to create an archive of the Stalley, Rae and O’Donovan Digital Image Collections that would create visual impact — at this time they were part of Trinity College’s D-Space repository TARA. How could these fantastic fotos photos be fashioned into a really cool dynamic site that art history students (who let’s face it – love a good picture to study), and lovers of Irish medieval architecture and sculpture could use to learn more about Ireland’s Gothic Past? (because the funded project was about Ireland’s Gothic Past see?) We are poor as church (architecture and sculpture) mice, said one (the funding was dwindling as the project end date approached). What can we do, said another? They all shook their heads….

Suddenly….Bingo! A brainwave!  Let’s use a great piece of freeware that is really suited to creating digital exhibitions of images  — what about Omeka from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media in Fairfax, Virginia, they said! And thus was born the Gothic Past site.

—Narrator: In traditional bedtime stories the next sentence would say “…And they all lived happily every after. The END”.  But this is not a piece of frivolous writing so here’s what happened next…..

GPRecords and images and their associated metadata which were archived in TARA were selectively exported using CSV to the new Omeka-powered site which was hosted on a stand-alone server. The site was one of the first applications in Ireland of Omeka so we found the discussion forums really helpful for ironing out any creases during the design stages. (Thank you Patrick Murray-John especially). We have since been contacted by users in other countries who liked our tweaks of Erin Bell‘s already excellent abstraction of the Deco theme and wish to clone a site of their own.

By customizing the Deco theme and incorporating several of the available Omeka plugins we hoped to develop a really versatile resource for users. We were particularly keen to use the MyOmeka plugin so that the Gothic Past site could help those who wanted to learn about medieval Irish architecture in a more dynamic way.  Casual visitors may search the site using tags and keywords, but registered users have the added benefit of being able to curate their own personal workspace via MyOmeka. Images in the archive can be tagged and annotated with information – for example content from course reading or relevant lectures, tutorials or seminars. The annotated images may be collated into themed presentations and used as revision tools or as part of student-led seminars.

What makes the Gothic Past image archive so valuable to researchers and the general public is that it contains many images of structures that have undergone changes since first being photographed. In developing this site, the aim was to create a whole new interface for interacting with images of Irish medieval architecture and sculpture.  Registered users of the site include historians, archivists, and genealogists from a diverse range of countries.  A high proportion of users are tourists planning to visit Ireland or those with a personal or professional interest in Irish culture and heritage.

In time users will be able contribute information about specific monuments, as well as adding their own photographs to the archive. It is hoped that this will make the resource an organic and expanding one for many years to come and a superb interface for research-led teaching across all educational levels, from primary to fourth level and for the general public. Higher education institutions are also active users of the site, among them Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology where @AoibheannNiD was the first Irish lecturer to use Gothic Past as a teaching resource. During the past year I’ve been using it to help Junior Freshman (i.e. first year) History of European Architecture and Ancient History and Medieval Culture courses at Trinity College Dublin develop visual analysis skills and revise for annual examinations.

The image below summarizes the rather longer than intended Tale of Gothic Past — a special bedtime story by Caroline McGee for this (One Fine) Day of DH 2014.



My other Day of DH posts are held over for publication until tomorrow —according to tweets by @DayofDH that’s ok!

[1] The Monuments Men image is courtesy of Screen Crush

It’s here – Day of DH 2014!

Well Day of DH 2014 is here and I’m up early as I have a packed schedule today! As my ‘About Me’ page says, I’m Caroline McGee, I am a PhD researcher in Trinity College Dublin and a council member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (RSAI). Over the course of the Day of DH I will be blogging on the Irish DH projects that I am working on. They include:

  • Gothic Past — I manage this web resource which was launched in 2011 as a result of work carried out on an Irish Research Council-funded project called ‘Reconstructions of the Gothic Past’ in the Department of History of Art and Architecture in Trinity College Dublin.  The open access Gothic Past site is a visual archive of Irish medieval architecture and sculpture that was created using the Omeka Deco theme from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media — they are also taking part in Day of DH 2014. 
    Cashel carvingA favourite for tourists: The Rock of Cashel on Gothic Past: St Patrick’s Cathedral, Cashel, Co Tipperary, interior – north choir elevation, window rere – arch (detail). More information here
  • RSAI — Along with the Society’s Director and other volunteer members and I am involved in preparing the library and collections catalogue for ingestion into a web-based content management system. When fully operational the site will allow visitors to browse information about the diverse collections held by the RSAI — they offer lots of exciting opportunities for new research!

A small section of the RSAI Library  (Image courtesy of the Federation of Local History Societies – Conascadh na gCumann Staire Áitiúla)

  • My DH projects  — Frequently I meet researchers who want to manage the collections of images they have amassed as part of their work and share them with others.  I am creating a brand new Omeka-powered site that will act as a repository for the visual sources I use in my doctoral research. This new site — Building Catholic Ireland — will make the images I have taken of nineteenth-century church architecture and furnishings in Ireland available to a wider audience — for research or personal study —using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 23.58.38I will be tweeting via @carolinemcgee using the hashtags #dayofdh, #dhie and #ddh …believe it or not, I also plan on doing some thesis chapter writing. As my fellow-researcher Karolina Badzmierowska says – we’ll  just be having ‘a (regular) Day of DH’!

Oh, and by the way…if you are wondering why I named this Day of DH 2014 site ‘One Fine Day of DH’, well it’s simply because I love American singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant‘s version of the song ‘One Fine Day’ (and not because I sometimes feel like the character Melanie Parker in the movie of the same name who spends her day running around trying to meet work and personal targets!)

‘One Fine Day’ was written by that great creative partnership of Gerry Goffin and Carole King and was  a hit in 1963 for all-girl group The Chiffons. Download it from iTunes (99c) or listen to it on Spotify and have a great start to your Day of DH 2014!


Day of DH 2014

My name is Caroline McGee and I am a PhD researcher at Trinity College Dublin. I will be blogging on April 8, 2014 as part of the group DH in Ireland. Drop by and say hello, ask questions and tell us what you think of what we are doing. Feel free to tweet about the group’s activity too! The hashtags are #dayofdh #dhie & #ddh Here is the link to all the members

Just another Day of DH 2014 site

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