Abstracts 2022

Workshops, 27 June

Welcome session, with a brief tour of the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) repository

Dr Deborah Thorpe and Dr Lisa Griffith, DRI

In this session, Dr Deborah Thorpe will introduce workshop attendees to the Digital Repository of Ireland and to the programme of events for Digital Preservation of Religious Collections: Conversations and Collaborations. Dr Lisa Griffith will give a brief tour of the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) repository.

Appraisal of collections for digitisation and preservation

Barbara McCormack, Royal Irish Academy

Appraising collections for digitsation and preservation workshop: A recent Europeana report on access to digital resources in the cultural heritage sector suggests that costs associated with the curation of digital collections, from creation to maintenance and enhancement to preservation, can be quite substantial. Coupled with the fact that many institutions do not have a long-term strategy in place for the digital preservation of heritage collections, it is therefore important that practitioners consider a holistic approach to the selection of analogue collections for digital reproduction. This workshop will explore the reasons for providing digital access to collections and will focus on the appraisal of collections for digitisation and preservation purposes, considering potential barriers to the long-term sustainability and accessibility of digital cultural heritage.

Barbara McCormack is Librarian of the Royal Irish Academy, an independent, all-island learned society established under charter in 1785, where she has responsibility for heritage collections including the largest collections of Irish language manuscripts in the world. She has previously worked as Special Collections Librarian at Maynooth University Library where she had responsibility for the historical and special collections of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and Maynooth University. Her writing credits include a chapter in Elizabethanne Boran (ed.) Book collecting in Ireland and Britain, 1650-1850 (Dublin, 2018)and Jacqueline Hill and Mary Ann Lyons (eds.) Representing Irish Religious Histories: Historiography, Ideology and Practice (London, 2017). She has also contributed to Ossory, Laois and Leinster, Irish Theological Quarterly, The Furrow, and History Ireland.

A Practical Guide to Digitisation, 

Paul Manzor, Eneclann

A short guide to digitisation, the setup, the equipment, the processes, the pitfalls and the outcomes. All the information you will need to help you plan and complete your first or next digitisation project. The session will be followed by a Q and A. With Conference sponsors, Eneclann.

Ordination Class Portraits: from analogue to digital, 

Richard Fitzpatrick, Maynooth University and Clericus project

The aim of this workshop is to provide a practical overview of the steps that were required to identify, digitise and store/preserve class portrait collections from St. Kieran’s College Kilkenny and St. Patrick’s College Maynooth. This will include a discussion of the different technologies used and how this research fits within the larger Clericus digital humanities project.

Copyright and licensing as a part of digital preservation 

Clare Lanigan, Archiving Reproductive Health

A key part of digital preservation is ensuring long-term access to archived materials. Without proper understanding of copyright and licensing, collection stewards can often fall at the last hurdle and find themselves unable to make their carefully archived digital material available for browsing and research. This workshop will give an overview of Irish and EU copyright law as it applies to digital material, introduce the open licences that are most commonly used for publishing digital collections, and give recommendations for the best ways to identify rights holders and get permissions to publish collections under open licences. The workshop will draw upon the digital collections published by DRI as part of the Archiving Reproductive Health project, which include digital objects with a variety of different rights holders and permissions associated with them. Digital Archivist Clare Lanigan will lead the workshop, which will take the form of a presentation followed by a question and answer session. 

‘Digital Preservation of Reproductive Health Resources: Archiving the 8th’ (Archiving Reproductive Health) is a project funded by Wellcome and implemented by the Digital Repository of Ireland, providing long-term preservation and access to the many at-risk archives generated by the grassroots women’s reproductive health movement in Ireland.

Enhancing user engagement with collections using post-ingest tools,

Dr Kathryn Cassidy and Stuart Kenny

As well as offering greater access to collections, digitisation provides us with opportunities for enrichment of sources. This workshop will look at the variety of ways DRI works to enrich the collections in our repository and enhance user engagement with your materials. These include making digital assets available for detailed examination through the universal viewer IIIF, adding geo-locations to objects so that they can be mapped and discovered alongside material linked to the same location, aggregating them to other platforms like Europeana so that they are findable and searchable alongside larger collections, and the transcription of manuscript sources. In this workshop DRIs software engineers Kathryn Cassidy and Stuart Kenny will look at what these tools do, how they work and what the end result looks like. The workshop will use examples from the repository of collections that have been enriched and to demonstrate additional benefits for digitisation and digital preservation.

Conference, 29 June 

Keynote: Prof. John McCafferty (University College Dublin),Digitising God’s fingerprints. The public, the private and the numinous in religious archives.

Church archives contain many forms of day-to-day record familiar to archivists and historians. There are membership rolls, receipt books, diaries, accounts, legal documents, administrative records, personal papers. Yet these materials were created and accumulated by communities who consider their existence and work to be part of a transcendent task.

This paper will explore the possibilities for convergence and collaboration between readers, researchers and the religious men and women who are custodians of this cultural patrimony. It will reflect on the often radically different presumptions and purposes that bring people to these repositories. And it will suggest how, especially for Irish history, whole new areas of intellectual inquiry and historical reflection could be opened up by the enhanced accessibility offered by digital preservation.

Paper Session 1: Practicalities and challenges of digital archiving

Dr Ali Selim, Islamic Cultural Centre, ‘An overview of Muslims’ existence in Ireland: documentation and the protection of these documents’

This presentation will address the following topics: 1- The Muslim community in Ireland; 2- Documenting Muslims’ existence in Ireland; Protection and loss of these documents.

Anna James, Generalate Archivist, Medical Mission Sisters on ‘Muddling through with average IT skills and intense imposter syndrome: a lone archivist sets up a digital archive’

The paper will review the implementation of an archival repository for digital materials at the Generalate of the Medical Mission Sisters, a religious order of 450 Sisters and Associates who seek to provide a healing presence across the world. I am sending in a proposal precisely because I am not an expert in digital archives, but have needed to rise to the digital challenge, and would like to offer reassurance to other small organisations that it is possible to muddle through with average IT skills and intense imposter syndrome.  

I will look at the nature and scale of the project, how I prepared myself, where I found support and training, and what I actually did. I will go on to discuss the expected and unexpected challenges of setting up and starting to catalogue a digital archive as a lone part-time archivist, including those which are not yet resolved.

Dr Susan Hood, RCB Library, ‘Digital Archiving: Practicalities and Challenges for a Small Religious Repository’

A challenge for any record repository, but especially a smaller one, is to make its holdings more widely known to the research world by encouraging new researchers to use untapped materials. Excessive handling of materials also has its impact on the wear and tear of original documents. In response, the Representative Church Body Library, which is the reference library and archive of the Church of Ireland, has utilised a variety of digital-based approaches to engage with wider audiences and make it easier for them to access information while ultimately reducing the need to resort to original materials.

This presentation will examine the Library’s the main digital projects either completed or underway including the online catalogue of Architectural Drawings: https://archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org/ the Church of Ireland Gazette Digital Archive, 1856-2010 which is the Church’s newspaper available here https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb and an ongoing ambitious project to digitize and index over 15,000 volumes of parish registers (baptisms, marriages and burials) in the Library’s custody, some of which are the oldest surviving such records on the island.

Paper Session 2: Projects in digital creativity, digitisation, and digital archiving

Satwinder Singh, Title of presentation to be confirmed


Prof. Deirdre Raftery and Audrey Drohan, University College Dublin, ‘Digital reconstitution and digital collections: recent projects by UCD ConventCollections’

This presentation considers ways in which the research network UCD ConventCollections has developed a range of digital projects, drawing on the archives of the following religious orders of women: the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM), the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) and the Religious Sisters of Mercy (RSM).

All of these projects have been collaborative initiatives, whereby UCD Convent Collections (part of UCD School of Education) worked with UCD Digital Library (part of UCD Library), to identify and digitise discrete items from archives, that prompt further research and widen awareness of the potential of these archival collections.

Funded by bodies including the Royal Irish Academy, the Irish Research Council, and UCD Research, these projects include The Collected Letters of Nano Nagle, a digital reconstitution of all of the surviving papers of the Presentation foundress. Our presentation considers the benefits and challenges of digital reconstitution of collections. We also consider the uses of small-scale projects such as Loreto the Green and 1916 (IRCHSS funded Decade of Centenaries flagship project), and the more recent Carysfort Registers: Who were the Teachers project (RIA Nowlan Digitisation award) which involves the digitisation of sources from the Mercy Archives, Dublin.

Paper Session 3: Digital Reconstruction of religious collections 

Chris Hamill, Queen’s University Belfast, The Atlas of Lost Rooms: Digitally reconstructing Ireland’s lost Magdalene sites

This paper discusses the author’s ongoing PhD research into the architecture of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, focusing on the Atlas of Lost Rooms project at Sean MacDermott St Dublin (http://atlasoflostrooms.com/), and giving an update on research progress on other sites.

Of the ten Magdalene Laundries identified in the McAleese Report (2013), none remain fully intact.  All exhibit significant dereliction or demolition and, in several cases, these immensely sensitive sites have been redeveloped or completely erased.  Compounding this lack of physical evidence remains the widespread denial of access to the archives of the religious orders involved in the operation of these sites.

This understandably makes architectural investigation of these sites, and research into how their design contributed to the abuses perpetrated within, a much more difficult task

However, by using contemporary 3D reconstruction techniques, the fragments which do remain can be reassembled in virtual space.  This allows for otherwise impossible spatial investigations, helping to preserve the memories of survivors by situating and contextualising them in digital space, and posing difficult questions for architects and wider Irish society about the ethical implications inherent in the design and construction of these institutions.

Prof. Massimo Leone, ‘The digitalization of religious heritage, and mainly of religious buildings and objects, through various forms of immersive reality’

In the religious sphere, and in the productive and economic sector that it entails, from pelegrinages to giftware, the pandemic has given unprecedented virtual impetus to modalities of experience that had been codifying for several years. Not only has there been a sharp increase in forms of online prayer and ritual, but also in initiatives of sensory deprivation tourism, such as virtual tours of religious buildings (in Piedmont, Italy, there are virtual tours of the Basilica of Superga and the Sacra di San Michele, just to name two of many examples). Between tourism and religiosity there is also the peculiar fruition of the Shroud, which is exposed only on a few occasions, while in ordinary times one can only see reproductions, increasingly in digital formats. The paper will survey the state of the art on the digitalization of religious heritage, and mainly of religious buildings and objects, through various forms of immersive reality.

Gary Dempsey, Atlantic Technological University, and Orla-Peach Power, MaREI University College Cork, ‘Sheela3D – A Digital Repository for Exhibitionist Figures’

This paper will discuss the Sheela3D project which began in 2016 as a multi-phase trans-disciplinary project with the aim of creating a lasting digital record of Irish carvings known as Sheela-na-Gig. These liminal carvings are found in religious and secular contexts within a medieval context in Ireland. The project has employed a range of digital recording techniques including laser scanning, photogrammetry, and 3D modelling to create a catalogue of 122 carvings to date. The carvings include carvings in public and private collections, replicas, and reconstructions of lost carvings.  The paper will discuss how the project has attempted to refocus the discussion of these carvings within the broader medieval religious sculptural traditions. The paper will highlight issues of access, ownership, and funding of the projects. It will conclude with a discuss on the future of the Sheela3D project, the long-term storage and access to the collection as well as collaborative outputs with artist John Flynn.

Conference, 30 June 

Keynote: Dr Niamh Nicghabhann (University of Limerick),Questions Answered, Answers Questioned: collections, preservation, and new directions in the scholarship of material religion’

Scholarship on religion has advanced in a number of exciting and valuable directions in recent decades. The field of material religion in particular focuses attention on how people use objects as part of their devotional lives. Urban geographers look at pilgrimage routes, festivals, and engagements beyond the church walls, while cultural historians look at the construction of places of worship, their development over time, and their significance for their communities. Archaeologists examine the built legacies of institutions run by religious orders, gathering valuable evidence of voices and lives that are otherwise hard to access. These scholarly approaches deepen our understanding of the role of religion in society, and inform contemporary approaches to aspects of our religious built and material heritage. This talk will outline some of these approaches to the history of religion and religious heritage, and explore the different questions that scholars are asking across a range of geographical and temporal contexts. It will also consider some of the sources that are increasingly being used by these scholars, and how new forms of access facilitate both new methodologies and insights. In doing so, I hope that I will add to the rich conversation at DPASSH about religious collections, archives, and their future preservation. 

Paper session 4: Preserving and Recording Ireland’s Sacred Heritage: An introduction to the PARISH digitisation project

This panel of three papers will introduce PARISH, a new Digital Humanities collaboration between Maynooth University and the University of Notre Dame.

PARISH aims to produce an online database containing comprehensive photographic and other data records of the interiors of all Catholic churches on the island of Ireland. In the context of a changing religious landscape, with clergy shortages leading to more limited opening hours and even permanent closure of church buildings, this will be a vital record of the Church’s infrastructure and the communities that built it.

Focusing especially on the social heritage of memorial and sponsorship inscriptions, PARISH will create a fully searchable and freely available digital research tool, which will be of value to social, economic, art and architecture historians, as well as family and local history researchers. 

Sponsored by the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, the project is in its early development stages, and this panel will report on progress to date as well as future plans.

Dr Sarah Roddy (Maynooth) will put the project in context, by setting out the original inspiration for it, and its intellectual rationale.

Dr Heather Stanfiel (Notre Dame) will discuss the (many) practicalities and challenges of capturing, storing and making the data available to researchers. 

Dr Colin Barr (Aberdeen/Notre Dame) will discuss the future plans in place for PARISH and its potential impact in the wider fields of Irish and Catholic Studies.

Paper session 5: Accessing and interpreting digitised religious records

Dr. Riccardo Amerigo Vigliermo and Prof. Federico Ruozzi, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (UNIMORE), Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose (FSCIRE), Digital Maktaba: AI perspectives for automatic text extraction and catalogation of religious archives in non-latin alphabets volumes (Arabic, Persian, Azerbaijani): challenges of La Pira digital archive

Managing and sharing cultural heritages also in supranational and multi-literate contexts is a very hot research topic. This paper presents the Digital Maktaba project, which is an interdisciplinary effort between UniMoRe and the Mim startup, showing the first steps for designing an innovative workflow and tool for the automatic extraction of knowledge from documents written in multiple non-Latin scripts (mainly Arabic and Persian). For this reason, the “Giorgio La Pira” library in Palermo on histories and Islamic doctrines of the Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose (FSCIRE), leader institution of the European infrastructure RESILIENCE on Religious Studies, represents an interesting case-study thanks to its digital religious library in different alphabets. The tool leverages different OCR, text processing techniques and linguistic corpora to provide a highly accurate extraction and a rich metadata content; this will enable, the developing of an automatic cataloguer following the topographical design of the library, which we hope will enable a better preservation and conservation of culture in such a demanding scenario. The future development of intelligent techniques, based also on Incremental ML and object fusion will help us get the most out of the libraries output and improve system performance based on past user actions.

Sue Hemmens, Marsh’s Library, ‘Finding asylum: preservation and access to a Huguenot archive’

After the repeal of legislation which had protected religious toleration in seventeenth-century France, Elie Bouhéreau, physician and bibliophile, fled his home in La Rochelle to find eventual sanctuary in a foreign country. He wrote to a friend that ‘sensing the wind turning’ he had packed up his books preparatory to sending them out of the country. This collection, and his personal archive, found a resting place in Marsh’s Library, where Bouhéreau became the first librarian under Royal Warrant in 1701. His archive of some 1200 letters, prescriptions from his practice of medicine, his diary and accounts book, and a collection of papers concerning his Huguenot congregation is now preserved in Marsh’s. His books form part of this archive, also containing information on his friendship and kinship networks, and on his own reading. Research on this rich set of sources has revealed the existence of a lost set of notebooks, the contents of which can be reconstructed from the annotations which he made in his books. A project is planned which will draw upon AI to assist in the transcription of Bouhéreau’s correspondence. The diary and accounts, now available in a printed transcription and translation, have a rich future life as digital texts. Access for future generations will be assured not only by conservation of the originals, but by a programme of digital preservation.

Keynote: Prof. Fallou Ngom (Boston University) ‘Digital Archives of Muslim Africa: Making Africa’s Ajami Manuscripts Visible

Though written records are rarely regarded as part of sub-Saharan Africa’s heritage, important multilingual Arabic and Ajami archives (records of African languages written in Arabic script) have existed in Africa for centuries. The neglect of African Ajami traditions in academia until recently is due to a number of factors, including the lack of public depositories, the limited number of scholars with the necessary skills to study Ajami manuscripts, and the assumption that sources of useful knowledge on Africa must be either oral or written in European languages. This lecture will focus on the contents, forms, and the significance of the rich African Ajami archives digitized with the support of the British Library Endangered Archives Progamme. I will show how the study of these non-Europhone written sources force revisions of our understanding of literacy and various aspects of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Africa