Gaining real-world experience on a virtual internship

Gaining real-world experience on a virtual internship

Scott Flake from the University of Michigan reflects on his summer internship with Beyond 2022

Living and working in a foreign country presents a unique set of challenges. Adjusting to local time, understanding the local culture, possibly even learning a new language. In January of this year, these were all challenges I was ready to face when I applied for a summer internship overseas, farther away from my hometown than I had ever been before. Of course, 2020 has not obeyed anyone’s expectations, and my plans were forced to change. While I still found myself working in a foreign country this summer, it was from my childhood bedroom; quite a lot closer to my hometown than I’d been for some time. This arrangement provides its own challenges to overcome (not the least of which is attending midday meetings before the sun comes up due to time zone differences). Because of these challenges, however, my experience with Beyond 2022 has proven invaluable. 

            I study history and museum studies at the University of Michigan in the United States. Museum studies is, functionally, the study of bringing history to the public in the best way possible. Public history, as the endeavor is called, is an effort to remove history from the dusty halls of the library and university and make it accessible to as many people as possible. As a historian, my interests lie in every corner of the world, though I’ve always carried a particular interest in Irish history. Second-generation Americans themselves, my grandparents have always expressed great pride in their Irish ancestry. My grandfather was mortified when he explored his ancestry in greater detail and learned that he was only half Irish and not 100% (the other half was Scottish). As Beyond 2022 is an Irish public history project I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in it. 

The bulk of my responsibilities within the project involve the act of calendaring. Calendaring entails reading through old documents and summarizing them, capturing the most interesting or relevant information. Because of the digital nature this work was forced to take on, I’ve been working with photographs of the documents rather than with the physical documents themselves. The documents that I’ve been calendaring are administrative documents and letters sent to and from the Public Record Office of Ireland before its destruction by fire in the Irish Civil War (1922-3). These papers were stored in the section of the office that was spared from the fire and so have survived in quite good condition. I’ve looked at documents from as far back as 1867, the year of the public record office’s founding, and as recently as 1922, the year it went up in flames. Monotonous though the work may sound to some, I find it exciting to pore through each new document for juicy details. Many documents offer nothing of note, but the thrill of reading one that does is unmatched. I’d like to share some of these noteworthy discoveries.

The Public Record Office received no shortage of letters from the public. The documents in the archive were of great value to people across Ireland and in other parts of the world. In order to receive the Old Age Pension, documentary evidence of age needed to be provided. People born around the 1840s and 1850s did not have birth certificates and so had to use some other form of proof. An acceptable form of evidence, as it turned out, were the censuses taken in 1841 and 1851, the results of which were held in the archive. An individual’s presence in the census proved that they were at least as old as the census itself, and therefore allowed them to receive their pension. They might also have their age listed alongside their name in the census. The public record office received so many such letters that mass-printed forms asking for name, place of birth, parents, siblings, etc. were sent out to those who had asked for proof of their age to ease the search for their name in the thick volumes of the census returns. Age-curious inquisitors would also need to provide a payment of two shillings in order to have their evidence mailed to them.

The Public Record Office of Ireland had many employees, but getting a job there, it seems, was no small feat. An internal document reveals that any applicant for a clerkship in the archive had to pass a number of tests. Apart from a knowledge of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (Books I and II), skills assessed included geography, history, proficiency in Latin and French, and even the quality of one’s handwriting. All of these skills were necessary, evidently, in order to serve the needs of the public in the archive. 

Commentaries on the Laws of England
Commentaries on the Laws of England

Current events had limited impact on the curiosity of the public. During the occupation of the archive, and even after its destruction, letters continued to roll in to the Deputy Keeper’s mailbox, asking for documents to prove age, or of individuals researching their genealogy. When the archive was physically occupied during the fighting of the Civil War, the Deputy Keeper continued to respond to enquiries, promising the writer that once they could get back in the building, they would receive their answer. Of course, for many, these answers never came. Following the destruction of the archives, the deputy keeper responded to some writers, suggesting other places they may be able to find the information they sought. Old Age Pension seekers he often directed towards baptismal records at the church they were baptized at, for example. 

Though I’ve only spent a short time with the Beyond 2022 project, it has been an incredibly interesting time. I’m very grateful to have been given the chance to work on something so important, and beyond that, something so cool. I look forward to seeing the fruits of everyone’s labors two years from now, on the centennial of the archives’ destruction.

ministry of home affairs

A remembrance roll from the former liberty of Meath rediscovered.

Trim Castle

Randolph Jones, Research Associate, Beyond 2022

In her seminal ‘Medieval Record Sources’, Philomena Connolly remarked that there was a ‘dearth of documentation relating to the liberties’ of Ireland. These were palatinates, whose lords ruled independently of the king’s officers in Dublin, holding their own courts, and appointing their own administrative personnel. One of the largest liberties in Ireland was that of Meath, which was held in the mid-fifteenth century by Richard Plantagenet, duke of York (1411-60). After Richard’s son and successor Edward, seized the English throne in 1461, Meath passed permanently to the crown. The liberty’s records remained stored in Trim castle but were neglected. As a result, over time, they were ‘taken and embezzled by diverse persons of malice prepensed, to the great damages and disherison of our said sovereign lord.’ An act was therefore passed by the Irish parliament in 1494 demanding ‘that whatsoever person have any of the said rolls, records, or inquisitions, or knows where they be, and does not deliver them’ to the king’s council in Ireland, will ‘be deemed felons attainted.’ At least one item seems to have been recovered, a remembrance roll which recorded the proceedings conducted in the liberty’s court during the year 30 Henry VI (1451-2). This included customary payments due to the duke, as well as other matters relevant to the financial administration of the liberty. By the middle of the seventeenth century, this roll was held in the Chief Remembrancer’s Office in the Dublin exchequer. After 1867, it was transferred to the Public Record Office of Ireland, where it was destroyed in 1922. When examined in the early nineteenth century, it was said to be in a good state of preservation and comprised fifteen membranes.

Before its destruction, the roll was examined by several antiquarians. The fullest indication of its contents can be found in William Lynch’s ‘repertory’ or calendar, which is held in the College of Arms, London. Extracts were also made by James F. Ferguson in his manuscripts held in the National Archives of Ireland. Sir James Ware and Walter Harris also recorded a solitary entry, which is found in their manuscripts held in the British Library and National Library of Ireland respectively, as did the compiler of the Delafield family papers, whose typed copies of his notes are held in both the National Archives of Ireland and the British Library. It was also noted by James Lydon in the 1960s, that there was ‘a press copy of part of m[embrane] 12 d[orse] in the P.R.O.I., Strong Room, 5/4/11, fols. 121 ff., but it is incomplete and is so faded as to be almost illegible’ which may also provide additional information. Therefore, from this substitute material, it is possible to recover several entries of varying levels of completeness, enabling a tentative reconstruction. The first known entries listed individuals who appointed attorneys during the Michaelmas term of 1451. Mention is made of Robert Rocheford of Kilbride, the ‘farmer’ or renter of Brownstown, Sir John Kerdyffe, and Nicholas Ford of Fordstown, late the sheriff of Meath. The latter put Matthew Englysh of Trim in his place (‘ponit loco suo’), in a plea of debt against the king. There then followed a fine made by Thomas, the brother and heir of Barnaby Nangle, late baron of Navan, for entering two-thirds of the lands he held from the duke. After Barnaby was killed at ‘Balibardan’ or Bardanstown in 1435, the other third would have passed to his widow as her dower. Due to the length of time since his brother’s death, it is possible that Thomas had only just reached his majority. It is also possible that John, the son of George Drake of Drakerath, also mentioned in the roll, made a similar fine to the duke.

A record was also made of the appointment of John Bermyngham of Oldtown as the chief serjeant of co. Meath. Details are also given of a deed dated 8 March 1451, in which Johanna, the sister and heiress of Thomas Petyt, granted all her estates in Rathkenny, Coghelstown, Dreminstown, Horistown, Clogher, ‘Kengarth,’ Dunderk and Chamberstown to John Burnell and Christopher Hart, chaplain, but for what purpose is not known. In the Hilary term of 1452, it was recorded that on 23 February 1450, Robert, the son and heir of Christopher Preston of Gormanston, undertook to pay his late father debts, which the latter had personally acknowledged in the duke’s chancery on 4 June 1433. Robert thereby gained possession of his late father’s lands, which had been temporarily held by Sir John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury. The entry also informs us that Christopher died on 16 July 1441 and that an inquisition into his lands was held in the Trim guildhall on 7 January 1449. Nicholas Husse, baron of Galtrim was also recorded as being the tenant of 4 houses and 1 carucate of land in Balfeaghan, Dromin, Ballyconnell and Preston. These had been held previously by John Nugent, who was dead by 1427-28. Nicholas successfully pleaded a writ out of chancery dated 2 May 1438, in favour of his late brother Thomas, from whom he inherited the same lands, ordering all processes against him to be superseded. Nicholas is also mentioned elsewhere in the same roll as having been granted the temporary custody of ‘Cowlcaman.’ A series of inquisitions also confirmed that Stephen, the son of Johanna Ray and her first husband Henry Fitzwilliam, was the tenant of Raystown, which he held of the duke’s manor of Ratoath. After Henry’s death, Johanna married William Crompe (d. 1432-33), by whom she had a daughter, Margaret. When Johanna died, William continued holding Raystown, ‘courtesy of England,’ to the temporary exclusion of her son and heir, Stephen Fitzwilliam. This prolonged tenure resulted in John, the son of Geoffrey, who was the son of William Crompe by another wife, being mistaken by an earlier jury as the new tenant of Raystown. A pardon granted on 28 August 1450 to Sir William Welles, the duke’s seneschal, was also recorded in this roll, as well as a grant made by the duke himself on 19 July 1450, to the Dominican prior and convent of Mullingar, of 30 acres of land in Kilbride for 21 years, for the spiritual welfare of himself and his family. In the Easter term of 1452, Katherine, the widow of George Symean of Trim, successfully recovered 2 houses and 24 acres in Kells, which she and her late husband held jointly from Marionne Cruys and her husband Thomas Plunket and not from the duke himself. After George died in 1447-8, this property was seized by the duke’s officers because George was indebted to him as the farmer of the duke’s manor of Castlerickard. Katherine’s attorney was Henry Proutefote. The duke’s representative was his sergeant-at-law, John Dyllon, who probably represented his interests in the other cases mentioned in this roll.

 Before his death, Christopher Preston of Gormanston acknowledged he was indebted to the duke of York.
Before his death, Christopher Preston of Gormanston acknowledged he was indebted to the duke of York. NAI Ferguson collection vol. iii, fol. 193.

Thus, from the entries recovered so far, the contents of this roll suggest that the liberty’s administration was quite active in 1451-2. Thanks to the efforts made by antiquarians of the past, this information has not been lost to us permanently.

Innovative knowledge graph tool unlocks new connections previously hidden in data sets

Last month (30 June, 2020) marked the 98th anniversary of the Four Courts fire during the Civil War that destroyed the Irish Public Archives and 700 years of history along with it. The Beyond 2022 team of researchers discussed their progress so far on recreating the lost archive in virtual reality.  As this is a truly interdisciplinary project that combines cutting edge technology with historical research, Dr Christophe Debruyne, ADAPT Centre Computer Scientist, and Dr Lynn Kilgallon from the Department of History at Trinity College Dublin jointly presented their collaborative approach to knowledge graphs, or the means by which information about persons and places is structured and linked.Tools like these may help historians in analysing the complex networks “hidden” in textual material.

To anyone who is interested in Irish history, the knowledge graphs are going to be a key element to not only navigating through these documents, but also creating links between various records and the individuals, places, and events contained within them. This element of the project has come about due to close collaboration between the computer science and humanities disciplines.

What a knowledge graph specifically is defined as is “a set of interconnected typed entities and their attributes and relationships.” The links are established through the use of vocabularies, which standardise the relationships. For example, the image here shows the person “James Audley” in the centre, and the relationships between him and the other entities are labeled accordingly in Resource Description Format (RDF). As he held the position of Justiciar of Ireland, that link is marked as such. These points of data can then easily be linked up externally, as in the area shaded in pink which highlights the man’s biography elsewhere on the internet.

How the collaboration worked between these two very different disciplines was that the computer scientists standardised the rules for structuring the information to ensure it was machine readable. Through consultations and multiple rounds of feedback with the historians, these guidelines were refined and optimised, and then implemented by the researchers actually going through and labeling each record individually. Researcher historians, that is, who are not computer experts and don’t need to learn any extra coding in order to classify the data.

The example document that Lynn and Christophe started with in order to test this whole construction was the Irish Exchequer Payments, 1270-1446. The process began very manually, with Lynn sifting through over 2000 records and manually entering the data into different fields into an Excel spreadsheet. Once the spreadsheet was complete, it went to Christophe for him to transform it into RDF.

Two standard vocabularies were used to create semantic meaning for the data and then were extended by a third which was specific to the Beyond 2020 ontology. The spreadsheet was first checked for errors, then converted to RDF, and then checked again for errors in the RDF both for structure internally and against pre-existing external factoids for accuracy. Once this was completed, the RDF was stored.

What organising the data in this way from this single source enabled the researchers to demonstrate was the way the knowledge graphs can pull out information and make connections instantly, whereas manually these links would be very time consuming to create and oftentimes would simply be missed. For example, they pulled out all of the people who held the title Treasurer of Ireland and compared it to those records associated with the Chancellor of Ireland title during the Medieval period. This resulted in links, or a list of individuals who are noted as having held both offices. Finally, they pulled a third title of Justiciar of Ireland and were able to link this position with the previous ones and pull out a single person who held ll three positions. 

From this example, it’s clear that this method of organising data will enable researchers to explore records and make connections that would have previously not been discoverable. This will allow clusters of related data to emerge and for new conclusions to be drawn in fields beyond just history, like business and finance.

This is only the beginning of the Beyond 2022 project. Once this project is complete, the data will be opened to other researchers who will then be able to grow the network and add more data points to the web.