Recapturing the spirit of the ancient library of Alexandria in the 21st Century

                                                  

 

 

 

The destruction of the ancient library of Alexandria has become a byword for cultural loss, and its memory as the greatest library of its age continues to haunt the modern world. Later this month the founding director of the new Library of Alexandria will share how he set about recapturing the spirit of the ancient Library of Alexandria 1600 years after its destruction at a free public lecture in Trinity College Dublin on Monday, 26th November, 2018.

Dr Ismail Serageldin, Founding Director Emeritus, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, will discuss the challenges of reimaging the ancient library in the context of the 21st century. He will also share his thoughts on threats to the library’s survival in the face of ongoing turmoil in the region.

Dr Serageldin holds a PhD from Harvard University and 38 honorary doctorates. He is the recipient of 18 prestigious international awards and has published over 100 books and over 500 papers on topics including biotechnology, rural development, sustainability and the value of science. In addition, Serageldin has hosted over 130 episodes of a cultural television series in Egypt and developed an Arabic and English language science television series.

The lecture is the first instalment of the Trinity Long Room Hub Multiannual Lecture Series, which runs for three years until 2021. The series, which is entitled ‘Out of the Ashes — Collective Memory, Cultural Loss and Recovery’ will see world-leading experts on cultural loss and recovery share their knowledge of how societies have dealt with cultural trauma through reconstruction and commemoration. The series will also explore how the international community should respond to the destruction of cultural heritage in armed conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa.

Other speakers who will participate in the three-year lecture series will include Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist, Google; Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts, The British Library; and Shamil Jeppie, Director of the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project.

Out of the Ashes takes its immediate impetus from Ireland’s national archival tragedy—the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland at the Four Courts, Dublin, in 1922 at the opening of the Irish Civil War. In one afternoon seven centuries of Ireland’s historical and genealogical records, amounting to hundreds of thousands of documents, were destroyed. Earlier this year, Trinity launched the ground-breaking Beyond 2022 Project—an international archival partnership which is working to reconstruct virtually the Public Record Office of Ireland and its collections in time for the centenary of their destruction.

Coordinator of the lecture series, Dr Peter Crooks, Department of History, Trinity and Principal Investigator of ‘Beyond 2022’ project commented: “Cultural atrocity is a subject with a deep history and enormous contemporary resonance. Think of Sarajevo in 1992, Baghdad in 2003, Palmyra in 2015. This multiannual series sets the Irish experience of cultural loss over the centuries in its broadest possible context. But just as important is the story of recovery, of how societies deal with cultural trauma. This series brings to international attention our current effort to create an inspiring national legacy to mark the centenary of 1922 by reconstructing digitally the collective memories of all traditions in these islands and of the Irish abroad.”

Across its three years, Out of the Ashes traces the story of collecting, destroying and reconstructing cultural heritage. The first year of the lecture series will explore the human urge to collect and the social meaning of the world’s great collections, including the manuscripts of the world heritage site of Timbuktu which were saved from oblivion in 2013. Year 2 examines intentional destruction of cultural heritage in armed conflicts. Finally, Year 3 showcases how societies have recovered from cultural trauma, both literally through the reconstruction of lost knowledge and also socially through the creation of sites of cultural memory.

This multi-annual series is organised in association with the Trinity College Research Themes, Digital Humanities, Identities in Transformation, Making Ireland, and Manuscript, Book and Print Cultures, and the Trinity Library.

Beyond 2022 presents at Transkribus/READ Consortium conference in Vienna

Dr. Dave Brown of the Beyond 2022 project presented at the READ Consortium conference in Vienna on 9 November 2018 on how the exceptionally rich replacement materials identified by Beyond 2022 are suitable for HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) processing, potentially rendering them fully-searchable. To date, Beyond 2022 has identified over 300 volumes from the Record Commission of Ireland (1810-30) suitable for such HTR treatment, collectively representing as much as 20 million words of text recoverable from the losses of the 1922 fire.

Some individuals transcribed up to 25,000 pages over a period of many years. With so many examples of very large quantities of text produced by a single hand, the Irish Record Office transcriptions might as well have been prepared with Transkribus in mind.

The collections reflect the cataloguing arrangements in the original record office and the largest sets of copies deal with topics central to the study of Irish history: the establishment of English governing structures in the Middle Ages, the Elizabethan conquest, the Plantation of Ulster, the Cromwellian occupation of Ireland, the Williamite wars and the breaking up of the great landed estates in the nineteenth century. All areas of history are covered in these transcripts, however, and the material includes early census-type records, trade, legal judgements and a wide range of smaller thematic collections related to specific towns and cities. The digitisation is most advanced for the Cromwellian period, 1650-1659, and the scale of documents recovered surpasses that which has survived for most parts of England.

Transkribus works very well on large, relatively uniform collections such as these. Several HTR models have been prepared for 15,000 words each. As the number of trained models increased, a separate project emerged to investigate if the existing models could be used to partially HTR a sample from the next set of documents, and speed up the process of creating each subsequent ground truth. It was decided to create a single page ground truth for each new example, and compare this with text automatically generated with each model in the project to find the best one to work with.

Preserving the Past for the Future: Irish Manuscripts Commission launches its Strategic Plan, 2018-2022

Beyond 2022 was honoured to participate at the Strategic Plan launch of the Irish Manuscripts Commission on 17 October 2018: ‘Preserving the past for the Future’. The IMC strategic plan was launched by the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, TD. The Principal Investigator, Peter Crooks, spoke on the subject of “An archival palimpsest: the Beyond 2022 project and the Four Courts”.

Pictured below (L-R):  the speakers at the seminar marking the occasion:

  • Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, TD
  • Dr. Michael Kennedy, Executive Editor, Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, RIA
  • Dr. Elva Johnston, UCD School of History
  • Dr. Peter Crooks, Principal Investigator, Beyond 2022 (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Zoe Reid, Head Conservator, National Archives of Ireland

Rebuilding the past: The transformation of early modern Irish History

ABSTRACT

Micheál Ó Siochrú
The Seventeenth Century Taylor and Francis Journals
Published online: 16 May 2018: https://doi.org/10.1080/0268117X.2018.1445552

Rebuilding the past: The transformation of early modern Irish History

The study of early modern Irish history is undergoing major transformation.
For almost a century since the destruction of the Public Records Office of
Ireland in 1922, scholars have bemoaned the lack of source material for the
period 1500 to 1800, which has severely limited the breadth and depth of
historical research. A new project, however, is uncovering significant amounts
of hitherto unidentified material and entire archives are being rebuilt, using
mainly nineteenth-century transcriptions. Technological advances assist the
process of exploiting these newly rediscovered manuscripts but a fundamental
rethink is also required by historians of Ireland on how best to capture the
myriad of experiences of all the peoples of the island, particularly the Catholic
majority. These exciting developments mark a true turning point in Irish
historical research. We have an opportunity to break through the barriers of
rigid periodisation and to explore the deep continuities evident in the history of
early modern Ireland.

1. The historiography of early modern Ireland

The historiography of Early Modern Ireland has often been marked by strict
periodisation, with key dates such as 1534, 1603, 1660 and 1691, effectively
acting as barriers to the study of continuities in the Irish historical experience.
The limitations of this fragmented approach became abundantly clear to me
when I began to reflect on the year 1660 as a significant turning point in Irish
history. 1 1. This article is based on a paper I gave to the Restoration
Conference at the University of Bangor in July 2017 on the year 1660 as a
possible turning point in Irish History. View all notes I do not consider myself a
Restoration historian, as most of my research to date has focused on the wars
of the mid-seventeenth century in Britain and Ireland. But more recent projects

relating to the Cromwellian land settlement, such as the Down Survey Maps
project and the current Books of Survey and Distribution project, have drawn
me somewhat belatedly into the Restoration period, as disputes over land
titles continued well beyond 1660. On surveying the secondary literature I was
surprised by the relative paucity of recent publications on Ireland between
1660 and 1685, although a number of important monographs have appeared
in the last 10 years, authored by a new generation of young scholars, such as
Danielle McCormack, John Gibney and John Cunningham, on topics such as
the Popish Plot, the transplantations to Connacht and the English of Ireland. 2 2.
Danielle McCormack,The Stuart Restoration and the English in
Ireland(Woodbridge, Boydell, 2016); John Gibney,Ireland and the Popish
Plot(London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); John Cunningham,Conquest and
Land in Ireland: The transplantation to Connacht, 1649-1680 (Woodbridge,
Boydell, 2011).View all notes Toby Barnard remains the acknowledged expert
on the Protestant experience in Restoration Ireland and beyond but the
Catholic majority is still shamefully neglected. 3 3. Barnard’s relevant
publications are far too numerous to list butA new anatomy of Ireland: The
Irish Protestants, 1649-1770 (Yale, New Haven, 2003) is perhaps the best
introduction to his work.View all notes Moreover, works on the big political,
military, social and economic developments of the 1660s and 1670s are thin
on the ground, despite a significant renaissance in the study of Early Modern
Ireland more generally and the seventeenth century more particularly.

https://doi.org/10.1080/0268117X.2018.1445552

Beyond 2022 featured on The History Show

Beyond 2022 featured on The History Show, Project aims at virtually recreating the Public Record Office on its centenary 2022.

Dublin, March 18, 2018.

Two historians from Trinity College Dublin, Peter Crooks and Ciarán Wallace, spoke to Myles on The History Show, RTÉ about the ambitious project Beyond 2022. As the name suggests, the project aims to digitally recreate what was destroyed during the 1922 blaze and make it available for the public on the centenary of the event.

Speaking to Myles, Peter said “In terms of how you find the substitutes, well that takes a lot of historical and archival work and therefore the collaboration of the project is so important. We have formal archival collaboration partnerships with our own National archives in Dublin. The National Archives of UK, The Public Record Office, Belfast and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. The four of those institutions coming back together with this common ambition is really exciting and really symbolic as we move to the end of the decade of the centenaries”

Referring back to the events of June 30, 1922, and the readiness of the project by 2022, Ciarán remarked “There is a lot of work to be done before 2022, at the moment, we are in the ‘proof of concept’ phase, we are already amazed by the amount of stuff that is there. So we are realizing that with the volume of material in London, and even in other archives in Dublin and California scattered around the world, the amount of replacement volumes that can be tied back into the virtual archives, they can be put back into our virtual shelves in a sense. But, by the end of this year we should be able to illustrate to the public what was in there and good solid examples of what can be achieved through the project.”

Seven centuries of Irish records – of interest equally to historians, archivists and genealogists – were considered to be lost. This project breathes life into what was seemingly gone forever and gives hope for new areas of research, in both history and digital humanities.
You can hear the item on playback here:

Click here to listen.