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IMG_3155SO, to finish this part of the story: at the end of November (2015) got the final results for my MA in Digital Arts & Humanities at University College, Cork: I got First Class Honours!, with which, I need hardly say, I’m thrilled (graduation ceremony will be in the spring of 2016).

For the record: In the first term, the Winter Semester (September to December 2014), I took four modules…

DH6001 Communities of DH Practice

DH6004 Conceptual Introduction to DH

DH6012 Editing Skills

CS6103 Audio & Sound Engineering

And in the second term, the Spring Semester (January to April 2015), I took five…

DH6003 Digital Humanities Institute

DH6005 History & Theory of Digital Arts

DH6008 Databases

DH6010 Tools & Methodologies

DH6014 Digital Skills

All of which constituted ‘Part 1’ of the degree. I got first class honours in five of these modules and, additionally, first class honours for Part 2 of my degree, Part 2 being the dissertation.

For this part of my degree (Part 2) I put together a website on the early work of the historian and textual scholar John O’Donovan (1806-61) — ‘the little Master’* — best known for his edition of Annála Ríoghachta Éireann [Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland] (1848–51), the so-called ‘Annals of the Four Masters’.

*Full-grown John O’Donovan was but 5 feet and 2 inches — i.e. 157 centimetres.

IMG_3067In particular I focused on his first published works, a series of penny journal contributions (specifically to the Dublin Penny Journal in 1832 and 1833), building a website to present reproductions of them and (in my dissertation) putting this work in context (i.e. John O’Donovan’s work) — which is to say, Ireland between the Act of Union and the launch of The Nation, the years when the first Industrial Revolution really took off (the Dublin Penny Journal was produced using the first steam-powered printing press in Ireland, for example, and, of course, more broadly, the penny press and mass literacy represents a sociological and communications revolution on a par with our own present-day digital revolution). The dissertation titled ‘The John O’Donovan Archive: Materials for a Portrait in the Digital Age’; the website is at

Over the past year or so I’ve rarely told someone what I was doing without being asked “What is ‘Digital Art & Humanities’ anyway?”. I’m not sure I ever answered this question satisfactorily but, at least as far as I’m concerned, it’s about using digital tools and methodologies to do history, or literary studies, or archaeology, or sociology, or art, or whatever you’re having yourself in the areas of arts & humanities. So, for example, one girl in our group modelled 3-D representations of medieval Irish monuments (unbelievably detailed reproductions, very often better than the originals, at least for study purposes), another person built a digital art gallery in which he exhibited his own gif-art creations, as in the sort of thing you see below (which by the by is an example of graphics interchange format item, not something by my classmate).

As I say, for me, for my area of interest, it’s about using digital tools to do historical research and, afterwards, using timelines, websites, geolocation software, interactive documentaries etcet to present the results of such research, i.e. presenting information in some of the many ways that are now available to us in this App Age (i.e. other than solely by way of old school books and monographs and journal articles and so forth). Therefore, in addition to presenting the texts of O’Donovan’s penny journal items (in the early 1840s O’Donovan also wrote for the Irish Penny Journal), I will also reproduce a selection of O’Donovan’s Ordnance Survey letters and notebooks — throughout the 1830s O’Donovan worked as a names expert with the Irish Ordnance Survey.

One thing I certainly want to do when I get to the Ordnance Survey stuff is map data relating to John O’Donovan’s Ordnance Survey field trips temporally and geographically such that one can identify where and when O’Donovan was in Galway, say, or Cork or wherever (being able to zoom in all the way to town and/or townland), or take a time-period — May through September 1836, say — and see where he was at that time, the data-points mapped by reference to OS correspondence and notebooks (maybe even plotting the data on the original Irish Ordnance Survey sheets from the 1830s and 40s, if I get permission to reproduce them). My model for this part of the project is what the Yale Photogrammar project have done with the photographic material created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information, where one can see exactly where each of the photographers worked, and when —

All of which is but prep-work for the next phase of the project which is to produce a drama-documentary on the Life & Times of John O’Donovan in which everything the John O’Donovan character says is taken from his written works, his letters and penny journal essays and notebooks and the like, my model/inspiration for which is Painted with Words (2010), the wonderful portrait of Vincent van Gogh produced by Alan Yentob (with Benedict Cumberbatch as Vincent).

Thus it will be obvious that what I’ve done with the John O’Donovan Archive for my MA is but a scoping exercise; I anticipate I will be working on this material for some time to come — this work (this subject area), being my next Big Thing.



10 things I got from the DH6005 module

At the conclusion of the DH6005 module (History & Theory of Digital Arts), part of the Digital Arts and Humanities Masters programme at University College, Cork (Ireland), which I’m presently on (2014-15), one of the things we were asked to do is compile something (document, video, 10-part song cycle, whatever) on ’10 Things I got from the discussions’ (which is to say, discussions in classrooms groups, college eateries, and on Blackboard and the like, Blackboard being a sort of college social media platform for teaching and learning and discussing stuff).

“This [the exercise] is partly reaction and partly reflection”, quoting from the commission text. “Pick 10 statements made by people in the class that provoke you in a good/bad/indifferent way and present, briefly, your response. It could be a short essay in 10 paragraphs, it could be a 10 slide PowerPoint, it could be a short video — the medium for collecting this is entirely up to you. It can be as plain or as ‘arty’ as you wish, the key requirement is that it demonstrates that you have bumped into some ideas, thought about them, relate them to some literature or examples in the broad domain of digital art and present them in a concise way.”

“Some of these I think of art, some not. I suppose you can decide 
for yourselves.” (Michelle Coleman, 17 January 2015)
Still from Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) showing Thierry Guetta, aka “MBW”/“Mr Brainwash”

Still from Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) showing Thierry Guetta, aka “MBW”/“Mr Brainwash”

Is it real or is it fake?

“In terms of art with a capital 'A', authenticity seems to be 
secondary to the aura that is bestowed on a piece of art by the 
personality of the artist. I'm thinking here of the ‘art factories’ 
where pieces of art are mechanically reproduced by technicians — 
Damien Hirst comes to mind, where the only involvement by the artist
is in coming up with the concept, and possibly providing a signature
or studio imprimatur on the final work. Banksy's documentary 
Exit Through the Gift Shop  explores this phenomenon pretty well.” 
(Brid Harrington, 20 January 2015)

It’s extraordinary to my mind how for many people the take-away from this fabulous documentary is that the whole art world is fake, a fraud; that if you play the game right you can get away with any old crap. To me the message of this film is the exact opposite! For me this film testifies to the fact you can be as successful as you could wish to be, but success is not art, selling out an art show is not the alchemy that transubstantiates crap into art, getting a 5-star review from the art critic in a leading newspaper does not make you an artist! And having collectors acquire your stuff does not do so either. Vincent van Gough never sold a picture in his lifetime — indeed, very often couldn’t even give his stuff away! This guy, Thierry Guetta, aka “MBW”/“Mr Brainwash” — the guy at the centre of this documentary — is not an artist! He might be a con-artist, but no matter what PR-generated success he enjoys, his paintings are clearly unoriginal, rip-offs — as Banksy himself puts it at one point in the film, “[Thierry may be unique] but his stuff is just like everybody else’s”.

For me, this film is a testament to how true true art is and how real real artists are. And what hard work it is to perfect your craft, to find your ‘voice’ and develop it and so forth — to put together a body of work….

And to me it matters not one little bit that we cannot define or framework or compartmentalize the essence of this thing that’s at the heart of it all to our theoretical satisfaction.

My take-away from this film puts me in mind of the following two quotes (or anecdotes): once the broadcaster David Frost was interviewing the actor and playwright Noel Coward and Frost asked Coward to identify what it is that makes for “star-quality”; after a moment’s reflection, Coward says “I don’t know, but stars have it and the non-stars don’t.”

And, secondly, in an episode of the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice & Fire’ saga, at one point the totally untrustworthy Petyr Baelish (whore-monger and Master of Coin at Kings Landing) says something to Cersei Lannister — daughter of Tywin Lannister, the most powerful man in Westeros — something indicating to her that he had knowledge of the one thing that could destroy her (i.e. that her children were not truly the progeny of the late king, her husband, but of another man, her brother), and with a knowing smile Baelish adds something to the effect of “Knowledge is power” (by which he means to be confidential [mostly] — “Your secret’s safe with me” sort of thing).

Without a blink — without reacting in any discernible way at all — calmly Cersei orders the bodyguards accompanying her to seize Baelish, which they do. She then orders them to cut his throat, which they are about to do when Baelish begins to bleat for his life. At which point Cersei leans in close to Baelish’s terrified face and she says, “Power is power.”

Banksy, Mr Brainwash, & Baudrillard

There’s a wonderful section in Exit Through the Gift Shop where Banksy accompanied by Thierry Guetta goes to Disneyworld and Banksy has this blow-up doll which he has dressed in bright orange jump-suit and black hood to look like one of the detainees at Guantanamo Naval Base — this is 2006, so the United States is still in the depths of the Bush-Cheney era, and, in addition, it’s September, coming up to the anniversary of 9/11, so everyone in the security world is twitchy; it’s a Banksy’s thing (similar to his West Bank wall stunts a couple of years earlier), Thierry is there simply to film it, especially the reaction of the holidaymakers and day-trippers. Banksy puts the blow-up Gitmo-doll at a spot the Disney Corporation helpfully highlight as a good spot to take photographs for your family photo album.

It’s kind of a joke, but the Disneyworld people do not think it funny at all and everything begins to get systematically sinister — whole sections of the amusement park begin to get shut down as the plain-clothes security people begin to coral those they think are responsible — ‘behind the baroque, the grey eminence of politics’, as Baudrillard might have put it.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, it seems to me, is a Baudrillardian film — Baudrillard in Quicktime — “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real […] it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real.”

theguardianThe big ‘scandal’ of Watergate [or the Home & Loans ‘scandal’ for that matter, or the collapse of Enron, or AIG, or the activities of Bernie Madoff or Michael Milken, MPs’ expenses, phone-hacking at the News of the World/News International, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, abuse of Abu Grade prisoners, horse meat in burgers — pick your scandal, the system produces a selection of them every year in each of the territories] is essentially the same scenario — “(an imaginary effect concealing that reality no more exists outside than inside the bounds of the artificial perimeter): though here it is a scandal effect concealing that there is no difference between the facts and their denunciation (identical methods are employed by the CIA and the Washington Post journalists). Same operation, though this time tending towards scandal as a means to regenerate a moral and political principle, towards the imaginary as a means to regenerate a reality principle in distress. […] The denunciation of scandal always pays homage to the law. And Watergate above all succeeded in imposing the idea that Watergate was a scandal” (Simulacra and Simulation; p. 7 in the Cosgrave pdf).

“It would take too long to run through the whole range of operational negativity, of all those scenarios of deterrence which, like Watergate, try to revive a moribund principle by simulated scandal, phantasm, murder — a sort of hormonal treatment by negativity and crisis. It is always a question of proving the real by the imaginary; proving truth by scandal; proving the law by transgression; proving work by the strike; proving the system by crisis and capital by revolution; […] proving theatre by anti-theatre; proving art by anti-art… etc., etc.” (Simulacra and Simulation; p. 10 in the Cosgrave pdf)

Let’s all participate in some (low) culture

“Leafing through a Jack Zipes book on Fairytales yesterday (Happily 
Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children and the Culture Industry, 1997),
I came across a section on Frank L. Baum and the Wizard of Oz books. 
Baum wrote 14 in all, but had intended the first one to be a 
stand-alone novel. It was only when fans started writing to him 
demanding new stories and suggesting characters and plotlines, that 
he somewhat reluctantly continued with the series. Zipes hypothesised
that this was due to an innate desire in the American population to 
imagine a utopian world in which diverse and unique individuals 
co-existed autonomously, "This was not America", he states. Baum 
recognised that he was writing about a shared ideal and began to 
consider himself not the owner of Oz but, fairly fancifully, as the 
"Historian of Oz".” (Colleen O Hara, 10 February 2015)

Although Colleen’s objective with this contribution (only part of which I’ve reproduced) has to do with Fan-fiction — originality, artistic licence, copyright and so forth — i.e. this is/was the thread she was contributing to [on Blackboard] — therefore it would not have been appropriate for me to say there what I’m going to say here because what I’m going to say here is really a continuation of the forgoing Baudrillardian Simulacra & Simulation stuff (and therefore off-topic as far as Colleen would have been concerned) — I am always amazed by the fact that most people gloss over (or perhaps are totally unaware of), one of the most interesting aspects of L. Frank Baum’s story, which is that he is/was the originator and proprietor of a trade journal called Display Window — one of the first (1897), if not the first, publications catering to the emerging professional niche of window-dressers (which is a very high-status area of activity in the commerce and consumer world — the palace guard vis-à-vis the aristocracy of labour). This aspect of Baum’s back-story is glossed over with segue-sentences such as “After stints as a newspaper journalist and businessman, Baum started writing for children in his forties”, which is a pity because in so doing people miss out on the critical continuities between Baum as a businessman and Baum as a story-teller. (Baum was also a theatre enthusiast, indeed a large part of his business background was as a theatrical impresario, and, of course, this theatrical element is an essential part of the tableaux we are presented with in department store plate-glass displays — mannequins are frequently to be seen skiing or shopping or dining or at the seaside and so forth.)

Dior window at Harrods, London

Dior window at Harrods, London

For as long as anyone can remember our high streets have been dominated — even characterized— by plate-glass window displays so much so that most people would probably think it inevitable or ‘natural’ that goods should be displayed in this way. These vast expanses of glass seem neutral to us because they are transparent. But glass [and plate-glass technology in particular] is central to the manufacture of desire in our world, which as Baudrillard argues, is the product of the system of production. And the sign-system connecting products with ideas [especially with notions of the self] are very deliberate developments — and decoding and re-coding this sign-system is a language we learn along with our mother-tongue.

The profound connections (in a Baudrillardian sense) between Baum as window-dressing-guru and Baum as author of the Oz stories are obvious enough: in The Wizard of Oz three of the central characters — the tinman, the strawman, and the cowardly lion — feel they lack something — a heart, a brain, and courage, respectively. But on their journey to Oz to meet the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City — who they are convinced can help them with their respective shortcomings — they display the very characteristics they think they lack.

And the ‘wizard’ turns out to be so such thing, but, in fact, a humbug trading in cheap tricks who tries to placate them with objects. (And the ‘Emerald City’ is not emerald at all, it turns out, it is merely made to appear emerald because of the emerald-tinted glasses everyone is required to put on before entering the city.) Which is to say, of course, that what the characters felt they lacked was illusory in the first place, and so therefore what they desired was false also — a false ‘need’ — at the very least, a fabricated need (a simulation of need).

Think of this — L. Frank Baum and the beguiling transparency of glass, the way in which plate-glass window-displays and displays with mirrors are presented as windows to possible futures for you and your family, great pictures which frame your desires [desires which they simultaneously ignite and fuel by selecting particular items and privileging them by foregrounding and framing them] — and then consider Google Glass and where we’re headed today with Augmented Reality and so forth; far from being over the top, it seems to me, Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation low-balled it all!

How active do we like our art? or not?

“From reading these [Coover & Shaw articles], it seems that we are on
the cusp of creating a credible age of digital art governed by code,
not the easel. The introduction of technology and the active 
submersion of the person in the artists augmented reality environment
will only encourage us to think deeper about the artwork in 
question.” Robert Byrne, 1 February 2015
“Coover’s text was an interesting piece. Digital media is being used
to create art that allows greater interactivity between the observer
and the art object itself. […] Where once the objective of the artist
was his finished product, now artists can create a work whose 
ontological existence comes into being during the interaction with 
the observer.” Alan Andrei, 19 February 2015
“I'm wondering what year the Coover paper was published. For all that
it goes on and on about the experience of time being constrained by 
the medium of film, it misses an opportunity to discuss the 
development of interactive storytelling and gaming, both of which 
may be designed to allow the observer to go at their own pace. 
And not necessarily even in a linear fashion.” 
Katrina Stovold, 2 February 2015
“I suppose it refers to this shift from a static piece of art which 
could be confronted as a whole, to one which has to be explored by 
the viewer (/user).”Aengus Kirakowski, 3 February 2025
Still from The Truman Show (1998)

Still from The Truman Show (1998)

The section that struck me in these reading (both of which I enjoyed very much even if they were a little out of date — the majority of the pieces discussed appeared to be from the 1980s and 1990s, which, depressingly [we need to bear in mind], is now 25 years ago — a period of time in which things have moved on at an unusually accelerated rate) is the following, which, going forward, is where all the action is going to be (this quote is from the Shaw article, p. 9 in the Cosgrave pdf):

“A radical feature of an artwork whose forms derive from its algorithmic architecture is the possibility of designing algorithms that are subject to change due to user or environmental input, or that change independently of any external input due to the ability of the computational system to modify itself that is, as a consequence of software instructions that imbue the system with some form of “artificial intelligence.” The idea of auto-creativity in a manmade machine is an age-old fascination (linked of course to the machine’s potential to replicate itself) — as if the making of such a “device” would exemplify the peak of human creativity. Many contemporary artists are not at all embarrassed by this idea and see the digital realm as offering a unique opportunity to experiment with auto-creative processes as the next logical step in art’s cultural trajectory.”

Which, as I understand things, puts an end to Art as hitherto it has been conceived, because, for me anyway, there must be co-creation (a novel cannot be a novel without there being readers, nor can music be music without there being hearers and so on) — the skills and technique of the producer on one hand and the perceptions and preconceptions of the consumer or audience member on the other* — it seems to me that there must be some basic equality on either side of this [co-creative] relationship, not actual equality, of course, but reasonable correspondence. And this is not what we’re going to get when we have powerful computational systems modifying themselves such that what we have is auto-creativity — consider, for example the following few paragraphs from Tim Urban’s The AI Revolution: the road to SuperIntelligence

‘As of now, humans have conquered the lowest caliber of AI — Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) — it’s everywhere, phones, cars, Google algorithms, Siri and so forth. The AI Revolution is the road from ANI, through Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), to Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI)

‘Each new ANI innovation quietly adds another brick onto the road to AGI and ASI.

‘Currently, the world’s fastest supercomputer, China’s Tianhe-2, is clocking in at about 34 quadrillion cps (computations per second). But Tianhe-2 takes up 720 square meters of space, and uses 24 megawatts of power (the brain runs on just 20 watts), and cost $390 million to build. Not especially applicable to wide usage, or even most commercial or industrial usage yet.

‘Ray Kurzweil suggests that we think about the state of computers by looking at how many cps you can buy for $1,000. When that number reaches human-level — 10 quadrillion cps — then that’ll mean AGI could become a very real part of life.

‘Moore’s Law is a historically-reliable rule that the world’s maximum computing power doubles approximately every two years, meaning computer hardware advancement, like general human advancement through history, grows exponentially. Looking at how this relates to Kurzweil’s cps/$1,000 metric, we’re currently at about 10 trillion cps/$1,000, right on pace.

‘So the world’s $1,000 computers are now beating the mouse brain and they’re at about a thousandth of human level. This doesn’t sound like much until you remember that we were at about a trillionth of human level in 1985, a billionth in 1995, and a millionth in 2005. Being at a thousandth in 2015 puts us right on pace to get to an affordable computer by 2025 that rivals the power of the human brain.

‘The next step then is that we’d build a computer whose two major skills would be doing research on AI and coding changes into itself — allowing it to not only learn but to improve its own architecture. We’d teach computers to be computer scientists so they could bootstrap their own development. And that would be their main job — figuring out how to make themselves smarter. An AI system at a certain level — let’s say human village idiot — is programmed with the goal of improving its own intelligence. Once it does, it’s smarter maybe at this point it’s at Einstein’s level — so now when it works to improve its intelligence, with an Einstein-level intellect, it has an easier time and it can make bigger leaps. These leaps make it much smarter than any human, allowing it to make even bigger leaps. As the leaps grow larger and happen more rapidly, the AGI soars upwards in intelligence and soon reaches the superintelligent level of an ASI system. This is called an Intelligence Explosion, and it’s the ultimate example of The Law of Accelerating Returns.

‘Superintelligence of that magnitude is not something we can grasp, any more than a bumblebee can wrap its head around Keynesian Economics. In our world, smart means a 130 IQ and stupid means an 85 IQ — we don’t have a term for an IQ in the region of 12,952.

‘What we do know, however, is that humans’ utter dominance on this planet suggests one clear lesson: with intelligence comes power.

Truman2That it would be a blast at the beginning I’ve no doubt at all — the best movie or computerized game you’ve ever experienced — but, I’m perfectly sure, it would not be long before such imbalanced relationships (regular humans on the one hand and supercomputer-generated artifice on the other) would become a total nightmare.

*Worryingly [even in the Shaw and Coover readings which, as indicated, might be considered a little dated] we’ve already made the switch-over to the term “user” with all its druggie under- and overtones.

As the character Padmé Amidala says in Star Wars III, at the Declaration of the New [totalitarian] Order, “So this is how liberty dies . . . to thunderous applause.”

Jon Snow & Ygritte, from in HBO’s Game of Thrones, a TV show based on George R.R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice & Fire’ books

Jon Snow & Ygritte, from in HBO’s Game of Thrones, a TV show based on George R.R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice & Fire’ books

Gender issues in Art & Lit

I was also struck by the comments made by Katrina Stovold in the fan-fiction thread (10 February 2015) where she says…

“I’d steal a page from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media’s playbook and advise people to simply change the gender of characters they’ve created. If the balance is not 50/50 for men and women (which doesn’t even begin to address the idea of non-gender conforming people), re-write so that it does. You’ll get more interesting characters, less stereotyping, and storylines that rely less on tired tropes.”

First of all, I think this would be a really good thing to do not only for political reasons but for artistic reasons — i.e. you really would get more interesting characters and plotlines in your work. Imagine a piece of software which did that for you (a piece of software that takes a story and reproduces it with the genders of characters randomly assigned so that you had a 50/50 balance — I mean software that did a little bit more than changing ‘he’ to ‘she’)? It’d be interesting, and I think the writer/creative artist would benefit from it too; it would certainly tend to make you think about your material in new ways!

In that post Katrina also says…

“As far as pronouns such as “hir” go, BioWare has already been using “Ser” and “Serrah” for both genders in several instances of media relating to the Dragon Age universe. While they still have some ways to go — still pointing out that it’s rare for a woman to wear armour and be a warrior/knight/etc., for instance — they do build the honorific into the lore and language.”

George R.R. Martin, the author of the ‘Ice & Fire’ books, which are the basis of the Game of Thrones television series, also uses “Ser” — for knights — the use of which I’d never considered as part of the gender in culture programme; I always thought of it as part of what Martin does with European culture of the medieval period in general — which is to twist things a little bit so as to make them strange to us, “maester” for ‘meister’ and so forth. Plus, of course, he’s got a good number of women in armour, Brienne of Tarth and Yara Greyjoy for example, and, although they not wear armour, of course, Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, Meera Reed, and the wildling Ygritte and all are serious warrior women.

Until reading Katrina’s post this aspect of Martin’s creation was not apparent to me (and now, of course, it’s super-obvious); which is credit to Martin above all because these things, if they are done right, ought to be seamless.

Cover of the Nonesuch box-set collection of the music of Steve Reich (1997)

Cover of the Nonesuch box-set collection of the music of Steve Reich (1997)

One of my favourite posts in the module is/was Brid Harrington’s on the work of Steve Reich in the Musical Treasure Hunt thread. She provides links to three Reich-related items and then has the following, which is a really thoughtful and informed post, I feel, and the material she provided links to is super interesting too:

“I’m not sure if we were just supposed to post links here, or provide some kind of explanation for our choices too.  Just in case, here are a few lines on the choices I made.  I chose Steve Reich, who is a seminal figure in the development of experimental music, focusing on note patterns and developing electronic devices to explore this process of music making. I’ve included a paper that he wrote in 1968, where he talks about his ideas on music as a process and describes the creation of the Phase Shifting Pulse Gate machine that he developed with the help of Bell Labs.

“He describes the pulse machine as a kind of metronomic device for regulating notes, and he is essentially more interested in the sounds that are created by humans using instruments, saying that he believes the future of Western music would be more heavily influenced in the future by ethnic beats from places like Indonesia, India and Africa, predicting that electronic music would eventually die out (!).  I thought this was interesting as Reich has influenced generations of electronic musical artists since, from Laurie Anderson to the likes of the Orb, DJ Spooky and Aphex Twin.  Also I thought of Lanier’s criticism of the limitations of MIDI when reading Reich’s piece.

“I’ve included a clip to one of his Pulse pieces that resulted from his experiment with the Pulse Gate machine, and was later incorporated into his seminal piece Music for 18 musicians (1974).  I’ve also posted a clip by the Aphex Twin from 2010, which is a multimedia production of Reich’s Pendulum piece, originally composed in the late 1960s.”

I really like Steve Reich’s work too so this post is of particular interest to me. A fact which I hope & trust will absolve me of the charge of philistinism for the following:

Knock, knock…

Who’s there?

Knock, knock…

Who’s there?

Knock, knock…

Who’s there?

Knock, knock…

Who’s there?

[…keep it going as long as you can — until it begins to get just a little bit annoying — before answering . . . Steve Reich. (Obviously the joke only works if you know Steve Reich’s music!)]

Hunt for GollumAnd finally I’d like to express particular appreciation for that novella-like film Robert Byrne directed us to with his contributions to the fan-fiction thread, The Hunt for Gollum (2009):

As Robbie tells us, “the film was produced by Chris Bouchard and features amateur actors. All those involved were members of the Tolkien fan fiction community. The overall spend on the film was an astonishingly low £3,000; a figure that is difficult to comprehend when considering the film’s scope and ambition. Stunning cinematography, solid acting and an authentic script ensure this fan-made, free-to-distribute film is a worthy member of the Tolkein universe.”

This free-to-distribute feature has clocked up over 12 million YouTube views (a viewer number which, of course, does not count the number of views the film has had as a downloaded file — it is also free to download — or that it has had on other viewing platforms).

It is a truly wonderful creation, and those figures — £3,000 spent on making it and 12 million views — are seriously fabulous!!: this is not just a splendid example of something that is both fan-fiction and participatory culture, but something that ought to inspire anyone interested in art and creativity, a powerful exemplar of the possibilities of this life.



John O’Donovan presentation


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Digital Arts & Humanities MA group at Digitalis Day of DH, University College, Cork, 21 April 2015: (front L to R) Maeve Ahern, Lucy Ann Lyons, Caroline Bowen, Michelle Katherine Coleman, K. Stovold, Aengus Kirakowski, Justin Hugh Scannell, (back L to R) Robbie Byrne, Maureen Chibuzo, Orla-Peach Power, Claudia Sartori, Rae McKinlay, Una Murphy, Aleksejs Jackovs, Aisling Burke, Colm O Fearghail, (at the very back L to R) Paul O’Shea, Aodhan Rilke Floyd, Brian Sheridan, Brid Harrington?, Coleen Anne O'Hara, Alana Bailey. Missing from photo Alan Cesar Desouza Andrei, Perry O’Donovan, Niall Rynne...anyone else??— at University College, Cork, Ireland.

Digital Arts & Humanities MA group at Digitalis Day of DH, University College, Cork, 21 April 2015: (front L to R) Maeve Ahern, Lucy Ann Lyons, Caroline Bowen, Michelle Katherine Coleman, K. Stovold, Aengus Kirakowski, Justin Hugh Scannell, (back L to R) Robbie Byrne, Maureen Chibuzo, Orla-Peach Power, Claudia Sartori, Rae McKinlay, Una Murphy, Aleksejs Jackovs, Aisling Burke, Colm O Fearghail, (at the very back L to R) Paul O’Shea, Aodhan Rilke Floyd, Brian Sheridan, Brid Harrington?, Coleen Anne O’Hara, Alana Bailey. Missing from photo Alan Cesar Desouza Andrei, Perry O’Donovan, Niall Rynne…anyone else??— at University College, Cork, Ireland.

ON TUESDAY of this week, 21 April 2015, we had our Digitalis Day of DH event at University College, Cork — “we” being the the group reading for an MA in Digital Arts and Humanities, & “Digitalis Day of DH” being a day set aside for formal presentations of our proposed research topics.

It was a good day, a grand spread of interests and orientations, and all was well-organised etcet on a bright spring day — the weather’s been first class since Easter & the first swallows of summer have arrived this week, scooting up and down the riverbanks, meanwhile the whole campus is jazzy with nervous energy of examination-time, the chatter and chuckling sounds relating to which came in through our open windows (we were the O’Rahilly building, in that part of it that faces onto the circular arena in front of the student centre, which was filled with café tables and chairs).

My presentation was on the historian and text scholar John O’Donovan (1806-61) on whose ass I’m going to get digital in the months to come (see the John O’Donovan Archive:, and thereafter too because the John O’Donovan story is my next big project — what I plan to be working on for the next 3 or 4 years, at least, i.e. well beyond this MA dissertation.

CDGj1TcWMAABaRhIf people have heard of John O’Donovan at all it will probably be for Annála Ríoghachta Éireann (1848–51) — Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (also sometimes rendered as ‘Annals of the Four Masters’), a standard-establishing edition from the 1840s and 50s (7 volumes, including cumulative index).

However, I’m going to focus on a series of articles by O’Donovan in the Dublin Penny Journal in the early 1830s which first brought him to public notice — examining the context of the creation and reception/consumption of these penny journal contributions.

The centrepiece of this context is, of course, industrialization and the political and sociological reformations relating thereunto.

O’Donovan is born at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar and dies just as the United States is gearing up for its Civil War.

The Wooden House, DroghedaQuite a short span of time, but in that gap what transformations! If you plucked a sailor off a Spanish Galleon in 1601 and time-travelled him onto a warship in 1801, essentially, he’d know the ropes right away — acres more sail, many more guns to be sure, and far more explosive power — but essentially the business of a warship was just as it was 200 years before. Same is true for the farmer, the baker, the home-maker, the painter, the medicine-man, the midwife….

55 years on, one short life-span, and the world is fundamentally transformed in a way our friend from 1601 could not understand at all, even if you took the time to explain it to him/her — steam-powered production, factory production, round-the-clock production, round-the-year production, steam-powered ships, iron ships, submersibles (both the American Civil War and the Crimean War in the 1850s saw the first of submersible craft, embryonic submarines), trans-Atlantic telegraph cables, photography, electricity….

O’Donovan’s people are small tenant farmers in south county Kilkenny (80 or 90 miles south west of Dublin), and like everyone feeding material into that great war machine they prospered during the years of war with Revolutionary France — the fog of war was everywhere from Moscow to Portugal and even west as far as the smoking ruins of the burned-out White House.

However, after the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, all that gold vanished from the marketplace: there was an economic collapse; and with it you had hundreds of thousands of de-mobbed and deracinated soldiers and sailors on the streets and highways (no welfare system to speak of, of course, other than the hit-and-miss efforts of the church), which made for a lethal political cocktail.

Combined with that, 1816 was the worst summer weather in living memory. In Ireland it rained non-stop from the beginning of June until middle of July. Crops were ruined.

And at the end of the summer of 1816 the O’Donovans lost their farm. And the following year the father died (of respiratory failure — just as John O’Donovan himself would do 45 years later and John’s brother, Michael, in 1840).

These were hard times indeed, not only for the O’Donovans: allow me to take a small detour here to tell you about the so-called “Peterloo Massacre” — you don’t hear about stuff like this in Ireland so much because it does not sit so well with the nationalists’ Whig history narrative, but we ought to because it’s part of our story too: in St Peter’s Field near Manchester people are protesting the dreadful conditions and calling for political reform (at this time, Manchester has no representation in the House of Commons or anywhere else, nor Birmingham). Nervous magistrates ban the protest gathering; the protesters ignore the bench order so the magistrates call up the army to make their order more pointedly set forth.

“Peterloo Massacre” as memorialised by George Cruikshank (1792-1878): one of the officers is saying

“Peterloo Massacre” as memorialised by George Cruikshank (1792-1878): one of the officers is saying “Cut ’em down, boys, they’re trying to take our beef and puddings”

Sabres drawn, a troop of fired-up cavalry officers tear into the gathered thousands leaving 20 or so dead on the field along with hundreds injured (with the most dreadful injuries). Among the dead was a pregnant woman and an infant along with de-mobbed veterans of the Battle of Waterloo — hence Waterloo/Peterloo, a sarcastic reference to England’s Glory from just four years before when all Englishmen were said to have hearts of oak and were indomitable on the face of the Earth and all that kind of jingoistic rot.

I tell you this because telling you this tells you something of the character of the age….

And so you may guess at how these same authorities are going to feel about the reforms that Daniel O’Connell and his Catholic Association is calling for? — basic civil rights for Catholics [for Irish Catholics]!!?

Fuck off!

After the father’s death (John O’Donovan’s father died in 1817), the eldest son, Michael, took a lease on a small place near Barnyarg (i.e. Bearna dhearg, i.e. Red Gap) 5 or 6 miles north of the city of Waterford (Barnyarg is in county Kilkenny, just over the border from county Waterford), but that did not work out either, so, eventually, Michael ends up going up to Dublin to look for work which he is lucky enough to secure at Cheator Brothers, Provision Merchants, on Exchange Street.

Shortly after he is joined in Dublin by his little brother (John O’Donovan is the 7th of nine O’Donovan children, although, of course, by this time they are “children” no longer). From an early age John is recognised as the scholar of the family; he wants to become a priest. By this time he has had some elementary schooling in a village school in Kilkenny and a little more at Hunt’s Academy in Waterford (at which he was a day pupil, to and from which he used to walk to school every day) but all such education was simply basic arithmetic, reading and writing (in English, of course — the O’Donovans may well have spoken Irish in the home, especially the parents, most probably a mix of English and Irish).

Hunt’s Academy sounds pretty impressive until you are made aware of the following: years later when he was working as a names expert at the Ordnance Survey John O’Donovan had the following to say of Hunt’s Academy on Murphy’s Lane off Patrick Street in Waterford — “its occupants are of the lowest class […] of the lowest and most deplorable character. So, at least, they were in 1821 when I went to school to Ned Hunt.”

In Dublin, John O’Donovan continues his education, however, it is not entirely clear whereat exactly, different sources suggest different possibilities, and there is no evidence to settle the matter one way or the other; but we are sure he continued with his education in Dublin, and we are sure he was studying the classics, which is to say Greek and Latin; and we are sure of one more thing which is that he was studying the classics in pursuit of his ambition to be a priest (there are letters from him to several seminaries in the 1820s inquiring about scholarships and/or other schemes for poor scholars, even places as far away as Paris).

James Hardiman (1782-1855), author of the 'History of the Town and County of Galway' (1820) , 'Irish Minstrelsy' (1831) and so forth, afterwards librarian at the newly founded Queen's College, Galway, now University College, Galway, after whom the university library is named

James Hardiman (1782-1855), author of the ‘History of the Town and County of Galway’ (1820) , ‘Irish Minstrelsy’ (1831) and so forth, afterwards librarian at the newly founded Queen’s College, Galway, now University College, Galway, after whom the UCG university library is named

And one other thing we are sure of from this period is that he begins working for James Hardiman, an official at the Public Records Office in Dublin Castle. Working for Hardiman — for which he is paid 6 shillings a week plus breakfast every morning — may also be considered as part of O’Donovan’s education. For Hardiman he transcribed and translated documents (translating from the Irish) but from Hardiman he got an introduction to the geography of Irish archives, so to speak, and to the principles of history and textual scholarship.

And it is also through Hardiman that O’Donovan comes into contact with Lieutenant Thomas Lacrom, superintendant of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland. Sometime between 1827 and 1830 O’Donovan is contracted to provide Lacrom with lessons in elementary Irish, almost certainly on Hardiman’s recommendation.

And in August-September 1830 when young Edward O’Reilly, an Irish names expert at the Ordnance Survey, dies suddenly, John O’Donovan applies for the vacancy thereby created and, by the end of October 1830, he starts working for the Ordnance Survey, the HQ of which is at Mountjoy House in the Phoenix Park.

As a names expert at the Ordnance Survey, O’Donovan is paid a day-rate, half a crown per working day to begin with (2 shillings & 6d); by the following year this goes up to 3 shillings a day; and by the end of that year he enjoys another increase of 3 shillings a week, which works out at more than a farm labourer would earn at this time but less than a skilled tradesman would do (he was on a day-rate — what we today would call a “zero-hours contract”, so he could never be sure of a full week’s work).

Information for each townland was collected and written into the survey’s Name Books under five headings [a ‘townland’ is the smallest administrative unit in Ireland]: the received name, the name finally adopted for the townland and the one placed onto the 6-inch Ordnance Survey Map — the survey produced nearly 2,000 6 inches to the mile map-sheets for Ireland. The Name Book also provided the Irish form of the name and in many instances what the Irish form of the townlands’ names meant (as with the ‘Barnyarg’/Bearna dhearg/Red Gap example, above).

The importance of the OS post is to do with the science of mapping the country, of course, the scale of such ambition, the organisation and discipline required to execute a project like that, but also it has to do networks, the people you meet and work with and compare yourself to — in particular, for example, George Petrie, one of the founders of the Dublin Penny Journal, which, of course, is the specific focus of my research project. Petrie was somewhere between a father-figure and an older-brother figure for O’Donovan — someone 2 or 3 steps ahead in life’s journey, but someone you know well and are close to such that those steps ahead of where you’re at are not a gulf between you but a pathway for you to follow.

George-Petrie1Born in 1790, an artist and proto-archaeologist, Petrie was 15 or 16 years older than O’Donovan; having had striking successes at Royal Academy shows in London (with pictures of the little church and round tower at Glendalough and the ruined abbey at Clonmacnoise and the like), George Petrie was already ‘a name’ in the 1820s when O’Donovan was an economic migrant just come into Dublin’s not-so-fair city. At this time, in addition to working as an illustrator (one in great demand), and as a consultant to the Ordnance Survey, Petrie also served as librarian at the Royal Irish Academy.

Conducted by George Petrie and Caesar Otway, the Dublin Penny Journal was launched in June 1832 — Caesar Otway was a Church of Ireland clergyman and folklorist. It cost, obviously, one penny, although at the point of sale it may well have cost more than that — in Liverpool, say, or Manchester, or Westport or West Cork — in any event, far, far less than its rival the Dublin University Magazine, which, for example, cost 2s 6d (strictly speaking the Dublin University Magazine would not have been a rival in so far as the DUM came out every month, and was aimed at middle to upper class people and, of course, it was Tory and Unionist in outlook and orientation, whereas the DPJ was Whig and proto-nationalist; but they may be seen as rivals in the sense that they were both magazines concerned with liberal arts, antiquities, history, literature and the like, and one business model failed — the DPJ folded in 1836 — and the other continued for 50 years).

Dublin Penny Journal, 7 December 1833 (woodcut shows Bunratty Castle in county Clare)

Dublin Penny Journal, 7 December 1833; woodcut shows Bunratty Castle, county Clare

The DPJ came out weekly, every Saturday (8 quarto pages), and by the 20th number (i.e. November of 1832) they were printing just short of 40,000 copies a week. Which is not bad at all when you consider that they were modelling themselves on Britain’s Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, which had reached a peak circulation of 200,000 copies per week and, at that, was (and is) considered a runaway success. Of course, in Britain one had many copycat versions of the SDUK’s magazine, Chambers’ penny magazine was also selling 100,000 copies a week and there may have been as many as half a dozen others in the marketplace in these years, so that as many as a million penny magazines being sold in Britain every week at this time. This is the context in which one needs to see the 40,000 figure for the DPJ (and also bear in mind that over half of the DPJ sales were outside Ireland — London, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh).

And this is key to comprehending the failure of the DPJ business model: population density and urbanization; in Ireland, of the over eight million people, only about one million inhabited towns of 2,000 people or more. The nine main cities, where most booksellers are going to be concentrated, contained between them only half a million people!

Publications that contained news or comments upon political events had to be printed on sheets of paper bearing a government stamp (a censorship device), at a cost of four pence each (two pence in Ireland). Periodicals that did not contain news could be printed on unstamped paper, and were therefore much cheaper, but, on the other hand, they could not travel in the post for free, as was the case with the stamped newspapers. Therefore, unstamped papers had to rely instead on a thinly-scattered network of booksellers for distribution.

John O'Donovan (pictured in the 1840s or 1850s)

John O’Donovan (pictured in the 1840s or 1850s), the little master — full-grown he was but 5 foot 2

O’Donovan’s contributions to the pages of the Dublin Penny Journal (which begin in September 1832, i.e. O’Donovan’s contributions to the magazine began in September 1832) included, for example, a fragment of a poem by Aldfred of Northumberland, son of the king of Northumbria, who travelled in Ireland in (it is believed) the 680s. The point of reproducing this fragment has to do with the evidence it offers of a high civilization in Ireland — honey and bread and mead-making, for example, and fine buildings and ‘cities’ and banquets and so forth.

His second contribution — as I say, just to give a taste of O’Donovan’s contributions —is a presentation of another manuscript, the charter establishing the abbey at Newry from 1160 — again charter documents and the like represent evidence of a high civilization, a legal system, a documentary based legal system, the rule of law, the rule of written law (1160, of course, pre-dating the Norman invasion of the 1180s).

And his third contribution, then, is an essay on the antiquity of corn and wheat culture in Ireland, i.e. cultivating the land, harvesting and milling, bread and mead-making and so forth — all securely evidenced.

So, as you can see, there is a sort of “Get up off your knees, people” agenda with these contributions — not only O’Donovan’s contributions — this is the mission of the DPJ project as a whole.

What I want to do is to re-present O’Donovan’s 19 contributions — re-present the texts of them (there are some errors in what’s up on JSTOR) and re-footnote them (not re-footnote the articles themselves, of course, but spell out in full what John O’Donovan refers to when he refers to ‘Keating’, for example, or ‘Cormac’s glossary’ and the like). Also I will want to provide a detailed account of each issue in which an O’Donovan article appears — where was it in the running order? How many other items appeared in that issue (usually 6 to 8)? What are they like, i.e. the distribution of topics, viz, archaeology, history, science and improvement pieces, natural history, folklore, poetry and so forth.

I also want to look in detail at the production of these journals (40,000 copies done by hand; the DPJ £1,700 in debt after 12 months, these are numbers that get repeated all the time in the various accounts, but I’ve never seen them sourced; and why does the publisher have a different address every couple of weeks? How, exactly, did the business of the journal get done? — transport, money collected and so forth. How many booksellers or stationers are there in Galway at this time, for example, do we know?, or in Cork? And then how were these contributions (and magazines) being read/received/consumed? Who is reading them?, any references to people reading the DPJ in letters, journals, newspapers, legal documents? (we know, for example, that there was at least one law suit — to do with copyright).

In addition to the John O’Donovan articles and the portraits of the 19 issues of the journal in which John O’Donovan appears, I am going to have (at least I plan to have) a full scale essay on the story of the Dublin Penny Journal, particularly the George Petrie & Caesar Otway regime, but, for completeness sake, also covering the period afterwards when Philip Hardy Dixon took over and introduced a steam-powered printing presses and so forth — we’re talking about a 5,000 word essay here. I was going to have a biographical essay on John O’Donovan also, but now I would rather do this by way of a Timeline tool (on timeline tools, specifically in relation to this project, see my previous post On Timelines).

Paul O'Shea selfie with Digitalis attendees as background

Paul O’Shea selfie with Digitalis attendees as background

Specifically (and viz the digital dimension of my project) aside from building a website — the John O’Donovan Archive — which I’ve got done already (at least I’ve acquired the domain name sketched up some content) and setting up my Content Management System of considered choice (WordPress, Drupal, Omeka) — I’ve simply put WordPress in place for the moment in a holding capacity — I need to decide/figure out how best I can re-present the 19 or so articles, what piece of software is going to allow me to do so most beautifully, and most cost-effectively, and most sustainably. Then, as I say, I’m going to have a Tiki-Toki timeline to give an overall picture of the life & times of JOD.

I’m probably going to have a little video gallery too, which is not that central to what I’m doing in a strict sense, but looking forward (which is to say, in a thought experiment looking back from a POV in the future I can see myself wishing I’d done so) so I’ll do video-blogs as I go along, and also little video interviews with archivists and biographers and significant others I encounter along the way.

To look ahead a little more — and I’m not, I believe, going off-topic with this because what I want to do in the medium and long term is important for the choices I make now, so I need to bear in mind the big picture — after the MA I will put up some of John O’Donovan’s Ordnance Survey letters too and also do something on the Irish Penny Journal (from the 1840s which O’Donovan also wrote a celebrated series for), i.e. take the story on into the 1840s at least. Most of you will have heard me going on about iDocs last term. I have not gone off that area of interest at all. iDocs are one of the most exciting things I’ve encountered in doing this MA and, rather than talk about iDocs in general, what I’ve decided to do is gather material for a specific iDoc — an iDoc on the life and work of John O’Donovan — and that is what I’m doing with the John O’Donovan Archive: the whole archive will be a treasure trove of materials relating to the life and times of John O’Donovan the centrepiece of which will be an iDoc on John O’Donovan (based on his writings, letters, penny journal articles, etcet, similar to what Alan Yentob & Co. did with the Painted with Words biopic on Vince van Gogh). This — all of this — will be my project for the next 4 or 5 years — I view it as akin to doing a full-scale book, a biography, say, which is what it will be by the time I finish, a biography for the digital age.

PS: for the Prezi slides that accompany this John O’Donovan presentation, see HERE; see also (at the end of the post) [I would love to be able to embed the slides here but, unfortunately, one cannot embed such material on blogs, one can do so, of course, on sites]

On Timelines


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JOD Archive 1

Screenshot of my website about John O’Donovan, the John O’Donovan Archive (for link to which. see below)

For my MA dissertation I’m going to work on the historian and textual scholar John O’Donovan (1806-61) who, perhaps, is best known for his standard-setting edition of Annála Ríoghachta Éireann (1848–51) — Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (also sometimes rendered as ‘Annals of the Four Masters’). In particular, I’m going to focus on a series of articles by O’Donovan in the Dublin Penny Journal in the early 1830s which first brought him to public notice — examining the context of the creation and reception/consumption of these contributions.

Being a dissertation for a Digital Arts and Humanities MA, obviously, one of the central elements of what I do will be the way in which I deploy digital tools and methodologies in relation to the project — which will be presented on the John O’Donovan Archive (website): One of the things I am going to do is build a Timeline for the life and times of John O’Donovan — everything from the Act of Union in 1800 through to the death of Daniel O’Connell and, say, the war in Crimea in the 1850s and Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency of the United States in the 1860s. (I will include events from the wider world because one of my main intentions is to situate O’Donovan’s life and work in a wider context — in addition to European and world history, technical and sociological processes relating to the industrialization of culture — which is to say, the dissertation is intended to be more than just a little piece of Irish Studies.)

JOD Archive 2

My TimelineJS timeline on the life and times of John O’Donovan (for link to which [on], see below)

To this end, I have looked at a number of Timeline packages — TimeRime, TimeFlow, TimeMapper, TimeGlider, Tiki-Toki — but, for now, the one I’ve decided to go with is Knight Lab’s TimelineJS (see here for my [TimelineJS] timeline on the life and times and work of John O’Donovan —

“TimelineJS is an open-source tool that enables anyone to build visually, rich, interactive timelines. Beginners can create a timeline using nothing more than a Google spreadsheet.[…] It can pull in media from a variety of sources and has built-in support for Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Dailymotion, Wikipedia, SoundCloud and more.”

This is from the TimelineJS home page (; and, indeed, it is just as it says: TimelineJS genuinely is straight-forward to use (it is especially simple once you’ve done it once — less so first time through, perhaps; also, significantly, they [the TimelineJS people] are not actually trying to ‘sell you’, this is Open Source software and free — free ‘as in beer’ as well ‘as in speech’). All you need to do is follow their little 4-step recipe.

Going into this my main criteria were as follows —

  1. Simplicity: in the sense that I did not want to get caught building something complex which down the line would prove beyond my capacity to manage, or something which in six months time would prove otiose because my research project had developed in ways I had not anticipated. Furthermore, at this early stage of my research I did not feel I had the materials for any kind of advanced construct — as it is, I struggled a little to find images for the rather simple timeline I’ve worked with. Also, I have to admit, simplicity for my own sake too: I did not want to have a bad experience with this exercise — i.e. get involved in anything too complicated (for me); however, as it has turned out, now I feel I erred on the side of caution; but more on this a little later on.
  2. Also simple aesthetically because the function this timeline is to serve on my website (at this stage anyway) is something similar to an ‘About’ page — it will be something visitors will go to at an early stage to orientate themselves: What is this website about? Who is this John O’Donovan character? And/or who is this Perry O’Donovan fellow (and what kind of historiographic line has he taken with this material)?— for which purpose I do/did not want anything too formidable-looking; in my view some data visualization packages, while they might be very accomplished in all sorts of ways, are (or are very likely to be) to be off-putting to most people — one hardly knows where to begin with them — and my John O’Donovan Archive project is not intended to be exclusively expert-orientated, critically it will also need to be general-reader friendly.
  3. Open Source and free (or at least not costly); i.e., if possible I want/wanted to use Open Source tools and, if possible, I want/wanted to spend little or no money. Before this MA program, while I had a vague understanding what ‘Open Source’ meant — an understanding which, in fairness, was not all that misleading, except I thought Open Source software was a minority interest — however, I now have a much fuller sense of what Open Source culture is about and, as part of that fuller understanding, comprehend that Open Source is the mainstream and that the corporate creations are at the margins of this creative firmament. And also, even if this were not so, the politics and philosophy of Open Source culture are much more in tune with the way I believe things are, and ought to be, so it is/was important to me to go Open Source, if possible. (By the by, I would have no problem going proprietary if I needed to, but first I would want to ensure that what I wanted to do could not be done using Open Source tools.) Not all Open Source tools are free, of course — free ‘as in beer’ — and I presume I do not need to present a justification for wanting to rein-in on expenditure (leastwise I do not want to clock up expenditure at this early stage unless I really must).
  4. Universal — i.e. a generally recognised (or standard) tool that can work with WordPress or any other Content Management System (CMS), and interact happily with YouTube or Vimeo and with Twitter, Dropbox, Open Street Maps, Google Maps, Google Drive etcet, — all the standards — which is to say, I did not want anything that was in any way specialist or peculiar because, as yet, I have not even decided which CMS I am going to go with for my project; and whatever I did for this assignment I do/did not want it to be time and labour wasted (I wanted to be sure I could incorporate it into my research project no matter what route I took; and, indeed, I am very happy with my choice of Timeline JS from this point of view — which is to say, I am perfectly sure I will use what I’ve done with TimelineJS for this assignment no matter what direction I go in with the John O’Donovan Archive).

However, all that said, now I feel that TimelineJS is too simple, in fact! As I say, it will function fine as an orientation tool for the website — like an ‘About’ page — but it does not allow for complex story-telling at all, much less for presenting academy-standard research findings. Indeed, it allows for only the simplest level of story-telling — nearly half the material I wanted to deploy on my John O’Donovan timeline could not be used (it simply did not work, which is to say, it did not look well) — all the detailed information I wanted to present had to be jettisoned because it is not a good tool for complexity or detail (and it is not as though I was seeking to be all that detailed!!): really TimelineJS is just for headlines and, what in newspapers and magazines, are called ‘standfirsts’ — which is to say, more or less the level of slides for a Prezi or PowerPoint presentation.

Also TimelineJS is limited in the sense that it is recommended that you only have about 30 items in your timeline — this is something I picked up in reading through the FAQs on the TimelineJS webpage (at the bottom of their page). There are TimelineJS examples where there are many more than 30 items, of course, (even hundreds of items) but the more you have the slower it becomes apparently; so the advice is that the optimum number of items is ‘about 30’.

Also, I was very frustrated by the fact that when you preview your timeline on the TimelineJS page, and you spend days picking at it and snipping it and rewriting it and finding better images for it and so forth — working at it until you get it just right — and then you take your TimelineJS-generated code (step ‘4’ in their 4-step recipe) and pop it into your WordPress page and preview it, it goddamn-well looks totally different!! (And they do not forewarn you of this at all!!) Which means that all (or most of) the time you spent perfecting it for the TimelineJS preview display is wasted; you practically have to start all over again to make it look good on WordPress or whatever CMS you happen to be using!

On the TimelineJS page it looks much better because it uses the whole of the widescreen, but when you put it into your WordPress page the timeline gets truncated to the size of your WordPress page — the pictures end up being tiny, for example, the size of large postage stamps, whereas before they were the size of postcards (in retrospect I realise I ought to have foreseen this, of course); and the text accompanying the images is put in a different place (above the image rather than beside it) — and, as any page-maker will tell you, such things can utterly transform your presentation, and not in a good way!

As I say, it is almost like having to do it all over again. I tried several things to see if I could reproduce the way it looked in the TimelineJS display (including trying to use different WordPress themes) but, as yet [at the time of writing], nothing has worked, which is a pity because, as I say, the preview display on TimelineJS home page looks good (I would be happy enough if it ended up looking like that).

For me it takes a while to get to know something, even something as simple as TimelineJS; of course, one can look at a product — TimeRime, TimeFlow, TimeMapper, TimeGlider, etcet — read the web-pages, look at a few examples of it in use and so forth in much less time, however, I find you really never know something until you actually put it to work. Obviously, I would know packages that would not suit my purpose fairly quickly, but ones that might serve my purpose I would need to work with them — actually build a timeline with them — to give them a fair trial before judging them.


Tiki-Toki timeline about the life and times of the artist Mary Kearns, one of the examples Tiki-Toki lead with (for link to which, see below)

So, for now — for present purposes — I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in ‘low-balling it’ so much with TimelineJS. Tiki-Toki is the one I should have gone with, it seems to me. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that Tiki-Toki is the one I will deploy for the final version for my MA dissertation. It gives me so much of what I really want that I’m willing to go beyond the limitations of the criterion set out above, viz Open Source and cost and so forth.

I love the fact that you can label your different subject threads ‘Family’, ‘Publications’ etcet, with different coloured tabs — that is, should a visitor to your website be interested only in details about the family, for example, they can clearly see the colour-coded tabs associated with that topic and go to them directly.

I also love the fact that you have a small amount of information at the top level of the timeline, maybe 20 or so words, but if you click on that you get a larger presentation (and it is perfectly clear than one ought to click on it because it invites you to do so with a ‘more’ button) — a plate, or pane, the size of a postcard comes up, which offers you about 80 to 100 words, and then, if you want even more on that topic, you can scroll down within that pane and you’ll get even more, up to 500 or 600 words plus a selection of further photos/images.

And, clearly, the system has got lots of capacity: the Mary Kearns story (which is one of the examples the Tiki-Toki people lead with, see here:!date=1949-01-31_09:39:35) has got 93 entries!, and if each of these plates (or panes) has an average of 300 words that’s a total of nearly 30,000 words, which is a serious amount of material, nearly half a book’s worth!!


Tiki-Toki timeline about the Tower of London, one of the examples Tiki-Toki lead with (for link to which, see below)

The Mary Kearns example is one where you move the slider left to right to move along the timeline (or scroll to do so) but Tiki-Toki have an example (the one on the Tower of London: where you go ‘into’ the screen (or, rather, where what’s in the screen appears to come out towards you), which I find particularly impressive looking, playful but still fully serious — with this 3D format you get a much better sense of how things are spaced out from one another in time (a 3D representation of it rather than 2D). I plan to experiment with both these presentation styles to see which one works best for my John O’Donovan material, which is to say, I will do a version each way and try them out with various people.

At the outset I was put off Tiki-Toki by the fact that it was not open source and by the fact that it costs — and quite a bit too, it’s one of the more expensive packages. And I was also off-put by its apparent complexity — which is to say, I feared that something so good-looking would be more than I could manage for the purpose of this assignment; and, indeed, I may have been correct in this respect — I’ve learned quite a bit by working with a an entry-level tool such as TimelineJS, but I may have been overwhelmed and frustrated by Tiki-Toki had I started with it.

Also to make the most of something such as Tiki-Toki you really need to have all your material in good order: even with something as simple as TimelineJS you need to be well-organised, so, therefore, presumably, all the more so with Tiki-Toki which is at least one order of magnitude upwards in complexity.

Tiki-Toki is not something one would deploy at an early stage in a project: as I’ve said, it is a tool in which you can deploy immense amounts of material — tens of thousands of words, along with hundreds of images — and when you do so you would want to have finished material to work with (I would anyway). Writing in such tight spaces is a kind of art in itself, to do it well takes composition-time (a lot of it), akin to composing poetry [there’s three kinds of writing, someone once said — the novelist John McGahern, I believe — there’s prose, there’s verse, and there’s poetry, i.e. both verse and prose can be poetry, or not]. And getting something as first class as Tiki-Toki combined with first class historical research and first class composition/editing is where it’s at for me as far as Digital Arts and Humanities is concerned — that is, the art of bringing each of these elements into perfect balance with one another so that the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Timeline packages —







1916 Letters


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Letters-of-1916The Letters of 1916 project is a crowd-sourced* collection of letters written around the time of the Easter Rising in Ireland. The Easter Rising was an attempted coup d’etat by militant Irish nationalists in April 1916 which, five years after, resulted in the London Peace Treaty of 1921 facilitating the formation of the Irish Free State and so forth. For the purpose of the Letters of 1916 project, this watershed event in Ireland’s story is nested in a 12 month period, 1 November 1915 to 31 October 1916, which is to say, six months before the mould-breaking events of Easter Week and six months after.

*The terms “crowd-sourced” and “crowd-sourcing” are used to define online projects that entail the active contribution of an undefined public (Wikipedia is, perhaps, the premier example of a crowd-sourced project). Old School cultural institutions are increasingly exploring crowd-sourcing initiatives as a means of forging novel paths of collaboration between institutions and their audiences. For a comprehensive account of crowd-sourcing and crowd-sourced projects in the humanities, see here.

The Letters of 1916 project is crowd-sourced in two main ways, firstly in the sense that if you or your family have a letter that was written within the date-range above from or to an address in Ireland you can — should you wish to — contribute it to the collection (it does not necessarily need to be about the Easter Rising — see below), and, secondly, in the sense that the whole project is designed as an engaging collaboration, to which end people are invited to transcribe the letters, i.e. in a really hands-on way to be part of the creation of something marking the centenary of the Easter Rising which, this time next year, will be front and centre on these here islands.

letters 1916And, indeed, many have done so: over 700 people have registered with the project, which (at the time of writing) has had over 1,700 letters uploaded — indeed, I found it a little difficult to find letters that had not been transcribed (I’m reading for an M.A. in Digital Arts and Humanities at University College, Cork, and, for an assignment for one of our coursework modules, we have been asked to transcribe a number of these letters, for which, for assignment purposes, we had to find letters which had not already been worked on).

As I’ve said, not all the letters are about the Rising, indeed only a relatively small proportion of them are, reflecting the fact that, for the vast majority of people on the island of Ireland, especially in the early part of 1916, the Easter Rising was not that big of a deal (it was not that big of a deal until after a British military bombardment almost flattened the rebel-held centre of Dublin and the coup ring-leaders and their associates were rounded-up and executed, Banana-Republic style, thereby turning what was a PR disaster for militant Irish nationalism into a PR disaster for British Imperialism) — so the letters are about business, the Great War (i.e. the First World War), love letters, appointment-seeking letters, letters about railways, art, literature, theatre, summer holidays and so forth, some of which mention (or show an awareness of) events in Dublin, but, like I say, most do not. In short, the letters may be seen as a slice of life from one 12-month period very nearly a century ago.

Professor Susan Schreibman, Editor-in-Chief of the Letters of 1916 project

Professor Susan Schreibman, Editor-in-Chief of the Letters of 1916 project

Leading a team which includes people from Trinity College, Dublin, NUI Maynooth, and Queen’s College, Belfast, is Professor Susan Schreibman, professor of Digital Humanities at NUI Maynooth. The director of An Foras Feasa (which is an institute for research in Irish historical and cultural traditions), Dr Schreibman is a former senior lecturer in digital humanities at Trinity’s Long Room Hub (2011-14), director of the Digital Humanities Observatory, a national digital humanities centre developed under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy (2008-11), before which she was assistant dean for Digital Collections and Research at the University of Maryland (2005-08) and assistant director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (2001-04). Also noteworthy, of course, is the fact that (along with John Unsworth and Ray Siemens), Schreibman is one of the editors of the Companion to Digital Humanities (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), one of the standard pedagogic texts in the Digital Humanities sphere of influence:

Altogether I transcribed three of the letters; here (below), for example, is the text of one of these, a letter from Patrick H. O’Brien of Strabane, county Tyrone, to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wimborne,* dated 20 June 1916, seeking appointment to the office of Clerk of the Crown and Peace for the county of Westmeath.

Co. Tyrone,
20th June 1916

To His Excellency
The Lord Lieutenant General and General Governor of Ireland
May it Please Your Excellency
I take the liberty of asking you for the position of Clerk of the Crown & Peace for the County of Westmeath rendered vacant by the death of Mr P.R. Kelly.
I am fully qualified for the position being a practising solicitor of over twenty-two years standing, having been admitted to the profession in February 1894.
I have rendered valuable public services during my life to members of His Majesty’s Governments in Ireland and have taken a very active and prominent part in Recruiting both for the Army and Navy, besides acting as Secretary of our local Recruiting Committee.
I am well known to several military men and Government Officials from whom and other persons I hope to furnish your Excellency with testimonials in a few days.
I am a Roman Catholic aged about forty-seven.
I have the honour to be
Your Excellency’s Humble & obedient servant
                                                Patrick H. O’Brien.

*Lord Wimborne, Ivor Chruchill Guest (1873-1939), former army officer, politician and statesman, was Lord Lieutenant in Ireland at the time of the Easter Rising (also, somewhat confusingly, in the period 1910-14 Guest was titled Lord Ashby St Ledgers — see below). A first cousin of Winston Churchill (with whom he crossed the floor of the House of Commons in 1904, switching from the Conservative Party to the Liberals), Guest was the member of parliament for Plymouth from 1900 until 1910, at which time he was elevated to parliament’s upper chamber (the House of Lords) as Baron Ashby St Ledgers, from where he served in Herbert Asquith’s government as Paymaster General. He succeeded to the title of Lord Wimborne (his father’s title) in 1914; the following year, he was sent to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, succeeding Lord Aberdeen in that (mostly ceremonial) office.

Lord Wimborne (Ivor Chruchill Guest), who was Lord Lieutenant in Ireland at the time of the Easter Rising (however, clearly, this photograph is from some time before 1916 because in this picture he cannot be more than 30 years old and he was in his 40s when he was in Ireland)

Ivor Chruchill Guest, who was Lord Lieutenant in Ireland at the time of the Easter Rising; however, clearly, this photograph is from some time before 1916 because in this picture he cannot be more than 30 years old, and he was in his mid-40s when he was in Ireland.

Wimborne/Guest resigned in the wake of the Rising — taking responsibility for the failings of the British administration in Ireland (for which, indeed, he was ultimately responsible**) — however, he was immediately reappointed, continuing in the office until 1918. Nevertheless, Ireland appears to have been the end of his career in public life.

** Although the Lord Lieutenant was at the top of the British state hierarchy in Ireland, the position was analogous to that of the constitutional monarch, whom, indeed, he represented in the vice-regal lodge in the Phoenix Park; in practice, however, power was firmly in the hands of cabinet minister Augustine Birrell, Chief Secretary for Ireland, working in conjunction with Sir Matthew Nathan, who (as Under-Secretary) was head of the British civil service in Ireland, both of whom also resigned in the wake of the 1916 Rising.

Fortunately, I did not need to get into all of this who/what/where/when detail to transcribe the letter! (I provide this information merely to give context and human interest to my presentation, a little colouring, as it were.)

new-zealand-1915-sg-452-george-vTo transcribe a letter, one simply registers with the 1916 Letters website (a one-minute process which involves providing your name and contact details), go into one of the categories of letters (the above is from ‘Official Documents’), and call up one of the letters which needs work done on it. As freshers — and for the purposes of our college assignment — we were instructed to find items that had not yet been worked on.

Once you’ve found a letter to work on you simply start transcribing. One can zoom in and out on the photographic reproductions of the letters as much as a transcriber could reasonably wish for, and you put your transcription in the transcription box below.

For example, here are the links to the above letter; there are two links because the letter is on two sides of letter manuscript — recto and verso — and the two images of the letter are treated as separate for the purposes of presenting them for ‘zoomification’ and transcription, though linked, of course.

If you are not used to mark-up language then it may be that when you look at what’s in the transcription box you’ll feel that it’s like gobbledegook — too much to be borne — but, in fact, it’s far more complicated-looking than it really is and the technicalities are easily explained.

L1916_TRANSCRIBE_INSTRUCTIONS_v4Along the top of the transcription box there is a series of buttons (if you hover the cursor over each button it will tell you what it is for). So, if you are inputting an address, you click on the ‘A’ button, which is the third one along from the left; this puts the mark-up code for the address of a letter around the transcription of the address and so on (the first button is for coding line-breaks ‘<lb/>’), such that, with our letter above, for example, the address is rendered as

<address>Strabane<lb/>Co. Tyrone<lb/></address>

The second button ‘pb’ is for page-breaks; the fourth button ‘P’ is for paragraph-breaks and so forth. The last button ‘D’ is for the mark-up code for the date of the letter — so that ’20th June 1916′ (with the ‘th’ superscripted) is marked-up as

<date>20<hi rend=”superscript”>th</hi> June 1916</date>

One can work in one of two ways: simply transcribe the letter and input the mark-up afterwards which is what I started doing; or, once you get comfortable with it all, mark-up as you go along (click the button for whatever you’re doing and type in the text in the space provided). In the long run I found it easier to mark-up as I went along.

Aside from actually contributing to the project — as in being part of something like this (which is the first public humanities of its kind in Ireland) — it is a really good way to learn (or to teach people) about mark-up language and the like (i.e. what ‘tags’ are, opening and closing tags and so on).

A detailed, well laid-out series of instruction sheets are available at the following link (instruction sheets that can be downloaded onto your computer as PDFs — ‘Getting Started’, ‘Transcribe a Letter’, ‘Upload a Letter’, and ‘Style Guide’)

FOR other items transcribed by me, see the letter from Ernest G. Moggridge to the Under-Secretary, Dublin Castle, 9 June 1916 (at the following link)

And the letter from John J. Ham to the Under-Secretary, 19 June 1916 (which, like Patrick O’Brien’s letter above, is a letter seeking appointment to the office of Clerk of the Crown and Peace for the county of Westmeath; however, Mr Ham’s letter includes a number of enclosures, testimonial letters supporting his application, hence the multitude of links) —

MADAH class art


ORIGINALLY, I was hoping to do an animated spinning cube (a GIF [Graphics Interchange Format]) — every time the cube turns (and another facet of it is presented) the viewer sees a new picture, i.e. something by one of the members of the 2014-15 [UCC] MA DAH group as per the DH6005 Blackboard depositions for ‘Bring Out Your Art I’ —  however, sad to say, this has proved beyond my technical capabilities (at least, in the time I’ve available, and as it is I’ve already spent far too much on this); so I’ve downscaled my ambitions accordingly.

The result is this, above, which is a piece I’ve titled ‘The Relational CuBe is the thing that’s Alive with stuff from said place of which I spoke of moments ago’, or [for foreign markets] ‘What’s in the box?, Jack’.

  Method [what follows is a description of what I did to make the finished item(s) which you see above (and below), i.e. I’m discounting all the mess I made (and time I wasted) trying to make a cartoon of a spinning cube which near ruined my mental well-being; trust me, it’d be tedious to detail in full all the wrong turns and returns and outright failures I’ve manfully encountered and endured this past week]:



  1. At the end of the first week in March, I downloaded all the pieces on the DH6005 ‘Bring Out Your Art I’ folder.
  2. In Microsoft Office PowerPoint (2007) I made a series of slides with one cube in each slide. Altogether, I made nearly 40 of these cube-slides but in the [subsequent] editing process I kept chipping away at this total because my feeling is that it’s tiresome if there are too many. (My aim has been to get it all to come in at under one minute — for which one needs about 20 slides if @, say, 3 seconds a frame — while at the same time including as much of the material from as many of my classmates as possible.) Here is a link to the YouTube tutorial I found best on how to make said cubes-slides:
  3. I saved my project as a PowerPoint file (the link to which is here, should anyone wish to download it as a PowerPoint file): DH6005 art project
  4. However, because I could not upload my PowerPoint presentation to my WordPress blog in a way which looked good, I also saved it as a PNG file (Portable Network Graphic), which gave me all the slides as individual image files.
  5. I then opened up Windows Live Movie Maker and uploaded the PNG files and made a little ‘movie’ — of course, it’s not really a movie at all except in what I call a bollox-art-house sort of way.
  6. Except for the very last audio piece, which is Aengus’s ‘Old Record’ mix, the audio files are from
  7. Finally, I uploaded the finished ‘movie’ to YouTube:
  8. And wrote up this blog-post.

LastWord: there is no signification whatsoever to the way the audio-clips and the images are arranged — so, please, don’t go attempting to read anything into anything (ditto viz the text elements); it all means nothing at all, I assure you (and I should know!). I was simply trying to make an inclusive, interesting, and entertaining 60 seconds (or so). Ultimately, it has as much meaning as a half-eaten After Eight [wafer-thin] mint found on the back-seat of a Blackpool-bound bus at around midnight on Valentine’s Day.

Open Street Mapping


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osm1Open Street Map ( is the maps equivalent of Wikipedia, that is to say, it’s a crowd-sourced production to do with mapping our planet (henceforth ‘OSM’).

-12.393Down here in the southwest corner of Ireland I’ve been doing my bit viz the market town of Skibbereen, which is in the western corner of county Cork. I’ve been mapping what an American city-dweller would refer to as ‘my block’, which is to say the cluster of properties surrounding my dwelling — the triangular section enclosed in red in the screen-capture below. Really, I should say I’ve been making a contribution to it because the basic layout of laneways and streets and traffic flows, along with the principal buildings and Skibbereen’s topographical features, were already done when I first came to the OSM Skibbereen pages; indeed, all the town is done, essentially, so what I’ve been attempting to do is take it down to the next level of detail, house-to-house identifications and so forth. (I have not identified individual private dwellings, of course, only business premises and public buildings and the like.)

-9.2701I live in the grounds of the Abbeystrewry Church of Ireland, which is in the western side of the town, the gateway to which faces onto Bridge Street (between the Fairfield Bar and McCarthy’s Insurance Agency). All of this was already done, that is to say the church grounds were correctly identified along with the church building itself and Abbeystrewry Hall, which is the parish hall. However, my house, Church Meadow House, while it was outlined as a house in the grounds, was not identified as Church Meadow House. Neither was the old school building at the very back of the grounds (albeit but a ruin nowadays) nor the Sexton’s Lodge down by the front gates, all of which I input (see here).

-9.26982Out on Bridge Street, as I say, the Fairfield Bar was identified, along with the public transport bus-stop halfway up Bridge Street and Baby Hannah’s public house up at the old railway cutting junction, but little else was identified on this section of Bridge Street. Therefore, I identified all the businesses on ‘my’ side of the street between the church gates and Baby Hannah’s, namely —

*McCarthy’s Insurance Agency at 57 Bridge Street

*the Polish/East European shop at 55 Bridge Street

*Francis Collins’ accountancy offices at 54 Bridge Street

*the Impress Laundrette & Dry Cleaning place

*Charles McCarthy’s estate agency

*the Chistin Beag restaurant

*the Bridge House guesthouse

*the Mobile Phone repair and accessories shop

*Anne Crossey’s Fine Art gallery and studio at 44 Bridge Street

(Note: the house numbers on Bridge Street are a little peculiar — not every building is numbered — however, the numbers I’ve provided are correct.)

To help envision the streetscape of which I speak, below is a little video clip (only 18 seconds long) which looks up and down Bridge Street (it was filmed from a spot across the street from the gateway leading to Abbeystrewry — the Sexton’s Lodge is just inside the gate on the right). This clip first looks up Bridge Street (which is to say looking westwards), towards Baby Hannahs and the railway cutting (see below), and then eastwards towards the entrance to the Fairfield carpark, the Time Traveller’s Bookshop, and the Tsar building (the Church Restaurant cannot be seen in this video because it is set back from the street, see below).

skibbereen railway cutting

The old railway cutting (Rossa Road), Skibbereen

Even though I was only concerned with my own little ‘island’ of properties, I also outlined and identified Hennessy’s Londis shop on the corner of “the Cutting” and Bridge Street because, along with Baby Hannah’s, it forms one of the pillars (so to say) of the gateway leading to “the Cutting” (“the Cutting” is where the old railway branch-line to Baltimore used to run, literally a cutting through some rock).

Rossa Road is the formal (or correct) name for “the Cutting”, but no one actually refers to it as Rossa Road, it is always “the Cutting”, therefore (in parenthesis) I incorporated this local identifier into the road-name on the map.

The Cutting connects Bridge Street to Mardyke Street and Coronea Drive at which junction I turned left and moved down along Mardyke Street identifying the site where the new Aldi shop is going up (construction work has already started on this site, the project is due to be completed by summertime, 2015), and the the various buildings on the south side of the Fairfield carpark, i.e., the rooms of the local brass band — St Fachtna’s Silver Band —, the Scouts’ hall, and the County council’s storehouses and litter-picker’s work station.

The Irish army band playing in the Fairfield during the Food Fair in Skibbereen; in the background is Abbeystrewry church and hall and the greenery of the hillside through which the cutting runs

The Irish army band playing in the Fairfield during the Food Fair in Skibbereen; in the background is Abbeystrewry church and hall and, yonder again, the greenery of the hillside through which the old railway cutting runs

Down near the Townshend Street side of Mardyke I retraced and identified the Masonic Hall, the building where the Mardyke Magpie furniture and upholstery place is, and the Tsar building, all of which were previously treated as one, unified building, rather than as three separate buildings (indeed, they are clearly separated one from another, by a laneway between Tsar and Mardyke Magpie buildings, and by a walkway between the Mardyke Magpie building and the Masonic Hall).

I also flagged up the fact that the Department of Social Protection has an office on the ground floor of the Masonic Hall.

The Masonic Hall on Mardyke Street in Skibbereen wherein one finds the Dole office on the ground floor

The Masonic Hall on Mardyke Street in Skibbereen which, on the ground floor, houses the local offices of the Department of Social Protection (which is to say, the ‘Dole’ office)

The Tsar building (which used to be a pub and a restaurant but is closed now) wraps around onto Bridge Street again (i.e., it is a triangular-shaped property with entrances on both Mardyke and Bridge Streets), so I completed the triangular journey back to the Abbeystrewry church gates again, identifying the business premises along the way (as mentioned above, the Church Restaurant, the Time Traveller’s Bookshop, and the Fairfield Bar were already outlined and identified), namely, Walsh’s butcher shop, the Gloss (fashion) shop, and Alma, another women’s fashion outlet.


The Church Restaurant, which was once the Methodist church in Skibbereen, ought not to be confused with Abbeystrewry church (something which often happens on the ground, especially with summer-time visitors — not infrequently one will find bewildered looking folk wandering around the nether regions of Abbeystrewry Hall looking for the way into ‘the restaurant’); misleadingly, the gateways to Abbeystrewry and to the Church Restaurant are less than 50 paces apart.

As the little video below makes clear, learning to map with Open Street Map is easy — one can become a perfectly competent user within one one-hour session. I used the iD in-browser editor, which is one of three editors one can use; I used it because it is the simplest to use and, therefore, what was recommended to begin with.

It is genuinely exciting to feel that one can have an immediate impact on something such as this — one’s edits go ‘live’ as soon as you save them — however, that’s how it goes in theory. In practice, I must report, the system did not appear to incorporate the changes immediately; indeed, worse still, sometimes it did appear to have done so and then sometimes not — at one level of zoom-in my changes would be there but at the next (closer in) they would be gone again! Or sometimes some of what I’d done was there and sometimes all of it was there. Which was confusing, leading me to wonder if I’d done something wrong somehow.

I did the bulk of the mapping work I’ve done about a week ago so, now, all of the changes I’ve made are there but, altogether, it took about a week. I do not know what the explanation for this is but when I went to the chat-boards I saw others complaining about the same thing, a guy in Chile and a guy in Canada. Experienced users, made soothing sounds saying that it took a couple of days so I waited it out and, as I say, sure enough it all came good in time.

OSM a good thing to be part of politically too, I feel — I mean ‘politics’ with a lower case ‘p’, of course — because it is not healthy to have a corporation (be it Google or whomsoever) hold a de facto monopoly on information about our streets and hills and throughways and so forth. Google Maps is wonderful, no question, but it’s good to have effective alternatives too (there are terms and condition attached to using Google Maps, for example, which most of us, most of the time, never bother with, and neither do Google — at the moment —, because for now it’s not in their interest to do so).

Initially focusing on mapping the United Kingdom, OSM is the brainchild of UK entrepreneur Steve Coast. As Wikipedia (whose success inspired Steve Coast) explains, in the UK and elsewhere, government-run and tax-funded projects like the Ordnance Survey created massive datasets but failed to freely and widely distribute them. In April 2006, the OpenStreetMap Foundation was established to encourage the growth, development and distribution of free geospatial data and provide geospatial data for anybody to use and share. Presently, OSM has 1.6 million registered users/contributors…

“[rather] than the map itself, the data generated by the OpenStreetMap project is considered its primary output. This data is then available for use in both traditional applications, like its usage by Craigslist, OsmAnd, Geocaching, MapQuest Open, JMP statistical software, and Foursquare to replace Google Maps, and more unusual roles, like replacing default data included with GPS receivers. This data has been favourably compared with proprietary datasources, though data quality varies worldwide.” a review


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omekanetlogoOMEKA is to the presentation of museum and archive and art gallery type material what WordPress is to those who communicate primarily by way of writing. As with WordPress where one has and, with Omeka you have and is where you go to download Omeka to your website and is where you work with Omeka on the Omeka servers.

To see if Omeka worked for me, I started with The sum of the matter is that it definitely did do so, handsomely; it is a fine set-up which looks really well and, once you get into it, it is simple to use.

I put up some Cork postcards on a site I titled ‘Love from Cork’ (, which is something I will continue to work on — I would much like to become as adept with Omeka as I am with WordPress.

The real test of something like this is whether or not you come back to it and continue to use it and by this measure Omeka scores very well. It is a wonderful way to gallery one’s material, so to say, not only displaying it very well but, because it is designed for use all the way to the top of the institutional and socio-cultural hierarchy — New York Public Library uses it for its ‘Treasures of the New York Public Library’ presentation, for example, and Dublin’s Trinity College uses it for its presentation on Ireland’s medieval buildings (see below for examples of Omeka presentations) — it encourages you to be as serious about your material as curators and archivists in these kinds of places are going to be about theirs.

One needs to have a fairly clear sense of what one wants to achieve before coming to Omeka, however, which is to say, have your material well organised. I was fortunate in that just over a year ago I published a book on the postcards of Cork (Love from Cork) so I had all the images and text to hand and, therefore, only had to distribute it — but bear in mind it took 18 months of work to put that book together! Putting up a postcard, for example, one is asked…

To title the item you want to post: ‘St Fin Barre’s Cathedral’, say

178__JJTo fill in a section on the subject of the item: ‘”Oilette” series postcard of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, Ireland’

To provide a description of the item: ‘From the John James postcard collection, an “Oilette” series postcard of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork; the “Oilette” series was a production of the London firm of Raphael Tuck & Sons. The Cork “Oilette” set, issued in 1909, was composed of six cards: Blackrock Castle, Blarney Castle, Father Matthew’s Quay, Queenstown Band Promenade, St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, and St Patrick’s Street. This postcard was never posted.’

And then there are sections on the ‘Creator’ (that is, who created this digital resource), the ‘Source’ (where the item has come from originally), the ‘Publisher’ (if applicable), the ‘Date’ (that is, a date or date-range associated with the item), information regarding ‘Rights’ (which is to say, copyright information and so forth), ‘Format’ (JPEG, PDF or whatever), ‘Language’ (English, French, Spanish, Latin)…altogether there are 15 sections to be attended to before you upload your item.

This stack of information is what is known as the ‘Dublin Core’ [of metadata]* and it is the rock core of Omeka (‘Omeka’, by the by, is a Swahili word meaning to unpack and/or display one’s wares, as in for example a vendor in street market).


OMEKA is good for much more than just still images, it also supports moving images, audio material, documents and so forth; moreover it can be used in ways other than for exhibition or gallery purposes. Omeka is widely used as a teaching tool, for example, and (looking down the list of plug-ins) there is also a crowd-sourcing plug-in (see below for a list of Omeka plug-ins) — the upmarket Waldorf Astoria in New York City has an Omeka-fronted site, for example, a presentation about the history of the hotel, but one which also invites people to contribute stuff, uploading photographs and so forth (again, see below for a list of Omeka projects).

It took me a while to get into tune with the logic of it, however, I must report — when I first came to Omeka I did not find it simple to orientate myself. When you go to the ‘Help’ page, for example, the first things you encounter are the ‘Terms and Conditions’ file and the ‘Choosing a Plan’ file, and a privacy policy statement — let’s be honest, nobody really cares about such stuff very much (not at this stage anyway because at this stage one is only concerned to see if the tool is going to be of use to you) — and then they tell you that you should begin by first planning out your content. Which is fair enough — I’m telling you the same thing — but the next thing they say is: “For advice on thinking about digital projects and planning them before building a website, you might want to browse through Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, by Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, to which they hyperlink!**

Goodness me, the last thing you want to do at that stage is go off and spend time browsing some ponderous academic dissertation (no matter its virtues)! You want to get started on something! And you certainly do not want to be sent off to another site!

Everything makes much more sense once you get started and, it seems to me, they could do much better job of getting a newcomer started on something. After which the logic of the system impresses itself on you very quickly. In fact, once you get going Omeka is super user-friendly. Then, after that, you begin to think “OK, Omeka is for me; I want to learn more about it”. It is at this point the Cohen and Rosenzweig material may be of interest.

As with most of these types of tools, there is a bargain-basement free service — the ‘Basic’ service — above which there are higher value levels: the ‘Plus’ service at $49 a year, the ‘Silver’ at $99, ‘Gold’ at $299, and ‘Platinum’ at $999.

At the moment I know only the ‘Basic’ service, which provides the freshman with 500 MB of storage, 13 plug-ins, and 4 themes to choose from; the ‘Plus’ service offers 1 GB of storage, 20 plug-ins, and endless themes to choose from; and, at the top end, ‘Platinum’ provides you with 25 GB of storage and “all you can eat” in every respect.

As Julie Meloni puts it at the end of her brief introduction to Omeka in the ProfHacker section of the Chronicle of Higher Education (in what is a very positive assessment of Omeka) “Omeka isn’t for everyone […] the first question when evaluating Omeka for use with your project is “are you bringing a sledgehammer when a regular hammer will do?” But if the answer to your question is “why yes, I do need a big shiny sledgehammer to solve this particularly interesting scholarly problem,” then you’re well on your way to increasing access to artifacts and providing a platform for additional study by scholars worldwide.”

Two final points: firstly, Omeka offers about 70 plug-ins altogether, for a full list of which, see here —

And, secondly, Omeka provides a very helpful documentation menu (which becomes really important once you decide to get serious about Omeka):

* The Dublin Core Schema is a set of vocabulary terms that can be used to describe web resources (video, images, web pages and so on), as well as physical resources such as books, CDs, artworks and the like. The full set of Dublin Core metadata terms can be found on the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative website: (by the by, the reference is to Dublin, Ohio, in the U.S., not Dublin, Ireland).

** Omeka comes from the same people that developed Zotero (the bibliographic tool), which is to say the Centre for History and New Media at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, in the U.S., which is now the Roy Rosenzweig Centre for History and New Media (Rosenzweig spearheaded the establishment of the Centre for History and New Media at George Mason in the 1990s).

Examples of Omeka in action

‘When this you see remember me’ (18th century Love-tokens), by Bridget Millmore, PhD candidate, Brighton University, England:

‘Gothic Past’, a Trinity College Dublin open-access resource for the study of Ireland’s medieval buildings:

‘Dante on Stamps’ (a catalog of postage stamps and other philatelic material featuring the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri), by Christopher D. Cook:

‘The Digital Manifesto Archive’ (an academic resource dedicated to aggregating and cataloging digital manifestos, manifestos that focus on the political and cultural dimensions of digital life, and manifestos that are written, or are primarily disseminated, online):

‘Martha Washington: a Life’ (a production of the Centre for History and New Media at George Mason University about the life of the wife of the first president of the United States), a fine example of how Omeka can be used as a biographical device:

‘Digital Dos Passos’ (a digital archive designed to immerse you in the historical context of John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy), by Amanda Visconti of [the English Department at] the University of Maryland:

‘A Shoebox of Norwegian Letters’ (a correspondence project to do with a cache letters to and from Norwegian immigrants to North Dakota, people in North Dakota writing of their life in the United States and people in Norway writing of life in the ‘old’ country):

‘Host to the World’, a digital history of New York City’s Waldorf Astoria:

‘Treasures of the New York Public Library’:

For a comprehensive list of sites powered by Omeka, visit

See also (the above is for sites which have downloaded Omeka — that is, they’ve gone to — this here is stuff)


A few of my favourite things


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FOR A COLLEGE MODULE starting this coming week (DH6005: History & Theory of Digital Art [I’m reading for an MA at University College, Cork, Digital Arts and Humanities]) we’ve been asked to select five ‘Desert Island’ pieces of art (‘Desert Island Discs’ is a long-running BBC radio show, the format for which is that some worthy brings into the radio studio seven pieces of music which they’d like to be able to listen to if they found themselves stranded on a desert island; in the course of the programme the Desert Island Discs host plays the selection — excerpts at any rate — and the guest talks about the where, when, and why of hisser selection). Here (below) is my art list for the college module exercise. I have not spent too much time thinking about it (we had to post it to a discussion board on ‘Blackboard’, which is UCC’s online teaching platform) and I did so in fairly short order so that I could tick another item ‘done’ on my To Do list; and so therefore, I suppose, I might well write a different list on another day, but, nevertheless, for what it’s worth, here it is….[PS: I’m surprised by the modernity of it — almost all 20th century!]…

1. An exhibition on (or of) the work of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957); here, for example, is a short YouTube piece on one of Brancusi’s most celebrated creations ‘Bird in Space’ (1928):

2. Do something with J.G. Farrell’s Empire Trilogy novels: Troubles (1970), The Seige of Krishnapur (1973), and Singapore Grip (1978); and, assuming money is no object, then that ‘something’ would include commissioning film versions of all three [J.G. Farrell, 1935-79]

3. Abdullah Ibrahim [and band]’s ‘Jabolani’ [Joy] (1968) — torn between this and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme:

4. The music of John Adams (b. 1947); almost anything by him really but here, for example, is an excerpt from his opera Nixon in China — Kathleen Kim giving it welly for ‘I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung’:

5. The work of choreographer Pina Bausch (1940-2009) of the dance theatre of Wuppertal (in Germany); this here is a really wonderful tribute piece on her life & work (Bausch is/was one of the truly great artists of the 20th century):

i-Docs Prezi presentation


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Presentation on i-Docs given by Perry O’Donovan to the 2014-15 MA (Digital Arts and Humanities) class at University College Cork (‘Old Pres’ building), 25 November 2014; photo courtesy of Alana Bailey

Presentation on i-Docs given by Perry O’Donovan to the 2014-15 MA (Digital Arts and Humanities) class at University College Cork (‘Old Pres’ building), 25 November 2014; photo courtesy of Alana Bailey

The following (below) is the text of a presentation on i-Docs I gave to the DH6004 module in November (DH6004: Conceptual Introduction to Digital Arts and Humanities, part of an MA programme at University College Cork). In my presentation I did not read out this document, I spoke ‘freehand’ [so to say], and, indeed, I do not really know what I actually said — I simply started talking [taking my cue from the Prezi slides running on the screen beside me] and talked the whole time I was up there; but this is what I was supposed to be saying!).

And this HERE is a link to the Prezi slides themselves (which will open in another tab; you arrow forwards or back to go through the slides). The stuff about Pulp Fiction and Short Cuts, etc, at the back end of the presentation I knew I [probably] was not going to get to in the time allowed, but I had them there as a back-up, just in case (I was going to use them to talk about non-linear story-telling even before the emergence of i-Docs, about how i-Docs are a symptom [or expression] of wider cultural shifts, not drivers of it as is sometimes claimed).

See also my i-Docs Prezi post (on this blog) which I put up the morning of my presentation which provides supporting information for anyone wishing to follow up on any of the principal elements.


i-Docs is the subject area I’m interested in, interactive documentaries.

(There are a variety of terms in circulation i-Docs, Web Docs, Dynamic Documentaries, Immersive Storytelling and so on, but i-Docs, it seems, has come through as the strongest of these and so it’s the expression I’m going to go with.*)

I’d like to jump right in and talk about the best i-Doc I’ve seen so far which is Welcome to Pine Point [].

Welcome to Pine Point is a website about a town which no longer exists but which once existed in the far north western territory of Canada. It was a mining town — open cast zinc mining — the town was built to house the workers, so schools, ballpark, ice-rink, town hall or meeting centre, the usual crew.

Pine Point boomed in the boom times and died in the down times. The mine closed at the end of the 1980s and the town died out shortly thereafter. Totally — there’s nothing there at all now, not a building nor a lamppost standing to memorialise what was once home for thousands of people (for a cluster of generations).

The Welcome to Pine Point website was created by Mike Simons and Paul Shoebridge, collectively known as The Goggles, a Canadian duo. (Welcome to Pine Point is hosted by the Canadian Film Board and was launched at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012.)

The website consists of photographs, sound and video clips, interviews, music, and narration by Simons. The music (and the soundscape in general) deserves special mention because it is just so bang on, the tracks are so well related to one another and yet distinct, and so appropriate: a group called The Besnard Lakes wrote and performed the main audio tracks. When you go from one page to the next the music morphs into another audio track, but it’s really beautifully done. The whole thing is ambient — pleasantly stoned-stroke-trippy ambient — interleaved with the sounds of mining machines, kids playing baseball, a Mothers’ Union coffee morning, 1970s TV chat show chatter and the like. The whole not unlike, say, the KLF’s classic (1990) album Chill Out.

That mix of media (sound, stills, video, music, and even data), and the fact that the whole thing is web-based, these are some of the key characteristics of an i-Doc. But what’s really important, of course, is the interactivity part of it.

On each page you can hold for as long as you please and you can also delve further into each of the pages (most of them anyway), flicking through picture galleries, for example, or playing video clips.

And, of course, you can go back and recheck or reread something if you need to.

Some i-Docs feature explorations of what can be done with a cursor, Hollow [], for example, by Elaine Macmillion (2013), is one such. As you scroll, the documentary runs; it’s as if you had your finger in the spindle of a film projector. (Hollow does not have moving images as a cinema film might have, but it does have images that move across (and down) the screen — stills — but very beautifully done.)

And, again, the audio work in Hollow is exquisite. Hollow is about a county in West Virginia, McDowall County, a coal mining territory which is bleeding out; the population is declining by about 10,000 every decade. In the 1940s and 50s there were over a 100,000 people living in McDowall County, presently there are about 20,000 and the total is still in freefall.

But also, to some extent, one can choose the line one takes through the material. Basically, i-Docs are about presenting a database. So, you have, say, 250 video clips — in fact, let’s talk about small narrative units (SNUs) because they may not necessarily be video clips, some of your 250 items might be little galleries of photos with and audio files attached, or it could be a series of pages, or a series of slides as in a Prezi presentation and so on. So you have your opening unit, your general intro (preceded, very probably, by a landing page), but from there different viewers may take different routes through the material.

So, for example, I could make an i-Doc about living in Skibbereen and someone could watch it who is only interested in material relating to women, or to Protestants, or business people, or immigrants, or older people or whatever.

At the present time most of the interactivity and most of the choice tends to be theoretical more than actual — which is to say that, as yet [so far as I’ve seen anyway], generally speaking, the choices a rather limited.

But, the point is, the potential is enormous. This stuff is really only in its infancy, but very soon you’ll see i-Docs which will be made up of 600, 800, 1,200 SNUs, and you and I could watch a film about cricket in Amsterdam, for example, or bell-ringing in Ireland, and see quite different material.

And that is another aspect of the i-Doc — that it is open-ended, you can go on adding material or editing material endlessly.

But, as I say, it’s the potential they represent which has everybody buzzing (almost every film festival has an i-Doc section nowadays and, indeed, we are beginning to see the emergence of festivals specifically concerned with i-Docs —  Sheffield in the UK has just got one going, for example, also Amsterdam).

And that’s what I want to do: I want to chart the development of this new form of story-telling — examining the early development of the syntax and grammar of i-Docs, comparing and contrasting this emerging form with the early years of older forms of off-the-page story-telling, television, radio, and cinema and so forth.

* By no means should this be thought of as exhausting the neologisms: non-linear narratives, interactive narratives, web narratives, database narratives, database docs, digital docs, multi-linear docs, soft cinema, future cinema, interactive cinema, online storytelling, . . . and probably many others that I have yet to encounter . . .