Author: Sonia Howell (University of Notre Dame) and Matthew Wilkens (University of Notre Dame)

In “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0” (2009), the authors define the Digital Humanities as,

an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences.[1]

Today, the Digital Humanities  “encompass a range of practices and scholarly products, including linguistic corpora, interactive digital archives and editing projects.”[2] The field also includes a discursive strand which considers the opportunities and implications afforded by developments in new media.

Over the past decade, Irish Studies, like other humanities disciplines, has seen a proliferation of work that falls under the heading of “Digital Humanities.” However, as Margaret Kelleher has observed,

While recent years have seen the availability of some truly innovative resources in Irish history, literature and culture, there is yet little or no investigation, reflection or critique by humanities scholars of the new forms of knowledge thus generated, or of the new scales and types of research made possible, or of the new kinds of intellectual brokerage which may be necessary to link digital and analogue resources.[3]

What remains absent, therefore, is an detailed consideration of how the transition from print-based modes of inquiry to digital tools and methodologies are impacting work in the field of Irish Studies.

The lack of discourse concerning the relation between Irish Studies and the Digital Humanities may be attributed to three factors: firstly, scholars in the wider field may not be aware that these digital resources exist. Secondly, with the exception of the (growing) handful of panels that appear at Irish Studies conferences each year, there has been no space in which to discuss these questions relating to the impact of the digital on work in the field. Thirdly, as in other fields of study, there may be a general reluctance on the part of “traditional” humanities scholars to engage in conversations relating to digital tools and methodologies due to a perceived lack of the vocabulary necessary to do so. In this special issue of Breac, we hope to redress these issues by providing a space where scholars working in the intersectional area between Irish Studies and the Digital Humanities can present their work to the wider community. In so doing, we hope to initiate discussion between scholars adapting traditional and digital approaches in the study of Irish literature, history, and culture.

The essays included here reflect the many and diverse ways in which the tools and methodologies of the Digital Humanities are being employed within the field of Irish Studies. Topics addressed include: digitization, digital archiving, GIS, text analysis, stylometry, and text encoding. Rather than offering purely celebratory accounts of the opportunities afforded by digital advances, in describing their respective projects, our contributors demonstrate that digital approaches to questions relating to Irish Studies open up new possibilities but also raise new challenges for work in the field.

In the opening essay, James O’Sullivan, Shawn Day, and Orla Murphy chart the emergence of the Digital Humanities in Ireland, detailing the key developments, players, and milestones over the past two decades. By tracing the short historiography of what we might term “digital Irish Studies,” O’Sullivan, Day, and Murphy argue that those practitioners who work in the intersection between Irish Studies and the Digital Humanities are “critical and cultural producers who are seeking to ask new questions of Irish Studies, and in doing so, continue to make meaningful contributions to the field.”

Pádraic Ó Macháin narrows the focus from a general history of Digital Humanities in Ireland to that of a specific branch of “DH” work, namely digitization. In the first commentary on the Digital Humanities to appear in the Irish language, Ó Macháin addresses what he perceives as being the two main long-term digital initiatives in the humanities in Ireland: textual projects and image projects. Like O’Sullivan, Day, and Murphy, Ó’Macháin considers this type of digital work at the project, institutional, and national levels. As in the previous essay as well, questions of funding and sustainability are seen as key to determining the success and impact of digital work in Ireland: “Ar an tátail is tábhachtaí atá le baint as an digitiú sna dainnachtaí in Eirinn a bhreithniú, tá gur ar éigin atá an múnla maointhe mar atá faoi láthair oiriúnach go hiomlán.”

At the heart of digitization—and, by extension, work in the Digital Humanities—lies the desire to preserve and make accessible works of cultural heritage. In attempting to fulfill these aims, scholars and their interdisciplinary teams of researchers, developers, librarians, and web designers, are required to consider a number of issues: curation, data formatting, data storage, interoperability, and user experience. In “Monastic Ireland,” Niamh NícGhabhann describes the first development phase of Monastic Ireland, a project aimed at “addressing problems in access by developing a centralized database of the digital resources available, by digitizing as much relevant material as possible, and through the development of a user-centred content management system.” NícGhabhann situates the Monastic Ireland Project both within the historiography of Irish medieval architecture and within work in the field of the Digital Humanities, both at the national and international scales. In detailing the methodologies being employed in developing the digital repository, NícGhabhann calls attention to the challenges posed by the nature of the source materials for the study of Irish medieval architectural heritage for Digital Humanities researchers and developers, and to the importance of designing for user experience.

Staying with digitization, in “Ogham in 3D,” Nora White provides a detailed account of the “how” of digitization. Against claims that work in the Digital Humanities can be driven by technologies rather than by the merit thereof to the objects being studied, White describes how new developments in 3D laser scanning are used to record Ogham inscriptions and to provide representations of these unique aspects of Irish cultural heritage that are superior to those that have been provided by the older technologies of print and photography. Moreover, White outlines the ways 3D data is employed to assist in the reading of “problematic inscriptions, to inform conservation policy through deviation analysis and to analyze carving techniques and tools uses.” Thus, like the Monastic Ireland project, the Ogham in 3D project is driven by the desire to preserve and increase accessibility to information on Ogham inscriptions, stones, and sites, and to facilitate the generation of new knowledge thereof.

In “Requirements and National Digital Infrastructures: Digital Preservation in the Humanities,” Sharon Webb expands on White’s call for a national digital infrastructure for the purpose of preservation by offering an account of the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI). As Webb points out, scholars require “sustainable access to sources in order to cultivate and maintain trust, credibility, and authority in his or her scholarly endeavors.” Given the complexities of access and preservation in the digital age, Webb posits that Digital Humanities projects, as well as other types of digital research, should utilize existing digital environments such as the DRI in order to fulfill requirements such as storage and access. Webb argues that, in so doing, researchers can focus more usefully on developing digital tools that engage different users in new types of knowledge-creation and development.

In “The Murals of Northern Ireland Project,” Tony Crowley provides a personal account of the development of the Murals in Northern Ireland Archive. From physically gathering the data on the streets of Northern Ireland to manually logging the metadata in a digital database, Crowley outlines the challenges of creating the archive. Among the benefits of digitizing the murals, Crowley lists increased accessibility to “previously hidden or [...] obscure” material, and new ways of engaging with this material. In keeping with both of these aims, we have utilized Crowley’s article as a means of exploring new affordances offered by digital publishing platforms. Specifically, we present Crowley’s article using SCALAR, a publishing platform developed by Tara McPherson and a research team at the University of Southern California which enables linking between digital archives and the publishing platform. By linking the digital archive to the place of scholarly discourse—namely, the academic article—our aim is to open up the digital archive in a way that increases visibility and stimulates intellectual discussion.

Responding both to the “spatial turn” in Irish Studies and to the new affordances offered by developments in GIS technologies, Ronan Foley and Rachel Murphy argue that, “the time is right for a greater spatial presence in the humanities in general, and Irish Studies in particular.” Focusing on cases studies from their own research, Foley and Murphy “illustrate a number of methodological issues in relation to spatially-tagged information and [...] outline the potential for a geo-spatial vision to deepen Digital Humanities research.”  The authors argue that new digital tools and methodologies, when appropriately deployed, may facilitate a “relational geography,” one which “emphasizes how different places and groups of people can be understood in relation to one another.” In concluding, they call for “a fuller articulation and utilization of  place-based knowledge” within Irish Studies research.

In “Computing Ireland’s Place in the Nineteenth-Century Novel: A Macroanalysis,” renowned Digital Humanist Matthew Jockers offers a complex and robust account of Ireland’s role in the literary geography of the nineteenth century. Using a combination of computational approaches including topic modeling, named-entity recognition, and sentiment analysis to characterize a corpus of more than 3,500 novels from the period, he explains that Irish authors differed from the English counterparts not only in the intensity of their attention to Ireland proper, but also in the themes and emotions associated with the nation. Jockers’ innovative and sophisticated approach manages at once to confirm some of our existing intuitions about the shape of nineteenth-century Irish fiction—that it made frequent reference to landholding, for instance—and to suggest new avenues for research (why do English writers of the period strongly avoid references to truth and nature when they write about Ireland?). Jockers concentrates his analysis on questions of direct relevance to Irish literary studies, but the methods he develops will be of interest to scholars working at the intersection of literature and geography, as well as to those dealing with the difficult problems posed by large literary corpora.

In another deployment of computational text analysis methodologies, Justin Tonra and Francesca Benatti describe the process and the results of an examination of a negative review of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Christabel (1816) using stylometric analysis and author-attribution technologies. Specifically, the authors set out to establish whether Thomas Moore was the author of the unclaimed review. In so doing, they seek to “illuminate Moore’s relationship with Coleridge, and complicate his sympathetic statements about his fellow poet during the period of the Christabel controversy.” In documenting this study, they outline the challenges that they have encountered in this work-in-progress, the unique difficulties presented by this case, and the opportunities and implications of this intersection of Digital Humanities and Irish Studies.

In “Networking a Scholarly Edition,” Hans Walter Gabler ties traditional debates in the field of scholarly editing with new developments in digital technologies to offer a succinct and nuanced  account of the scholarly edition in the digital age. Gabler argues that although “today [...] the locus for the scholar edition is the digital medium,” the “medial migration [from print to digital] has not been accompanied comprehensively as yet by in-depth reconceptualization of method, format, and purpose.” Instead “first impulses have been to shape digital editions to patterns adapted from the printed book.” Gabler maintains that in order to “innovate the scholarly edition as a digital resource, it needs to be rethought in terms of the essential qualities of the digital medium, its process dynamics, and dialogue.”

Taken together, the essays included in this issue demonstrate that the Digital Humanities, like Irish Studies, is a complex and multifaceted field made up of an array of methodologies and approaches. The collection also charts the short historiography of  digital Irish Studies and offers signs of its future directions. It is our hope that this issue will stimulate conversations among practitioners in Irish Studies regarding the Digital Humanities and the opportunities and implications thereof for work in the field. For colleagues in the Digital Humanities, we invite you to consider how the intersection between Irish Studies and the Digital Humanities can be employed to enhance other forms of nation studies, which have come increasingly under threat in the wake of world systems theories and quantitative modes of analyses.

We would like to thank all of our authors for contributing their scholarship to this issue of Breac; it is our hope that your work will pave the way for others to follow.


[1] “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” accessed October 1, 2015,

[2] Marija Dalbello, “A Genealogy of Digital Humanities,” Journal of Documentation 67, no. 3 (2011): 480-506.

[3] Margaret Kelleher, “Finding New Partners: Irish Studies and its International Futures,” The Irish Review 46 (Autumn 2013): 65.