This blog post will focus on the 1641 depositions project, based at Trinity College Dublin. The aim of the project was to digitise approximately 8,000 depositions dealing with the 1641 uprising in Ireland and provide them online, which amounts to 19,010 pages of text bound in 31 volumes. Each page was photographed in high-resolution, transcribed and marked up in TEI.
The transcription which was carried out preserved variant and incorrect spellings, as well as subsequent emendations, such as struck out words or marginalia. These are formatted in a way which emphasises their separateness from the ‘main’ text. These accounts were initially taken spontaneously, as a means of gathering information about the uprising from those who were affected by, or witnessed, the disturbances. This first wave of depositions are more discursive in character and were taken within two years of the initial events. Subsequent witness statements, taken in the 1650’s, were more focused on damage to property and loss of life with a view to charging those guilty of such acts in court. Though these statements were marked up in TEI, the code itself is inaccessible, due to concerns about people making use of the transcribed manuscripts without permission. This hinders the markup’s functionality, as it makes it impossible for scholars to search, process or analyse the text in ways that markup would otherwise allow.
The data schema that was used within the context of the project website is also idiosyncratic in many respects. The tagging system which facilitates searches of the depositions uses twenty-four separate terms, among them, ‘apostasy’, ‘arson’, ‘captivity’, ‘witchcraft’ and ‘death’. There is a significant amount of overlap within this systems, the question arises as to what precise differences there are between ‘death’, ‘killing’, ‘multiple killing’ and ‘massacre’ as subjects. Further, tags such as ‘witchcraft’ disproportionately emphasise the sensational nature of some of the depositions; despite the fact that references to supernatural phenomena, feature in a relatively small number of depositions.
This is somewhat ironic considering the uses the depositions were put to at the time they were first written, as a means of fuelling anti-Catholic prejudice in England to further entrench the plantation project and justify the representation of Catholicism as ‘a proven tyrannical force’. This may have been done with a view to the potential impact of the project; Elizabeth Price’s deposition was dramatised on RTÉ presumably because it offers a vivid account of a massacre, though no attention was given in the broadcast to their unreliability as a resource. As the depositions were devised by a governing infrastructure attempting to prosecute insurrectionists and quell rebellions from non-compliant parts of the country, they could hardly be considered disinterested investigations.
There is an argument to be made that a panel of historical experts on Tudor and Stuart Ireland would be capable of devising a sequence of topics in order to provide a guiding mechanism for any prospective reader, particularly within the context of a digital scholarly edition such as this, in which there is such a huge amount of material. However, it is clear that in this case, this has not been achieved.
Canny, Nicholas, Making Ireland British 1580-1650 (Oxford University Press: 2003)
Foster, R.F., Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (Penguin: 1989)
Heffernan, David, The Emergence of the Public Sphere in Elizabethan Ireland (The Tudor and Stuart Ireland Conference 2012: 2012) https://soundcloud.com/history-hub/david-heffernan-the-emergence-of-the-public-sphere-in-elizabethan-ireland
Hughes, Anthony, The Stuart Post Office: Not Just for Delivering Letters (The Tudor and Stuart Ireland Conference 2012: 2012) https://soundcloud.com/history-hub/anthony-hughes-stuart-post-office-ireland Accessed: 4 May 2017.
Ohlmeyer, Jane, Bartlett, Thomas, Ó Siochrú, Micheál, Morrill, John, 1641 Depositions, Available at: http://ride.i-d-e.de/issues/issue-5/1641-depositions/ Accessed: 4 May 2017