Exposure of Digital Collections Project with RCSI.

For my internship with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, I am undertaking the creation of a digital format, using Omeka, of the institution’s exhibition on RCSI’s relationship with the 1916 Rising, entitled Surgeons and Insurgents: RCSI and the Easter Rising. The project involves the transferring of data in the form of photographs, essays and videos, the creation of metadata, and the designing of a website into a user-friendly, easily-navigated, and multi-level tool for researchers and general interest alike.

Photograph of an area of the ‘Surgeons and Insurgents’ exhibition, March 31, 2016


The centenary of the 1916 Rising in Ireland and it’s celebration allowed for a great number of commemorative events and projects throughout the country during 2016. One such example was the physical exhibition in RCSI during the spring of 2016, the website for which I am designing. Such exhibitions were part of the Irish tourism industry throughout the centenary year, and brought thousands of visitors to the country. For this reason, the celebration of the centenary should also be commemorated by institutions. The creation of digital exhibitions is also a lesson in advancement of cultural engagement tools and the maintenance of digital data over time. Such examples of cultural engagement tools include An Foras Feasa’s own Letters of 1916 project, a crowdsourcing initiative which promotes the public’s engagement with the communications of people in 1916. This serves three purposes; the first is the engagement of the public with primary source historical documents, the second is the preservation of the data through online repositories and storage techniques, and the third is the creation of a historical database for the letters in their finished state which would include a digital copy of the original, a transcribed copy, and the associated metadata for each letter. While my project is not so heavily focussed on the engagement of the public, I intend for it to be used as a source of reference and interest for a wide range of enthusiasts.

In order to reach this wide audience, it is my intention to organise the website in such a manner that the exhibition can be presented in a range of different ways, depending on the wishes of the visitor to the website. There are three principle navigation settings that I wish to set up, depending on the interests of the visitor to the website. The first is the ‘primary’ navigation of the entire exhibition. The reason that I wish to include this is due to the fact that the original Surgeons and Insurgents exhibition was a physical exhibition and was designed in such a way as to guide the visitor through the exhibition in a very purposeful way. I would like to keep this structure, as it would be the closest thing to the physical exhibition that can exist, so it seems appropriate that a step by step approach to the exhibition is utilised. The second navigational tool is to present the data according to the data type. In the case of this exhibition, there are photographs, videos of lectures delivered by academics, and a booklet which contains information about the exhibition and the narrative history of RCSI’s relationship with the 1916 Rising. It is my intention that the lecture series is organised into one collection, as it is contextual, and very academic in its delivery; for this reason, researchers and academics would be the most likely to engage with the video collection. The photographs can be organised into smaller sub-sections, depending on the material referred to in the photographs. Some of the collection contains multiple photographs of the same areas of the exhibition, and such multiples can be grouped together in the collection. The photographs, along with the narrative from the exhibition booklet can provide context and be of general interest to the everyday visitor to the website. I believe that this framework for the website would be the best option to make the content accessible to the widest range of visitors.

For the purposes of my framework and the content of the website, it was decided that Omeka would be the most appropriate tool to build the website. Omeka is an open-source website design application. It has the capabilities of handling large volumes of data in various forms, and a huge selection of plugins can be downloaded for use in the Omeka platform, such as ‘YouTube Import’, ‘Exhibit Builder’ and ‘Collection Tree’. Such plugins allow me to carry out various different tasks which suit my needs. The added advantage of using Omeka is twofold; it is very easy to transfer ownership of the website to RCSI when my project is completed, so that they may continue to maintain the website when my involvement has ended, and also, RCSI has used Omeka before to create a website for the Emily Dickson collection, also held by the institution. The Dickson collection is a good starting point to ascertain how such digital collections can be formatted, and was one of my first references when I began this project. However, because the data for the Surgeons and Insurgents collection is very different due to its wide general narrative, different approaches must be taken in the creation of the website.