This blog post is about a project I consulted on earlier this year. It was a collaboration between St. Andrew’s Resource Centre and Trinity College Dublin. It was a public history project that transcribed the national school records for St. Andrew’s National School, an inner city primary school closed in 1970.
Phase 1 of the project was focused on the period between 1900 and 1916. The result was a searchable web database that is currently hosted here. It is envisioned that this project will continue in 2017 and beyond into the Decade of Centenaries.
This spatial humanities project is a recent example of a public history project. It was created for Dublin City Council (DCC) by Noho Ltd and was launched as part of the 1916 Rising Centenary programme of events. It was featured in a recent talk given by John Buckley to MA students as part of the module AFF624. The project is currently hosted at the following website. The first issue encountered when viewing the project was the usability of the website. The need to switch between a 2D map, 3D (where possible) and pop up text boxes creates a confusing visual experience for the viewer if they are using a 13” laptop. Three different devices were utilised for this evaluation; an iPhone 6, an iMac 5K 27” and a MacBook Pro 13”. The resolution differences between these devices raises significant questions about accessibility. The best viewing experience was achieved on the iMac which presented the information in a clear and concise interface, allowing the user to interact and explore the website with ease. The worst viewing experience was on the iPhone 6, this suggests that mobile viewing was never considered during the design stages of the project. On the MacBook Pro 23”, the resolution scaling resulted in a cluttered and crowded screen, resulting in a limited user experience. The limits the potential of this project to desktop or large screen (15”+) laptop users. The project’s navigation tool is a detailed topographical map of Dublin city. Locations of significance during the Easter Rising are highlighted in different colours; red icons indicate texts boxes and blue icons indicate that a 3D visualisation is available. Some of these visualisations are simple 3D buildings superimposed on the 2D topographical map. The locations with 3D interactive representations are; Sackville Street, St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin Castle.
The 3D representations generate within the website utilising the WebGL protocol and the process is relatively smooth, although the images are heavily compressed. This is particularly evident on a 5K resolution iMac screen.
In addition to the 3D representations, the project has a separate Oculus Rift element called the Virtual Museum. This is limited to those who use a Windows computer and have access to the relevant VR technology. This further limits access, as non-Windows users are only able to utilise a portion of the project.
The 3D representations of key buildings and areas of Dublin city are the most emphasised parts of the project. For example, when one hovers a mouse over the Dublin Castle icon, the text reads ‘Rebels attack Dublin Castle Gates’ but the 3D view shows an empty and clean representation of Dublin Castle.
This is a repeated flaw throughout this public humanities project; the inability to represent even in a minimal sense human involvement. The empty world model that is shown is photo-realistic but is removed from the historical reality that is being told. In a way this disconnect is inevitable with this type of project as 3D representations with avatars are harder to create and more expensive. It is important to reiterate that this is a public humanities project paid for with funding from a public institution. Therefore added functionality that is expensive is less likely to occur as budgets of public institutions are highly scrutinised. A quote on the project by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Críona Ní Dhálaigh, stated that this project was a form as ‘edutainment’ (TechCentral 2016), this may be the most accurate way of explaining its contradictions. The historical narrative outlined in this project is clear and doesn’t indulge in overt nationalist themes and rhetoric unlike the 1966 commemorations. The images of key persons and destroyed buildings are useful to help visualise the events of the Easter Rising. However the main element of the project, feels like playing the game ‘Myst’. Visually striking and highly detailed but without context, and providing minimal historical augmentation. Unlike the Gettysburg project which sought to engage with the discourse on the Battle of Gettysburg, this project seems to lack a centralised research question or statement. If the 3D elements of this project were supposed to show Dublin prior to the destruction caused by the Easter Rising then this would not be an issue, however the stated aims of the project are a recreation of Dublin during the Easter Rising.
Overall the project is interesting and ambitious in scope and scale. However by de-emphasising the historical record and by presenting a clean, aesthetically pleasing representation, it is unclear what research question is guiding the project. This is unfortunate as the project could be utilised to help bring a new and more interactive experience of the Easter Rising to academics and the general public. However the final product is none of these things, it has potential but it is limited. It fits within the larger issues raised by the recent 1916 commemorations where simplistic and in some cases false assertions about Ireland’s past were disseminated by public institutions.
The City and the Rising. Dublin City Council, www.cityandtherising.com
“The City and the Rising website gives fresh view of 1916.” TechCentral, www.techcentral.ie/the-city-and-the-rising-website-gives-fresh-view-of-1916/