The prospects of taking on a what is essentially a “real world” project; with deadlines and expectations outside of assignments was extremely daunting. Yes, we gained some experience in the first semester with the Callan Museum exhibition but that was group work each responsible for one element. The practicum in the Irish Jesuit Archive is very different. The Jesuits have a long-respected history in Ireland and those they educate still influence the country as a whole. The subject of the practicum, Fr Willie Doyle S.J. already has an online presence, and is many things to many people; priest, missionary, chaplain and perhaps controversially martyr. As 2017 is the centenary of his death, (August 16th 1917), the practicum will concentrate on his 1917 letters in particular those relating to his chaplaincy during WWI. Fr Doyle was a prolific writer, his correspondence amounts to some fifty pages for 1917 alone! which can be dated properly from fourth of January to fourteenth of August. There are another eight separate pages describing events, but without names or dates. ‘Fr Doyle was the youngest of seven children, his letters are written to his Father, siblings and those friends he made in his religious life.’ (Irish Jesuit Archive). The letters can be pleasant or poignant, the majority in pencil, written in extreme conditions; he ran out of writing paper regularly so some written-on card then stapled together to form an envelope, others on the back of regimental order sheets. The letters show his natural sense of humour and a ‘gallows’ humour he acquires in the trenches.
This practicum really allows the intern to apply the skills that were introduced in the first semester. In this case the use of professional grade cameras and webpage design. The camera work is straight forward enough, set the parameters of the camera, shutter speed, ISO and f-stop etc. The digital capture of old letters for preservation or display has gathered pace over the last decade, particularly those written during or after historic events; Titanic sinking, WWI or 1916 Irish Rebellion. It shows a better regard for the lives and opinions of ordinary people living through the events. Starting in 2012, through the Europeana Collections 1914-1918 project, the British Library is planning to digitise and distribute free over 400,000 sources on the First World War publicly and freely available online for the first time. (europeana-collections-1914-1918). This includes letters from Indian soldiers, fighting in France translated into English. (British library). In Ireland as part of the decade of centenaries the letters of 1916 project aptly states “ordinary lives, extraordinary times” (Maynooth university). It not only allows for a glimpse into conflicting opinions of fighting in WWI under a British flag while others rebel at home; it allows the public to be involved through crowd sourced transcribing.
The use of the letters of ordinary people has had a ripple effect leading to exhibitions like the National Library of Ireland in conjunction with the British Library’s Europeana Collections 1914-1918 project ‘Portraits of the Invisible’, an exhibition of portrait photographs of Irish men and women involved in WWI. (NLI). These images would remain as digital archived material if not for specifically designed websites used to present them. There is as much if not more technology involved in the website as there is in the capture process. The majority of these online letters exhibitions are classic Digital Humanities projects, either academic or crowd sourced. Firstly, the social or military history combining research with for example genealogy, may garner further information (Fr Doyle’s relatives on his sister’s side recently spent time at the archive providing extra material regarding his life.) Secondly, web designers and computer programmers provide the skills used in an aesthetically pleasing presentation platform. Thirdly those involved in multimedia provide the necessary exposure of the project, be that a combination of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or YouTube. These exhibitions take advantage of the global switch to using visuals to rapidly convey information.