Screencap taken from Mapbox.

The challenges of culture mapping Dublin as it was in 1916 (Aff611a)

This blog post shall serve as an introduction to the practicum that I’ve undertaken with the Media and Geocomputation departments of Maynooth university; Culture Mapping Dublin city as it was in 1916 – a rather tumultuous year for the city.

Historically mapping an urban center would seem to be a popular project in the digital humanities as projects such as Museum of London ‘Street Museum’ Project, Street Museum NL, Then & Now by rightmove and others will attest to. This popularity may be attested to the power of mobile technology to “transport” their user to the past with the aid of augmented reality. Furthermore, mapping projects such as Bomb Sight and NUKEMAP act as keen learning aids through their implementation of readable visualisations. The majority of these projects share the Google earth platform (or one very similar in design), possibly to provide the user with ease of access or possibly due to the scale and scope of the maps provided by the platform (the ability to move from satellite to street view for example).

It was necessary to analyse these projects prior to approaching this mapping project; what were their successes, what did we consider to be lacking and how might our own project counteract such shortcomings. Taking these factors into account I sat down with my colleagues on the project and began to plan out what exactly entailed ‘Culture Mapping.’ This was the easy stage; cultural establishments such as theaters and cinemas were established next to hotels, tobacconists and other businesses that dotted the Georgian cityscape. Therein lay the first hurdle, do we be selective and only represent the largest and most successful commercial chains like Clerys and Arnotts? Or do we only include those properties that we have photographs for? At the time of writing we have decided to gather as large a collection of images as possible and to map all that we have information about; we can afford to be selective once we establish an impressive library of images.

From this point onward it was established that in order to appeal to a larger audience it was necessary to address the impact of the First World War upon Dublin city. This effect is twofold – Irish troops departed from Dublin for service in France and further afield (Dublin was a garrison city) and the city itself erupted into conflict during the Easter week of 1916. While some individuals may divorce the Easter Rising from the First World War, the dictum of ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ (BBC, online) raises no doubts that the two events are intrinsically linked. As the conflict in the streets subsided many photographers (particularly the Keogh brothers and the Independent) flocked to the ruined streetscape and provided us with a wealth of material generously digitised by the National Library. Thus the Easter Rising provides us with a bounty of material yet it also raises more questions. Do we wish to provide a temporal time map where we animate the gradual shift in battle lines and barricades near Mount Street Bridge? Furthermore, the digitised Tara Street Fire Brigade logs(courtesy of Dublin City Council) allow us to map the routes and locations that the Dublin Fire Brigade were called out to during the week. So do we visualise these temporal shifts on the map? Again, these are questions that will need to be addressed further in the development (and possibly in a later blog post).

With a central theme decided, we began to delve into collections to find photographs of these premises and of the Rising itself wherein the team was confronted with another issue. Many of the older premises, the cinemas in particular, were photographed outside of the time frame that this project is focused upon. Should the eventual outcome of the project be an augmented reality application for smart phone or tablet, the issue of immersion and the role that these photographs play in creating such an immersive environment for the user will be a critical one. Again, as mentioned numerous times above, we have decided to focus on more pressing concerns for the immediate future as dissemination is a year away at the very least.

As is to be expected, photographs of the era are limited. Those that exist in collections largely concern the Easter Rising and the immediate aftermath and as a result we turned to crowdsourcing for discovering further material. The image hosting site Pinterest has yielded the most results, especially the ‘Old Dublin Cinema’ board, but it is necessary to credit the hard work done by local historical groups such as Photos of Dublin and Old Dublin Town on Twitter. From their collections we were able to build upon our own library and begin to plot those collected images on a prototype map.

For this stage the team adapted the third party mapping software 7Scenes, a tourism application for smartphones, to help visualise what the eventual deliverable will look like. The eventual outcome is to import the work done with 7Scenes onto a historical Ordnance Survey Map of Dublin (the 1911 OS Map providing the most accuracy to our time period). Much more work needs to be done before we can even consider broaching this topic yet we remain on course. The project has, at time of writing, moved to a new platform entitled Mapbox. The move was enabled due to Mapbox’s inbuilt GPS system, html plugins and colour coding for map points – a small but necessary feature when placing so much data onto a map. The header image of this article represents the current status of the project as it exists on Mapbox.

7scenes.jpg

(The above image is a screenshot of the Project in 7Scenes. Hovering the cursor over a node on the map will reveal a photograph and historical context to the image)

The difficulties described above are those that the team encountered while working with the project over the course of two months and how we adapted and countered them. The challenges encountered mapping Dublin are unique to this project (and others concerned with this exact place and time period); the loss of records from the Irish Civil War and the lack of photographic material that reveals the cultural details of this European capital requires us as historians to ‘fill in the gaps’ by making educated judgments on locations and other issues with the help of historical sources such as Thom’s Directory (available in the National Library).

Aside from these challenges the project is progressing rapidly – the next blog post shall shine light on more of our methodology. However it must be stated that dealing with these challenges is one of the more enjoyable aspects of this project, discovering workarounds and adapting to the situation is a tremendous working experience. To quickly conclude, work is progressing well despite set backs – watch this space for future updates.

Further Reading:

BBC. ‘Wars and Conflict: 1916 Easter Rising.’ BBC (2014) Web. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/insurrection/in06.shtml
Accessed on 19/03/15

Dublin City Council. ‘1916 Rising Dublin Fire Brigade log book goes on display.’ Dublin City Council (2014) Web. Available at http://www.dublincity.ie/1916-rising-dublin-fire-brigade-log-book-goes-display
Accessed on 19/03/15

Floatingsheep (2015) Web. Available at http://www.floatingsheep.org/p/about-us.html
Accessed on 19/03/15

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