Where Do All the Dead Videos Go?

For the module ‘History and Theory of Digital Art’, we were tasked with creating a piece of digital art, something that was inspired by the previous work we had submitted (termed as ‘dead art’)

For this assignment, I decided to create a video from all of the many, many clips I’ve recorded at concerts over the last decade or so. There are a number of reasons I decided to do this. I was inspired by:

  • the ‘digital music treasure hunt ‘our class went on, and our examinations of digital music , during which time I found myself in the position of fan and consumer, something which piqued my interest.
  • Phoenix’s position on fair use and the many fan videos made using their music. It was for this reasons that I decided to use their track ‘Lisztomania’, a track which featured in Lessig’s own lectures which prompted the legal action relating to fair use, which you can read about here (This incident also formed part of my contribution to the discussion in our ‘digital music treasure hunt’.)
  • our class discussions over lunch about this constant attempt to document and obtain, of people experiencing everything through a screen, especially at a gig and then never doing anything with them. I found I was guilty of doing this, and was prompted to take some sort of action.
  • I am a big music fan, and regularly attend concerts and gigs, in Ireland and abroad, and am regularly struck by the urge to record segments of them. However, I can’t think of a time when I have done anything with those videos. I don’t upload them to my Facebook page, or to Youtube.

In short, the aim of this ‘piece’ is practical, theoretical and creative;

  • In terms of practical – I am finding a use for these clips that have otherwise languished on an SD card (anything older than 6 months was hidden away on my old camera which was gathering dust on the shelf)
  • It is theoretical because I am trying to interrogate why we do these things, how it affects our experience of live performances, what we understand by engaging in these practices.I am attempting to question my own desire to document and obtain something, instead of being able to just enjoy an experience.
  • And finally, it is creative because, first of all, that is the aim of this module! This, for me at least, is a piece of art, inspired by the work that we have done over the last few months.Our initial assignment (for which I submitted a magazine I produced with my friend when we were about 16) brought up a lot of old memories for me, related to being young and loving music, and a number of the other pieces people brought in made me think of youth, of honesty and truth and of course, the other side to all of those things.

Brain Juice

It’s not supposed to be polished, because these videos are not polished, they sum up the experience that I had at the time, they remind me of those moments I wanted to capture. The piece, entitled ‘Where Do All the Dead Videos Go’ represents some of these moments that I have experienced, and hopefully demonstrates what it was that I was trying to capture. 

 

Apologies, Readers!

Apologies for my recent absence and lack of posts. 

Joining the world of work and the rat race has kept me away from my academic endeavours. 

However, you can look forward to some new posts over the coming months, as I make my way towards the end of this MA! 

                                       

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The end is in sight…almost!

Cinema in the Digital Age: Challenges and Alternatives – FX6012 Seminar in Film Studies

The following blog sets out to examine the contemporary circumstances which define cinema since the conversion to digital, examining the issues surrounding this, predominantly from the perspective of those exhibiting films.

Digital cinema has brought about a number of changes in the world of distribution and exhibition. Simultaneously, changes have been occurring in the ways in which audiences consume media, and this has inevitably had a knock-on effect on the cinema industry. Digital projection and distribution has brought about some new methods which are resulting in growth areas for cinemas. A number of these methods will be examined in order to determine how beneficial they are for the cinemas employing them.

In particular, the concept of alternative content will be examined. As a growing area with the potential to succeed at the multiplex and the independently-owned cinema, alternative content is a key area in the field of digital cinema and emerging trends.

The issue of independent cinemas will also be a focus of this essay, as it is one area which has often been overlooked in the race to define the digital changeover as something overwhelmingly positive for cinemas. The issues and problem areas still facing independent cinemas in this digital era will be interrogated and there will be a particular focus on Irish examples, as I set to examine how Irish independents have dealt with, and continue to deal with the digital changeover.

Digital Changeover 

For many, the move to digital heralded a new era of cinema, with many believing that a higher standard of cinema projection would be possible. A report form the Cultural Cinema Consortium, published in 2008, demonstrates this view, suggesting that the changeover would provide cinemas with; “projection systems which can be used to screen new release and specialised films to public audiences at a standard comparable to or better than that achievable with conventional 35mm film”. (Inglis, 6) This also highlights the view that the move digital represented something positive for the cinema industry.

The discussion surrounding digital had also centered around the idea that the change-over has become something of an inevitability, even for those who prefer projecting film prints; “With 2011 the first year more scripted feature films were shot on digital rather than celluloid, even exhibitors intent on screening films in their original format had to face facts: screening in the original format increasingly means screening digital”. (Dombrowski, 235). The predominance of digital in recent years has meant that this is undoubtedly the case; “…even those who prefer film to digital understand that, by 2015, their work, though shot on film, will be distributed in digital copies” (Belton, 131). Belton’s predictions appear to be on track. Last December, Paramount became the first of the major studios to state that they would distributing entirely in digital format from 2014. (Verrier, n.p)

It would appear that cinemas are equally as committed to the prospect of all-digital distribution. Around 84.1% of the world’s cinemas are now digitised, according to international research and analysis company IHS (Gubbins, n.p) while 95% of Irish cinemas are now digitised. (Carlton Screen Advertising, n.p).

Fragmentation of Audiences 

While the world of cinema has been getting to grips with the move to digital, a number of changes have been taking place regarding the ways in which audiences consume media, and some of these have threatened cinema attendances. In ‘What is Cinema in a Digital Age?’ Peter Kiwitt suggests that ‘cinema remains a linear rather than interactive mode of expression for the audience’ (Kiwitt, 5). It could be suggested that for audiences, other forms of media challenge this linear experience, and this has resulted in the fragmentation of cinema audiences. The rise of video on-demand platforms has undoubtedly caused a move away from cinema for some audience members.

Findings from a Europa Cinemas Conference, courtesy of Sampo Media, show that “access on many devices to vast stores of film and media content, and the greatly increased competition for leisure time, has created an age divide in media expectation. (Europa Cinema: Renewing Audiences, n.p.) The Europa Cinemas conference highlights the challenges facing cinemas in attracting younger audience members, when there are so many other options available to them; “Older audiences remained loyal to cinema as the place to watch a film but younger Digital Natives were more agnostic, seeing it as a desirable place to see some kinds of film.”(Europa Cinema: Renewing Audiences, n.p.) Melissa Keeping further examines how this trend may be effecting cinema owners; the growth of Netflix and various streaming options, along with the explosion of online channels, is fragmenting audiences from all age demographics like never before, and making the job of an alternative-content distributor and exhibitor harder all the time” (Keeping, n.p)

Findings from the Irish Digital Consumer Report show this to be the case with Irish audiences, using figures compiled in 2013. “In the age of mobile devices and high speed broadbrand, video on demand platforms are growing to be the preferred way we consume television in Ireland. Video on demand in Ireland is growing quite significantly with a growth of 35% in the past 18 months, especially within the 16-34 year old age group.” Netflix was made available to Irish consumers in 2012, and since then has grown to over 150, 000 subscribers. (O’Leary, 14). With cinema owners facing such challenges, the move to digital could provide them with the opportunity to adopt new models which would draw younger audiences back to the cinema.

Benefits of Digital Cinema

Lisa Dombrowski highlights these, suggesting: “The other primary appeals of digital exhibition for art houses are in how it can increase programming flexibility, both in terms of content and scheduling, as well as operational efficiency” and expands on this, saying: ‘…a theatre can more easily hold on to a film for several weeks and build an audience, or roll it out in any number of release patterns”. She then goes on to state “For “calendar houses” that typically book weeks or even months ahead, this flexibility can help operators nimbly take advantage of unanticipated crowd-pleasers” (Dombrowski, 238).

An Irish example of this can be seen in the Irish Film Institute‘s decision to make changes to their programme. Previously, their programme was scheduled on a monthly basis, but in 2013, they made the decision to adapt it to a weekly schedule, in order to allow for films which were surprisingly popular to screen for as long as there was demand for it. This allows them to pull films which are perhaps not as popular, while allowing others for which there is higher demand than their previous limited run allowed for. “To add a greater degree of flexibility to its outstanding cinema programme, the IFI will be announcing the screening times of its new releases and IFI Classics re-releases on a weekly basis from now on” (Irish Film Institute – IFI to be announced weekly, n.p) This appeals to audiences, who can now have more control over programming in their local cinema, and enjoy more opportunities to see the films they wish to.

Digital projection also facilitates another change which is key to ensuring a flexible programme for cinemas; that of screensharing. Brunel and Mesiano describe how this process works, and benefits cinemas; “ by using a digital projector it is far simpler to screen more than one title – or even alternative content – on the same screen during the day, so as to adapt to the demands of different segments of the public, for example by screening an animated film in the afternoon, without necessarily having to keep it on the evening programme.” (Brunel and Mesiano, n.p.)

Alternative Content

This flexibility has also led to a diversification in the type of content cinemas are screening. Event cinema, or alternative content has become a strong growth area within the cinema industry, in particular in recent months, and can be seen as a direct result of the conversion to digital; “Now that almost all cinemas have replaced their traditional tools of 35mm film and mechanical projectors with digital technology, the possibilities for their content has become endless’ (Cookson, n.p)

This concept of alternative concept first entered cinemas in 2006, when the Metropolitan Opera began screening its shows live in movie theatres. (Heyer, 591) It has since been adopted to include live theatre, music and sports shows. In a report commissioned as part of the Cultural Cinema Consortium in 2008, alternative content was already being anticipated as one of the benefits of the conversion to digital projection for Irish cinemas; “Digital projection and ancillary equipment opens up the possibility of screening a diverse range of alternative content, including cultural, sporting and business events” (Inglis, 7) While the Met have been using this method to great success, in particular in North American territories, since 2006, there have been a number of more recent one-off events which have brought attention to the area of alternative content in Europe. In October 2013, screenings of BBC’s Dr Who caused many people within the industry to look again at the idea of alternative content and event cinema. Screened live in cinemas on a Saturday evening (while simultaneously being shown on BBC for free), ‘The Day of the Doctor‘ generated £1.8m from cinema screenings at the British box office, making it “the most successful piece of alternative content ever seen in UK and European cinema’, breaking the box office records for alternative content. (Barroclough, n.p) The Financial Times highlighted the financial implications for the success of an event such as this one; “typical ticket price for Dr Who in cinemas was £12 – almost double the average UK cinema ticket price” (Cookson, n.p). The success of Dr Who demonstrates the growth of this area, one which is predicted to become $1 billion industry worldwide (Szalai, n.p). Alternative content accounted for $112m of global box office revenues in 2010, which was a 51% increase on the previous year’s takings. (“Alternative Content at Cinemas, n.p) In the UK, Rentrak estimated that takings for alternative content reached £20m in 2013. (“Dr. Who Breaks Box Office Records, n.p.) It has also been suggested that another reason for its continued success and development within cinema is that is has been bringing people back to the cinema who haven’t been in years” (qtd in “Alternative content at cinemas..”, n.p.)

In Ireland, this model has been taken on by cinemas such as the Irish Film Institute and the Light House Cinema. In particular the Light House Cinema in Dublin has embraced the various forms of alternative content, screening live opera, theatre, music from the Berlin Philharmonic, among a variety a cult and classic film screenings and the option to project in 2D and 3D. The cinema re-opened under new management in 2012 – Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe of Irish production company Element Pictures – and has since diversified again to include Volta, a video on- demand service which specialises in independent film, and includes many of the films which have previously screened at the Light House. Describing their approach to programming, their website states;

In addition to our core specialist programming, we show films that might be considered more ‘commercial art house’ and films that crossover into mainstream cinema when we believe that the film or its talent (writer, director, cast) are of particular interest to our audience. The films we select serve to challenge our audience and encourage engagement with current aesthetic, political, social and cultural issues and trends.” (“Our Programme”, n.p.)

The Light House, as a cinema with only 4 screens, demonstrates how diverse a programme digital projection facilitates, and acts as an example of the ways in which smaller cinemas specialising in independent films can find new ways to attract audiences.

Despite the continued successes for some, there are still some question as to the affordability of this model, and if it is one that can be adopted fully by independent cinemas. There is also the question of how much money is being made by those screening the alternative content, when the party doing so is operating on a smaller scale. There are a number of drawbacks for independent cinemas engaging with alternative content, especially those which are one-off events, similar to ‘The Day of the Doctor’. Melissa Keeping highlights the danger for independent cinemas, saying “One-off events are costly and unpredictable” (Keeping, n.p) while a representative from Cinemalive, a company producing alternative content for cinema, states “A lot of our events are ‘one night only’ yet our costs are the same as sending a feature that will screen for several weeks” (qtd in Dager, n.p). These insights demonstrate the barriers to entry for smaller cinemas who cannot compete with the large multiplexes employing these methods on a much larger scale.

While there are undoubtedly many benefits for cinemas once the conversion takes place, for many of the smaller cinemas, the mere cost of entering into this process is still causing problems. A recent article in the New York times highlighted the issues still plaguing some independent cinemas;

‘Those suffering most from the conversion are independently owned and art-house theatres, which aren’t able to take advantage of the subsidies offered by distributors and don’t qualify for government funding… plenty of small theatres haven’t been able to make the transition; as the industry idiom goes, they’ll soon “go digital or go dark.’

Some independent cinemas struggling to cover the costs of converting were able to do so via funding from platforms such as Kickstarter while others had to close their doors. (Dylan-Robbins, n.p) Without digital projectors going into the future, many of these cinemas will be unable to screen the latest releases, and as such, cannot survive.

Conclusions

As we reach a stage where the production of film prints begins to cease, and the future appears to be predominantly digital for cinemas, the outstanding issues facing smaller independent and art-house cinemas cannot be ignored.

While the growth of alternative content could potentially account of millions in revenue, the benefits of this can not yet be enjoyed by all cinemas. It has also been suggested that perhaps in the rush to fill cinemas with this new alternative content, it will be independent cinema that will lose its place. (Gubbins, n.p) It remains to be seen if this will be the case, or if independent cinemas such as the Light House cinema can find a way to screen independent features alongside popular alternative content.

It is important to highlight the problems facing independent cinemas with regard to the ways in which the cinema industry is changing. While the conversion has meant the loss of some of these cinemas, the change-over and the various issues arising out of it has encouraged discussion surrounding the ways in which these issues can be solved. Lisa Dombrowski highlights the benefits to come out of such issues, saying “the financial challenges inherent to conversion have led to a much wider range of options regarding how digital copies of films will be distributed and exhibited.” (Dombrowski, 235) For Dombrowski, these issues have largely been overcome by the development of more affordable technology, which allows the smaller independent and art house cinemas to engage with the benefits of digital projection.

While concerns about the expense, quality, lifespan, and maintenance costs of digital projection systems have initially given art house exhibitors pause, the arrival of lower-cost alternatives to d-cinema, including affordable HD projection systems, Blu-ray, and the option to use digital cinema servers from content aggregators, have encouraged some speciality exhibitors to consider some form of digital as a viable projection option (Dombrowski, 236)

The most recent findings from Sampomedia suggest that in order for all sectors of the cinema industry to benefit from the improvements brought about by the digital conversion, more discussion needs to take place within the industry. “Flexibility of screening times, new forms of marketing and, most of all, great content might just open up a new world of opportunity. That is a discussion in which producers, rights holders and exhibitors ought to be engaged now.” (Gubbins, n.p)

David Hancock of international research and analysis company IHS (quoted in Gubbins,n.p) also sees some potential for sustained change and improvement within the industry. Hancock suggests that what we were are currently experiencing is the end of the beginning of digital. He goes on to suggest the following three keys for sustainability, going in to the future; 1.) lower cost equipment, 2.) new revenues (including event cinema) and 3.) new models. He also states that “cinemas are only one part of the equation, if Digital Cinema is going to be the engine of a dynamic, diverse and sustainable future for film”, again highlighting the need for discussion and action from all areas of the cinema industry (qtd in Gubbins, n.p).

Despite the issues still facing cinemas, there is good news in the fact that audiences are being attracted to alternative content and more flexible programming schedules. Even with the myriad ways audience can experience media today, for many there is still something attractive about the experience of the cinema. Melissa Keeping highlights this point, stating “the value of being in a cinema with other like-minded people is the cinema’s unique selling proposition” (Keeping, n.p). If recent discussions are to be believed, the financial constraints surrounding digital conversion will be alleviated for smaller cinemas, which will ensure that they too can enjoy the benefits provided by digital. As areas such as alternative content continue to grow, and cinemas enjoy the freedoms afforded by more flexible programming, the hope is that these benefits can be employed by independently-owned cinemas and art-house cinemas who might previously have been excluded. 

Works Cited

Barraclough, Leo. “Doctor Who Earns $2.91 million at UK Box Office”.Variety. 8 Jan 2014. Web. 9 Jan 2014.

Belton, John. “Introduction: Digital Cinema.”Film History: An International Journal 24.2 (2012): 131-134.Project MUSE. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.

Brunell, Elisabetta and Francesca Mesiano. “How Digital is Changing Programming in Cinemas”. Cineuropa.  11 July 2013. Web. 6 Jan 2014.

Burke, Elaine. “Netflix Celebrates One Year in Ireland, Gets Set For a More Original 2013”.Silicon Republic.1 October 2013. Web 8 January 2014.

Cookson, Robert. “Alternative content at cinemas draws in the masses”. Financial Times. 14 June 2013. Web. 4 Jan 2014.

—, “Dr. Who Breaks Box Office Record”. Financial Times. 25 November 2013. Web. 4 Jan 2014.

Dager, Nick. “The State of Event Cinema”. Digital Cinema Report. 3 September 2013. Web 4 Jan 2014.

“Digital Screens”. Carlton Screen Advertising. n.d. Web. 6 Jan 2014.

Dombrowski, Lisa.  “Not If, But When and How: Digital Comes to the American Art House.” Film History: An International Journal 24.2 (2012): 235-248.Project MUSE. Web. 30 Jan.

Dylan-Robbins, Sky. “Video: A Crossroads for Independent Cinema.” The New Yorker Blogs 9 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

“Europa Cinemas: Renewing Audiences”. SAMPOMEDIA. 25 November 2013. Web 4 Jan 2014.

Gubbins, Michael. “D-Cinema beyond the Transition.” SAMPOMEDIA. 13 January 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.

Heyer, Paul. “Live from the Met: Digital Broadcast Cinema, Medium Theory, and Opera for the Masses.”Canadian Journal of Communication. 33.4 (2008): 591-604. Print.

Inglis, J. Ron. “Digital Cinema in Ireland: A Review of Current Possibilities”. Cultural Cinema Consortium. April 2008. 1-44. Arts Council. Web. 30 Jan 2014.

“Irish Film Institute -IFI Schedule to Be Announced Weekly.” Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

Keeping, Melissa. “State of the Alternative: New Forms of Programming Earn Foothold in Today’s Cinemas”. Film Journal International. 27 March 2012. Web. 6 Jan 2014

Kiwitt, Peter. “What Is Cinema in a Digital Age?: Divergent Definitions from a Production Perspective.”Journal of Film and Video.64.4 (2012): 3-22. Project MUSE. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

O’Leary, Shane. “Media Consumption Insights” The Irish Digital Consumer Report 2013. Web. 10 Jan 2014.

“Our Programme” Light House Cinema. n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2014.

“ROI Box Office 2013”. Cinema Data: Box Office. Carlton Screen Advertising. Web. 6 Jan 2014.

Szalai, George. “Cinedigm CEO: Alternative Content in Movie Theaters Could Be A $1 Billion Business” The Hollywood Reporter. 15 March 2012. Web 6 Jan 2014.

Verrier, Richard. “End of Film: Paramount First Studio to Stop Distributing Film Prints.” Los Angeles Times 17 Jan. 2014. LA Times. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

Engaging with Digital Projects Part 3: Cork Folklore Project & Omeka

In the concluding blog post on engaging with Digital Projects, I hope to examine the area of digital tools and the ways in which organisations engage with them, focusing on the Cork Folklore Project and their use of Omeka.

In November of last year, I met with the staff of the Cork Folklore Project, home to projects such as the Cork Memory map in order to learn more about how they operate and to ask about using Omeka as a database.

I am interested in how we can engage or re-engage with history through the use of digital tools, and find new ways to bring digital histories into the public domain.

In the case of the Cork Folklore Project, the material is primarily oral histories, that are at risk of being lost of forgotten. The work of the Cork Folklore Project in preserving it through their Memory Map ensure its conservation and allows the local community to engage with stories and local histories that may previously have been forgotten or omitted.

The Cork Folklore Project are involved in collecting oral histories from the area, recording them, archiving them and publishing them on their website where they are made available to the public.

Their website provides more information about the work they do and the process of recording interviews;

The heart of our work involves the documentation of everyday life in the past and present.

Our main activities focus on recorded audio interviews: we sit down with individuals (and, more rarely, groups) and explore their memories and stories in a recorded conversation.

These interviews can last from 45 minutes to two hours or longer, and might look at memories of what life was like in childhood neighbourhoods, particular experiences (working in the Sunbeam textile factory, being a cooper or an Echo boy), and stories about characters and landmarks in the city in the past and present.

We tend to follow the interviewee’s interests and thoughts so that topics important to them don’t get left out. 

These interviews serve as windows into the ordinary and extraordinary lives of individuals, and taken together they give a vivid picture of life in the city down through the years.

Each interview is preserved in audio format, and is transcribed word-for-word.

This material is then preserved in our archive along with our interviewers’ field notes, interview logs, and any photos that might have been taken on the day or suggested and scanned from the interviewee’s own collection.

The staff at the Cork Folklore Project use Omeka as the main platform for organising the material that they have collected.

It would be my hope that I would be able to develop something on a smaller scale myself as part of Masters thesis, so it was important to talk to people who are using this type of software in their work every day.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Omeka seemed to be a very usable piece of software. Having had some experience in the past with databases and library management systems, Omeka does seem to be one which could optimally be used by those engaging with their own personal projects, which still being feasible for those engaging with archival projects on a large scale.

It’s a free, open source software, making it ideal for students like myself to use;

“Omeka provides cultural institutions and individuals with easy-to-use software for publishing collections and creating attractive, standards-based , interoperable online exhibits. Free and open-source, Omeka is designed to satisfy the needs of institutions that lack technical staffs and large budgets”,

while Tom Scheinfeldt suggests

“If you are a librarian, archivist, museum professional, or scholar who wants a free, open, relatively simple platform for building a compelling, online exhibition, there really isn’t any alternative”.

It is this aspect of Omeka which I find most appealing, and which I’m sure is why it is appealing to organisations that use it, such as the Cork Folkore Project.

A big thank you to all the staff at the Cork Folklore Project for allowing me to visit, especially Annemarie McIntyre and Stephen Dee.

Works Cited

Kucsma, Jason et al. ‘Using Omeka to Build Digital Collections: The METRO Case Study’. Digitization in the Real World: Lessons Learned From Small and Medium Sized Digitization Projects. http://www.metro.org, 2010. Web. 5 December 2013.

Scheinfeldt, Tom. “Omeka and Its Peers.” Found History. 1 Sept. 2010. Web. 8 December 2013.

 

 

Engaging with Digital Projects Part 2: Century Ireland

Century Ireland

Having previously examined the rise of digital archives, my interest turned to the types of projects that have been launched in recent times which make use of such facilities, and in turn may provide the template for the type of projects digital humanities newbies could hope to take on in the future.

Century Ireland is one of the best examples available at the moment, taking the form of an online newspaper which publishes news stories from 100 years ago, simultaneously reminding us of the events being highlighted by the decade of commemorations and providing new insights into life at the time of these historic events.

It makes use of digitized materials and provides digital humanists with an example of the types of projects and ideas that can come to fruition.

From the perspective of those of us undertaking the MA in Digital Arts and Humanities, it works as an interesting example of a project which uses previously digitized or catalogued materials and finds a new and interesting use for them.

Matt Stapleton, a researcher with Century Ireland, very kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about the project.

Q. What were the main aims/goals when starting Century Ireland?

A. The aim of the Century Ireland project was to be the main online portal for the Irish decade of commemorations, 1912-23. We are an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago. We publish on a fortnightly basis. News reporting on life in Ireland 100 years ago is supported by a wealth of visual, archival and contextual material to facilitate an understanding of the complexities of Irish life in the years between 1912-1923.

Q.Where is the material sourced from?

A. The material that we use on our site is sourced from our educational and cultural partners, ( such as the National Library of Ireland, National Archives of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland) as well as sources that are freely available online, such as the United States Library of Congress, the National Portrait Gallery and various other archives.

Q. Do you digitise the material, or come to it at a later stage?

A. We do not digitise any material. We are a publisher, not an archive. Our material is sourced from our partners who already have material scanned or scan the relevant material for us.

Q. How do you select the material that makes it into each issue?

 A. Material is chosen for an issue based on its relevance to the stories in that issue. The articles that make it in to each issue come from various newspaper sources. Once we know what articles are in an issue we supplement them with relevant images, documents or contextual pieces. Each edition is planned around a year in advance to give us enough time to gather information on our articles.

Q. What digital tools do you use to organise your material?

 A. Currently, the main tool we use to organise our material is Google Drive. This gives everyone in the project easy access to all material and we can collaborate quickly. It makes uploading material to our Content Management System (CMS) a swift process.

Q. How do you use social media? What social media platforms do you find work best for a project like this?

 A. Social media is a massive part of Century Ireland. Twitter and Facebook are our points of contact for the users of our site. Apart from the main stories on our site, we publish two blog posts each day to Twitter. It’s a great way for our followers to get a glimpse of the type of stories we are publishing. We are an online newspaper and Twitter would be the social media platform that we have the most interaction.

In presenting the news again to a new audience, and framing it within the context of the decade of commemorations, Century Ireland allows for us to re-investigate our history, and perhaps to generate new understandings of our past.

At a community level, engagement with such digital tools and social media platforms encourages a new audience to become more involved with their own histories. This project demonstrates the usefulness of digitization projects, of how we can utilise the documents and materials which have been preserved and maintained.

Some the material used had previously been made available to the public, but it is through this selection process, through the design and the manner in which the information is disseminated that allows for the creation of new historical narratives, or perhaps reminds us of the old ones.

I thought it was interesting to note that the main tool being used by those working on this website is one that we all have at our disposal, and one that, personally, I have taken for granted in the past. In terms of collaborative work, the usefulness of Google Drive cannot be underestimated.

Matt’s responses also demonstrate the work and dedication that goes into a project like this. When considering undertaking a digital project for our own dissertation, we have been examining areas surrounding the scope of the project, and thinking about what we can achieve in the time frame we have. It’s interesting to note that in order for the material to be readily available and shared on social media, the work needs to be completed a year in advance. 

The work of Century Ireland highlights the ways in which digital tools and social media can be used to encourage the general public to re-engage with our most well-known histories, and to perhaps learn more about them at this most fitting time, occurring within the decade of commemorations.

Engaging with Digital Projects Part 1: Introduction

For many of us, the focus of the coming months will be our dissertations and our own attempts at creating a useful project with a strong digital element.

With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to speak to the people who are working on such projects on a daily basis, to understand a bit more about the sort of work that takes place. This will take place over a series of blog posts.

Firstly though, I’d like to examine some of the issues and questions that have arisen out of my research so far. When I first began attempting to confine my research areas for this MA programme, I came across the wonderful Digital Panopticon site that seemed to me to be a perfect example of the type of project I would be interested in replicating, at least in some small way.Their approach included the creation of a series of research questions, one of which piqued my interest and seemed to sum up exactly the type of questions I wanted to be asking:

“How can new digital methodologies enhance understandings of existing electronic datasets and the construction of knowledge?”

For me, this research question highlights the capabilities of new digital projects in the area of archives and history and culture, as well as combining the possibilities for the analysis of the materials and the creation of new and wider understandings of these areas.

Before getting started on my own project,  I wanted to examine the types of issues that arise when undertaking projects like these. Based on my limited experience working in archives and with archive materials, the following are what I would see as some of the main issues regarding taking on a project of this type, in a general sense. Obviously, this would change from project to project, but I would see these as the types of issues which a student might face in undertaking this type of work for the first time.

* Sourcing the material – Where can you source material for a project of this nature? Have you links to an organisation or institution?

* Capturing the material – In the case of oral histories, how best can you record or capture the material.

* Rights/agreements/usage – This is always an issue when it comes to archiving; you must gain permission for the use and storage of the material.

* Preservation – How are they materials going to be adequately stored and maintained. If they are to be used at a later stage, how can you guarantee they will not be damaged in the process.

* Digitization – not necessarily an issue when the material has been recorded initially using a digital device but in terms of manuscripts etc. What are the best methods of digitally capturing the material so that it can be used further/create new uses without compromising the integrity of the original

* Tagging, metadata – making sure the digital artefact is entirely searchable and useful

* Creating useful records for database storage – What tools are best to use for your project

* Exhibition – What is the best platform

* Longevity – How do you measure the lifespan of your project and how to ensure this occurs.

For many of us, some of these won’t be relevant to our particular projects, we’ll be coming on board at a much later stage but it’s important to still be aware of the types of issues that arise out of such projects. In the future, I hope to be able to blog about how I have dealt with these issues in regard to my own work.

From Passive to Active: Digital Archives

As part of our module Conceptual Introduction to Digital Arts and Humanities, I have taken the opportunity to expand on my interest in archiving. This module has allowed me to approach archiving from a digital perspective, with a view to eventually creating a digital tool which successfully combines my interest in archiving with an academic background in culture, history and the creation and understanding of knowledge.

I am also interested in examining various projects which use materials sourced from digital archives in the creation of new and interesting digital histories and local history projects.

However, beyond that, I see my own area of interest as being that which allows for the integration of theoretical frameworks with the practical use of such archiving projects. While it is important for me to learn how to engage with and use these tools, I’d like to also engage with the issues which stem from the materials being digitized, accessed and placed in the public domain. What types of information are we now able to engage with? How does it challenge our perceived notions of identity, national identity, constructed narratives of our very own history? Does it give voice to those previously marginalised?

As a starting point, before getting into the nuts of bolts of how I might go about this, I examined the development of the archive into the digital world. In my own experience working with archives, I have experienced little of the potential benefits afforded by using digital tools. This is an area that continues to be developed, and for many institutions, the application of digital elements is still a way off.

Changing Nature of Archives

When discussing the developments in the digital era, Cox et al make the following statement: “At last, archives have a real opportunity to abandon the role of gatekeeper and invite user participation, interaction and knowledge-sharing.” It is these sort of changes which I would like to examine in more detail.

WikiXDC_National_Archives_Tour_Hall (427x640)

This image typifies the idea that most people have of your average archive building. If this is familiar to you, chances are you’ve either worked in an archiveor you’ve visited one, perhaps with your college or an organisation.This is a key point of difference in terms of the move towards digital archives. Previously, the relationships between the users of and visitors to archives is based on a hierarchy, one that excludes the average user from ever seeing inside those boxes.

And while there is good – even great reason for this (our history of preservation has been a cause for concern) the changes being brought about by digitisation are a cause for celebration

Digital archives allow us to not only get inside those boxes but to engage with the content within them, use it, re-use it, remix, create new understandings, new uses which were never possible before. As I see it, the move towards digitization and digital archiving has caused an enormous shift in how archives are used. James P. Purdy makes a similar point in “Three Gifts of Digital Archives”, stating

“Our pedagogy, scholarship, and disciplinary identity are inextricably bound up in the digital archives we use today and design for the future”

  Democratizing Function

Since beginning my studies in Digital Arts and Humanities, we have discussed many times what could be described as the democratizing function of the digital humanities. For me, this is key to this area of study but also to digital archives. Through engagement with these tools, which in turn allows for – in many cases – a closer engagement with the archived materials for the average user, a change has taken place. The materials are open and available to all. In many cases, members of the public are being encouraged to engage closely with the materials, to transcribe or assist in identifying people in photographs.

This is a far cry from the type of archive photographed above, closed off and preserved and rarely being used. This has begun to occur in archiving with the move towards digitization and the myriad ways in which the public are being encouraged to take part in these projects

In ‘Three Gift of Digital Archiving’, James Purdy also raises these points, saying “In digital spaces, people can become both users and producers of archives”, and suggesting that “they ask us to rethink what constitutes scholarly production as they blur the lines between academic and non-academic texts”

Case Study: History Pin

HistoryPin (267x189)

 History Pin is a great example of the type of digital projects which share many of the elements relating to archiving but fully embrace the digital aspects which allow for community engagement, and also contribute to knowledge and challenge dominant historical narratives

The organisation describes themselves as;

“…a way for millions of people to come together, from across different generations, cultures and places, to share small glimpses of the past and to build up the huge story of human history. Everyone has history to share: whether it’s sitting in yellowed albums in the attic, collected in piles of crackly tapes, conserved in the 1000s of archives all over the world or passed down in memories and old stories.  Each of these pieces of history finds a home on Historypin, where everyone has the chance to see it, add to it, learn from it, debate it and use it to build up a more complete understanding of the world. Knowledge has been passed on and hidden histories have been discovered, shared and preserved for generations to come”

 Historypin is a great example of the form a contemporary digital archive can take, and which effectively utilises the collaborative techniques to generate new historical narratives, contribute to knowledge and engage with the community.

Conclusions

While I have focused on the positive elements of the developments in digital archiving, there are still a number of challenges facing its continued development and its uses in academia, in particular.

.For many, the point still stands that a hierarchy remains. However, now it is the material which is kept locked away which is deemed most important, while that which is digitized, engaged with and in the public domain which is seen as perhaps less important or of a lower standard. This view obviously poses a challenge for students and researchers using the material in their work, but also for those working in the field of digital archiving and working towards creating useful and important digital archival tools. These presumptions are ones which must be challenged, in order for the important work being done to be recognised. James Purdy suggests; “To exploit the possibilities of such technologies, we need to resist the work-play and scholarly-non-scholarly binaries that structure much of our research instruction and methodology”

We also need to consider digital archive technologies themselves, something which I hope to do in more detail with my collaborative work – engaging with those within the course who seeks to achieve similar goals, and also practitioners who are actively using such tools for such purposes on a daily basis – in order to demonstrate the goals being achieved and the tools and resources made possible by engagement with digital tools.

In a series of blog posts, I hope to examine the tools available and the types of organisations that are engaging with them.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Natasha. “Historypin: Bringing Generations Together Around a Communal History of Time and Place”. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships. 10:3 (2012): 294-298. EBSCOhost. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

Purdy, James. “Three Gifts of Digital Archives”. Journal of Literacy and Technology. 12:3 (2011): 24-48. Journal of Literacy and Technology. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.