An Exciting Trinity College Research Project: 1916 Letters

Creating History is an exciting Trinity College research project. The project, which is the first crowdsourced public humanities project in Ireland, aims to create a digital archive of letters, documents and photographs which were written around the time of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. Impressively, the project boasts over 1600 letters that reference a vast range of topics including politics, the War, business, love and everyday life. The incorporation of many topics allows a very personal insight into everyday Irish life, which differs greatly to historical depictions which often feature in historical documents, as Dr Susan Schreibman, expounds: “It is these personal stories of hardship and love, great loss and great strength, which tend to be lost in traditional historical accounts. This project is reclaiming these lives for our generation and generations to come, allowing their stories to be heard alongside those that we are more familiar with.” (Trinity College).

Significantly, the participatory and collaborative nature of the project allows the public to actively engage in a research process, while, playing an important role in the reconstruction of Irish History. Members of the public can engage with the project in a variety of ways. Any person who obtains a letter that was written from the 01st of November 1915 to the 31st of October 1916 that was written to or from someone in Ireland may contribute by uploading an image of the letter. Letters may be submitted through clicking on the following link:

Submit a letter

Furthermore, the public may contribute by transcribing letters online. Transcribing a letter is as simple as signing up and registering with the site, picking a topic you are interested in and then starting the transcription process. As I am extremely interested in the preservation of historical artefacts in digital formats, I excitedly elected to contribute to the project through the transcription of the letters.

Before, undertaking the transcription process a visit to the Transcribe Instructions page is highly recommendable as the page boasts step-by-step instructions on all aspects of the transcription process. That the instructions are offered in PDF format is extremely beneficial as the instructions are opened on a page which is separate to the website, allowing the page to be minimised when not in use, and maximised for consultation when needed.

Upon first glance at the letters, contributors may be intimated by the coding aspect of the project. However, the site boasts a user-friendly transcription toolbar that allows for mark-up features to be quickly and easily added even if one does not possess any previous knowledge on coding. For example, clicking on the “pb” button allows a user to easily mark a page break in a letter. It is also worth noting that hovering the mouse icon over a button on the toolbar will display the function of the button; an invaluable feature to a coding novice.

My Contribution:

For my contribution to the project, I elected to transcribe the four letters below:

There were somewhat challenging aspects to the transcription process. For example, a number of letters feature stamp marks, unfortunately, there is no area in the transcription instruction manual that directly deals with the inclusion of stamps. This proved surprising as having spent time reading the letters in the collection, stamps are commonly featured. In the case of the “Letter from Charles P. O’Neill to Sir Matthew Nathan, 3 April 1916″, the stamp featured directly at the top of the page and was likely stamped after the composition of the letter.

Therefore, after further consulting the transcription instruction’s page, I elected to utilise the tag as this method is used to mark additions above or below the line. Furthermore, I chose to add a User Comment tag to the code in my transcription in order to clarify that it was a stamp that featured for future readers. The most challenging aspect of transcribing the letters, however, proved to be the handwriting of the letters, in many cases I found it extremely difficult to distinguish individual letters and to make sense of words, therefore, the letters I elected to transcribe are predominantly typed letters. Nonetheless, the transcription process proved an overall enjoyable experience, creating a sense of satisfaction and pride through the contribution of the creation of digital artifacts that preserve a part of Irish history.

The Letters of 1916: Creating History is an excellent example of the power of crowdsourced participation, the project illustrates how members of the public can actively engage in research projects to successfully create digital archives for public and academic purposes. Furthermore, the project is an example of how new digital tools may be utilised to preserve and analyse dated items from the past. The recreation of historical items, such as letters, in online digital archives, is paramount for providing new insights and perspectives on past events. The Letters of 1916 is of particular importance as it focuses on a paramount time in Irish history, the six months before and after the Easter Rising, the archives undoubtedly illustrate how the ordinary public dealt with and were affected by events at this difficult time. The letters provide an invaluable view into the Irish past allowing new understandings into Irish culture and society on both a national and international level.

Photo credit: Maynooth Univerity
Author: Aisling Burke