Hannah Smyth
Digital archives
and articulating identity

The current ‘Decade of Centenaries’ (2012-2023) in the Republic of Ireland has created a pretext for funding high-profile national digitization projects. During this decade, digital archives have become part of the public experience of commemoration in a way they were not before.

What is the Decade of Centenaries?

The period from 1912 to 1922 was one of the most eventful in Ireland’s history. From the campaign for Home Rule, through World War One and the Easter Rising of 1916 to the foundation of the Free State, this was a decade of great change. Campaigns for social reforms — highlighted by the suffrage movement and the 1913 Lockout, for example — also went hand in hand with political events. The Decade of Centenaries programme aims to commemorate each step that Ireland took between 1912 and 1922 in a tolerant, inclusive and respectful way.’

from Decade of Centenaries

Social media also emerged as a key mode of communicating the commemorations online, leaving behind an historical record of engagement. Releases of state digital archives have been aligned with key anniversaries, notably in 2016, and has set a precedent for digitisation as a new ritual of commemoration in this late-modern remembrance culture. Online engagement built towards and spiked between March and April 2016, and though it is a burgeoning area of interest in digital history Twitter as a source for the systematic study of contemporary commemoration in Ireland has been little explored.

In this context, this thesis demonstrates how the profusion of digital archives and online engagement with heritage emphasises the digital space as a territory for the performance of remembrance culture, underpinned by a critical heritage and feminist discourse. Taking three centennial collections as case studies, it demonstrates how ‘digitisations may be recognized as vibrant and historically situated sources in their own right’ even as they instantiate Irish cultural and collective memory and identity. Using digital humanities methods, it further substantiates the ways in which Twitter was appropriated and re-appropriated for the commemorations.

Commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising continues to be a powerful reference point in defining and redefining Irishness and Irish cultural identity. This thesis shows how both digital commemorative archives and Twitter have been mobilized in articulating national identity during this decade of commemorations, as well as critical comment around the centenary of the Easter Rising and the gendered nature of memory and commemoration in the past.

Hannah Smyth

Hannah Smyth (she/her : sí/í) is a PhD student at University College London, Department of Information Studies. She is a member of work package 3 ‘Digital Heritage: the future role of archives and collections in a digital world’. Hannah holds an M.Phil. in Public History and Cultural Heritage from Trinity College Dublin and has previously worked in research and production for the historical website Century Ireland. Her current research focuses on archives, gender, and the digital presence of the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland. Her research interests also include public history and the uses of the past in feminist activism.