Abbey/NUI Galway launch ground-breaking digital archive partnership
A Digital Journey through Irish Theatre History, the Abbey/NUI Galway digital archive partnership, was launched today, Monday, 22 October 2012 by President Michael D. Higgins in the Abbey Theatre. It is the largest digital theatre project ever undertaken, and heralds a new era of scholarship for Irish theatre internationally.
The Abbey archive, which contains over 1.8 million items, is one of the world’s most significant archival collections. It has a wealth of extraordinary and unique material providing a fascinating insight into Irish theatre, history, culture and society. The archival material ranges from show posters, programmes, photographs, minute books to lighting plans, set and costume designs, sound cues, prompt scripts and audio files.
Celebrating the launch, Fiach MacConghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre said: “It’s been a long cherished ambition of the Abbey Theatre to preserve our archive. The digitised archive will help scholars and historians to write the history of the Abbey in greater detail. The Abbey archive is a major resource for Irish theatre and will help us celebrate the unheralded artists, actors, writers who have worked at the Abbey over the years. It will also inspire the next generation of theatre makers. We are excited to partner with NUI Galway and to have arts and science disciplines come together in this way.”
Dr Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway said: “As East meets West, and the creative arts and scholarship combine, this project will see the most advanced digital technology brought to bear on one of the country’s most historic theatre archives. This digitisation project is based on an awareness of the importance of the Abbey Theatre for the social, cultural and economic history of this country – not to mention its ongoing significance for Ireland and the international community as one of the key national theatres in the world.
“The benefits to our students and researchers of having direct access to this rich national collection will be immense. There is also great interest in the digital archive abroad and it will draw researchers of international repute to Ireland.”
The earliest item in the Abbey archive actually precedes the founding of the Abbey Theatre. It is an 1894 poster of the first production of The Land of Heart’s Desire by W.B. Yeats, which was performed at the Avenue Theatre in London and is reflective of Yeats’ ambition to present Irish theatre outside Ireland. Other archival gems reveal that Éamon De Valera trod the Abbey stage as Dr. Kelly in an amateur production of A Christmas Hamper in 1905. Even our own Irish James Bond had a presence on the Abbey stage when in 1964 Donal McCann played Seamus Bond with Angela Newman as Puísín in the Christmas pantomime Aisling as Tír na nÓg. Part of the Abbey Archive was damaged as a result of the devastating effects of the fire of 1951 and some archival artefacts are in a fragile condition due to age.
The digitised archive will change our understanding of Irish drama. The history of Irish drama is largely understood to be the history of Irish plays – of the written script. As a full multimedia archive, the digital archive will provide researchers with access to the complete range of materials associated with theatre performance: not just the scripts but also the visual materials (costume, set, and lighting designs), sound materials (music scores, sound effects), and the supporting materials (adverts, press releases, reviews).
This digitisation project which began in September, will take place over a three to four -year period. The digitisation process, which is currently taking place on the NUI Galway campus, will bring together multidisciplinary teams of the University’s researchers, students and archivists to realise this exciting project.
The digitisation project is unique in that it highlights two of the most important features of contemporary Ireland: the richness of its cultural traditions and its capacity for technological innovation. NUI Galway is ideally positioned to capitalise on those strengths, as it brings both international expertise in Irish theatre and digital humanities to the project. The Moore Institute for the Humanities and Social Studies at NUI Galway is home to several major digital humanities projects, including the EU-funded TEXTE initiative; while its Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) is the world’s largest research institute dedicated to internet technology-based research. Researchers at both of these institutes, together with archivists and librarians from the James Hardiman Library, will work together to ensure the very latest technology is used to illuminate the past.
The digital Abbey archive will be a major addition to the existing collection of literary and cultural archives at NUI Galway. The Archive Collection at the University’s James Hardiman Library comprises over 350 collections, dating from 1485 to the present. Theatre collections include the papers of Thomas Kilroy and the Shields Family Collection, featuring the Abbey actor Arthur Shields and there is a particular focus on the archives of companies such as the Druid Theatre, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe and the Lyric Players Theatre in Belfast. A new Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Research facility will open at the heart of the campus in 2013, providing the perfect home for this significant collection.
Students of the new undergraduate degree in Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway, as well as a new PhD programme in Irish Drama will encourage a new wave of young researchers from Ireland and abroad to come to Galway to learn about Yeats, Synge, Lady Gregory and the many other great writers associated with the Abbey. The University has also introduced two new fully-funded PhD fellowships dedicated to research in Irish Theatre to give an immediate boost to the research team working on the Archive project.
To view the Abbey Theatre/NUI Galway digital archive partnership website click here