Open Access: why I share my forest-art-land-politics phd online

RIA digital humanities

Image I tweeted from the Digital Repository of Ireland public talk on ‘Open Access to Humanities Data, 7 May 2013, at the Royal Irish Academy

One of the cultural revolutions we’re living through is a change in the relationship between the way knowledge is gathered and the way it is communicated. There was an old model of scholarship: experts did painstaking research. When they discovered something they shared it with their colleagues and, to a greater or lesser extent, with the public. The tools and methods they used were kept away from the the view of that public; only the results of the process were shared. One of the better consequences of digital technology is the challenge to this basic order. The process of gathering knowledge is no longer separate from that of sharing it. And the tools and methods of research are becoming public property…

This is a new kind of knowledge. It is not a product but a process.

It consists not of conclusions but of an open-ended invitation to explore.
Fintan O’Toole, Arts & Books – Culture Shock, Irish Times, Saturday, May 11, 2013, p.8

On 7 May I attended a talk about Open Access to Humanites Data organised
by the  Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) organisation at the Royal Irish Academy

English: Open Access logo, converted into svg,...:

Open Access logo: wikipedia commons

As someone who is very aware and actively taking part in sharing my humanities research and transdisciplinary arts practices online I was delighted to hear about Open Access and what it means for the Humanities. As I’m attempting to make my own work (from a rural location) as accessible as possible, it was informative to hear cultural archivists and researchers actively engaging in this area. Catriona Crowe, Head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland, gave a stimulating overview how digitising  the 1901 and 1911 Irish Census’ led to unexpected research and remarkable new social understandings of a very important time in Ireland’s history, that have resonances with today’s Ireland too. Likewise the quote from Fintan O’Toole above preceding his discussion of another fascinating historic document that has been digitised and  has gone live on line yesterday – the 17th century Down Survey of Ireland (the Down refers to lands being laid ‘down’ in measurement, not Co. Down) conveys key reflections on the enormous changes and potentials in the open access movement for the cultural sector.  The Down Survey can be accessed at

To my knowledge there is only one open access Visual Culture project underway at the moment in Ireland, the digitising of the history of the Kilkenny Craft studios, a partnership between DRI and the National College of Art & Design (NCAD).  I think however there is huge potential to share contemporary Irish visual culture research.  I’m often frustrated (and disappointed for the sector in general) how inaccessible visual culture research is in Ireland, compared to other countries. Often, if you want to access Irish visual research, say for example, post-graduate or doctoral research you have to come to a library and much research cannot be borrowed. So its very unaccessible if you live outside the main centers. For my own and others working in this area, it means that our work will not be easily sited or even seen outside of Ireland.

The main idea presented at this event was there is a new Open Access national policy that actively promotes that humanity disciplines and institutions in Ireland engage in these developments. Dr. Eucharia Meehan, Director of the Irish Research Council said as this is now national policy, all cultural institutions will have to move toward Open Access and even that there would have to be some mechanisms from the state to support it. This would however involve considerable trained personnel and sustained e-infrastructure. It was also surprising to hear  that digitising humanities material has brought unexpected large financial gains to humanities education and cultural institutions who have quickly embraced the open access movement, as it completely expands research opportunities whilst also attracting exponentially growing online public audiences.

Points in the photo above that I tweeted at the event – that digital editions in the humanities should be published as early as possible and be taken into account in the  assessment of scholarly achievements (not the case at my college, yet). I’m also hoping that my PhD/social media be fully archived and accessible online too someday but this may take time, as in Ireland many cultural institutional structures, personnel and e-resources would need to addressed first. Its difficult to imagine this happening in the current economic climate but those with a longer vision might see from the DRI’s work how this might be strategically planned for.

Overall, as a humanities researcher it was hard to ignore Prof Laurent Romary, Director of DARIAH (European Digital Research Infrastructure for Arts &Humanities) simple conclusions that researchers gain much visibility and ‘early scholary recognition’ from their peers and new publics by sharing their cultural practices research online. And for the future of our cultural heritage we will all have to plan and think about the ‘sustainability of our data’ and creativity.

Postscript: I have been getting some great support from librarians and other humanity academics in Ireland who have been helping people get PhD’s in digital repositories and open access formats. I’m finding this area is complex and moving fast but its the librarians and archivists who are familiar with the importance of safeguarding and sharing our cultural heritage. It was pretty shocking to hear Catriona Crowe above mention that we have already lost our 1970s Irish digital culture. By the way, I’d be interested to hear from any others engaging in this area.

And a librarian from NCAD has written to me just now to say there is an upcoming event organised by the DRI at the RIA on June 4-5, 2013 about digital preservation:

It is part funded by the European Commission,  it costs €45 for the two days, or €30 for one – the first more general day may be interesting in terms of what one needs to know about preserving social media.

PPS: updated 22 May 2013 – another great post about the value of academic blogging I found recently is by Evelyn Tsitas. You may want to read her post ‘too posh to promote’ and think about her key pointThe academic adage is not longer just publish or perish. It is promote or perish’

One thought on “Open Access: why I share my forest-art-land-politics phd online

  1. What i so like from the online experience; you learn from people in Finland and in South Africa. The borders once made up with the mapping of the world seem to fall away on the internet in a very positive way.


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