Duanaire, a major new research platform at NUI Galway, was formally launched on April 14th 2015 at an event in the Hardiman Research Building. The event featured an address by the President of NUI Galway Dr James Browne, and a keynote talk by the distinguished economic historian Professor Peter M. Solar, of Vesalius College, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and Université Saint-Louis—Bruxelles.
Duanaire: a treasury of digital data for Irish economic history, is a collaborative venture between the Whitaker Institute, the Moore Institute, and the James Hardiman Library, all at NUI Galway. It is led by Dr Aidan Kane, and aims to build a unique digital archive of Irish economic history datasets, for the use of academic researchers, students, and wider public audiences.
The launch event was opened and chaired by Professor Marie-Louise Coolahan of the School of Humanities at NUI Galway. Professor Coolahan is a specialist in 17th women’s writing, and leads a major digital humanities project in this field, funded by the European Research Council (ERC). Professor Coolahan gave Duanaire a warm welcome, and spoke of the many opportunities for the diverse projects underway in this space at NUI Galway to learn from each and collaborate in the future.
The President of NUI Galway, Dr James Browne, addressed the launch event, and spoke particularly of how the Duanaire project chimes with NUI Galway’s new strategic plan Vision 2020: facing the future with ambition. Dr Browne has taken a particular interest in the core flagship project currently underway at Duanaire, the ‘Customs 15’ project, which aims to capture and analyse a large dataset from a unique set of records of Ireland’s international trade in the 18th century.
The President related Duanaire’s work to the excellent infrastructure now in place at NUI Galway for research and research-led teaching in the area of digital humanities, as reflected in the new Hardiman Research Building itself, and the increasingly important role of the James Hardiman Library within the university community in enabling digital scholarship. The President thanked the Galway University Foundation for their support for Duanaire, and for the Foundation’s support more generally for the University’s ambitious agenda.
The director of Duanaire, Dr Aidan Kane, gave a short presentation on the key ambitions of Duanaire, and in relation to the 18th century trade data project, emphasising that a multi-faceted endeavour of this sort has to be collaborative, acknowledging in this respect the institutional support of the Whitaker and Moore Institutes, and of the James Hardiman Library. This support will continue to be vital in providing key infrastructures, especially for the curation of digital data, and for linking Duanaire into wider international networks of expertise and scholarship.
The keynote address was given by the distinguished economic historian, Professor Peter M. Solar, of Vesalius College, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and Université Saint-Louis—Bruxelles. Professor Solar is a key figure in economic history scholarship, having made seminal contributions to the study of Irish economic history, and in particular, of the pre-Famine economy, alongside extensive work related to wider themes in economic history, including the evolution of textiles industries in Europe, and especially in recent years, maritime economic history.
Professor Solar spoke on ‘The information revolution in history’, detailing the transformation in the computer technologies available to historians—and economic historians in particular—for managing and processing vast amounts of data. He cautioned however, that this by itself did not necessarily transform economic history scholarship substantively.
He argued that we must as economic historians understand how data came to be collected in the first place, and document these processes carefully. It is problematic if and when datasets are made readily available without being well-documented—they may be at least incomplete, and sometimes misleading. Scholars will always need to appreciate and understand the gaps in, and limitations of the data, and be aware of biases, which are not self-evident in datasets themselves. Professor Solar spoke of the great opportunities for scholars in drawing upon the expertise of wide public communities interest in history, not least in the rich knowledge of local historical societies, by using new digital tools to ‘crowd-source’ data itself, and knowledge about data, and the relevant historical contexts.
NUI Galway was delighted to welcome to this event our distinguished keynote speaker, a range of faculty and students from across disciplines, and many visitors to the campus, in order to launch this important initiative.