Quinnipiac educates about the Irish famine with new material in library

By on April 27, 2005

Quinnipiac gives an in depth look of the Irish Culture to anyone who is interested. Since 2000, a collection of art and literature from Ireland’s Great Famine has been on display in the Lender Family Collection Room in the Arnold Bernhard Library. Just recently, however, the university has put together a Web site containing numerous historical documents about the Famine.

The display in the library includes various artwork, sculptures and pieces of literature that were produced during the Great Famine. The Web interface, put together by various members of the Quinnipiac community, includes a number of historical documents from or about the time. Roughly two thirds of the material is modern and one third was written during or shortly after the Famine.

The recovered documents are from the Kerry County Library in Ireland. Terry Ballard, automation Librarian, went to Kerry County for two weeks, scanning the documents in the library. David Donnelly, dean of the School of Communications, purchased a digitally advanced scanner, which costs about $5000 and shipped it over to Ireland. This allowed pictures to be taken from documents that are not permitted to leave the library in Ireland. There is also a scanner in Quinnipiac’s library. The scanner is used similarly to a projector and is able to scan the pages of a document without ruining the binding.

Ballard is excited about the material. “It’s a collection we’re proud of having. Historians everywhere are able to have access to the material,” Ballard said.

Ballard also recognizes that Quinnipiac being affiliated with these historical documents adds to its good publicity. The material has brought at least 30,000 visits to the Quinnipiac Web site each month, if not more.

Peter DePietro, assistant professor of e-media, designed the web interface. His main goal was to design and develop a web interface that could unify many different looks, be accessible to the viewers and allow for interactive communication. E-media graduate students are also assisting with the site production. DePietro sees this as a great opportunity for the students to gain experience in their field. Christie Ward, an e-media graduate student, even had the opportunity to go to the Kerry Library earlier this year to scan more material.

Donnelly and the school of communications have contributed to the new Web interface. He hopes the site will give an opportunity to many graduate students in the communications field to work on a variety of different components that make up the Web site. He also sees the new web interface able to be more accommodating and more user friendly.

Robert Smart, professor of English and writing program director, is also highly involved with the project. Because of his vast knowledge on the subject, he was a natural candidate to become involved. He has published a number of articles and presented at various conferences on the Famine subject.

“I’ve always had an abiding interest in that part of Irish history and Quinnipiac’s commitment to the field gave me a good opportunity to expand my involvement in the scholarship of the Famine,” Smart said.

With any great project, there is always room for improvement. There is hope for new equipment in the future that would enable a more modern view of the historical documents. Currently, the documents and artwork are only scanned in black and white, but Ballard hopes that they will be able to work with overhead optics to gain color definition. There is also talk about possibly obtaining copies of hand written materials from the Kerry County Library, as well as incorporating more multimedia, photos and original music.

Overall, the documents on the Web site are significant in helping historians with their work. “The workhouse records are an important part of expanding knowledge about the Famine, and I believe that Quinnipiac’s contribution to the discussions about the Famine worldwide will be substantial,” Smart said.

For more information on the Irish Famine and the Great Hunger, visit Quinnipiac’s Web interface at www.thegreathunger.org. In addition, to see artwork, sculptures and pieces of literature from the Famine, visit the Lender Family Special Collection Room in the library.


About Renee Traynor