Gothic Past

Gothic Past is an open-access resource for the study of Ireland’s medieval buildings. Images within the site are drawn from collections of visual material, in some cases, almost eighty years old that are held in the archives of TRIARC, the Irish Art Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin. The website is a collaborative project between staff in the History of Art Department and the Library of Trinity College Dublin and the Roy Rozenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. The project received funding from the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) and the Irish Heritage Council.

The site showcases images from three significant collections of image archives housed in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, Trinity College. They include the Stalley Collection and the Rae Collection of medieval Irish architecture and sculpture: photographic images that were created and collected from the 1930s to the present day. A third archive contains the O’Donovan collection of Irish Gothic moulding profiles. These image collections have been a key primary resource for investigations carried out as part of Reconstructions of the Gothic Past, a thematic research project carried out in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College from 2008 -2011. The project research and the website have been made possible through the provision of an IRCHSS research grant.

The website is one of the first applications in Ireland of the open source Omeka software platform, provided by the Roy Rozenzwieg Center for History and New Media. In an innovative technical development, records and images archived in TARA, Trinity’s Dspace-based Open Access repository, have been selectively exported and displayed in the Omeka-based Gothic Past site, creating a whole new interface for interacting with these images. Omeka is designed to support easily configurable digital exhibition spaces and is used internationally by cultural and research institutions such as The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, The New York Public Library, The University of Berkeley, California’s Open Knowledge and the Public Interest (OKAPI).

The Gothic Past site is a rich source of visual material for the general public and researchers of Irish architecture and heritage tourism. The importance of these collections is demonstrated by the fact that many of the images show structures that have undergone changes since first being photographed. Some of Ireland’s best-known monuments are featured, including St Patrick’s Cathedral on the Rock of Cashel as well as abbeys and friaries, stone carving and tomb sculpture from Irish heritage sites countrywide.

Unlike the standard web-based archive, the design of the Gothic Past website immediately privileges the visual nature of its contents. Images may be searched using a variety of keywords and the site offers a series of dynamic features that will enable students, researchers and the general public to engage with the material in a highly personal way. Users may collate a selection of images for research or study; in time they will be able to contribute information about specific monuments, as well as adding their own photographs to the archive. This ability to include user-generated content ensures that the site will be an organic and expanding resource in the future. The inclusion of drawings of technical features, as well as photographs and future plans to add an augmented reality plug-in as well as multimedia and contextual research resources will make the Gothic Past site a valuable interface for research-led teaching across all educational levels, from primary to fourth level.