Special Collections Visit for DH 6033

Boole Library Visit, October 25, 2017

My introduction to UCC Special Collections took place on a rainy Tuesday evening in the basement of the Boole library. The role of Special Collections in Boole library is the conservation and care of the manuscripts, limited editions and rare pieces that are held within. It also offers a very special service in the guise of an archive and research facility for those interested in exploring these unique items further.

As an introduction, Special Collections Librarian Elaine Harrington guided our group through the Corke Journal, which was first published in 1753. The particular collection we were guided through dates from 1769 – 1772. Ms. Harrington pointed out binding techniques, ink peculiarities and typesetting specific to the journal and the time period.

I chose a seat randomly and found myself on a walk back down through the passage of time via the Kinsale Manorial Papers. The edition was arranged for Sir Robert Southwell and contains the Lord Roche Family papers, arranged chronologically. The papers date from 1607 – 1657.

Sir Robert Southwell
By Godfrey Kneller via Wikimedia Commons

The original papers are deceptively fragile in appearance. They are of varying size, and bound into more robust standard size leaves for the purpose of preservation and examination. The volume is remarkably light considering the substantial quality of the paper within and the fact that it is quite generous in size. What is immediately evident is the presence of a variety of authors. The scripts within range from being moderately legible to quite indecipherable for an inexperienced reader such as myself.

The introductory pages contain a family tree, and there are several more of these structures at stages throughout, perhaps marking the progression, growth and loss of the Roche family over the fifty years documented within. Throughout the pages also appear to be excerpts from ledgers, documents transferring property ownership, prices and land deeds.

Many of the original leaves are quite noticeably creased and brittle at their periphery. Upon closer inspection, I realized that these are instances of correspondence. On the reverse side of the pages remains evidence of sealing wax and forms of address in remarkably strong inked script. The fact that these letters remain in such outstanding condition considering their passage through the postal system of the time and often inclement weather of this part of the world is an aspect that I find particularly enthralling.

I very much relished this opportunity to explore such artefacts at close quarters. The issues of aura and my considerations on it continue to build and refine throughout my Digital Humanities journey as my personal experiences and acquaintances with such artefacts continue.



PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) define reading literacy as “the ability to understand, use and reflect on written texts in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate effectively in society”. (Education at a Glance, OECD, Paris, 2002, Glossary).

When I last studied, it was all photocopies, highlighters, pencils and books. I was liberal with my scribblings and colour on the photocopies, but very careful with my books/novels. Looking back on them over the last few weeks, I am disappointed I did not write more in the margins. What little bits I did find are fascinating to read!

Annotation converts the reader from a consumer into an active participant, leading to motivation and a better sense of achievement. Personally, my power to recall a text in which I have annotated notes is incomparably stronger in comparison to one which I have just simply read. I think more critically and I am more likely to formulate a personalized response when involved in annotation.

The use of collaboration in annotation is a fairly new concept to me and one I find interesting. I have worked proofreading journals for the last few years. My editor (via Qatar) sends myself and a couple of other colleagues (in various countries) a document via Adobe Acrobat. It provides great insight into other’s knowledge and culture to see what we choose to edit and annotate.

Jerome McGann

McGann reports that there is an educational emergency as a result of the growth of digital. He draws a very pertinent link between our current situation and that of the humanists in the 15th century in outlining the upheaval we are faced with and the reassessment we must make of all of the tools and methods at the core of our current knowledge production.

Jerome McGann via Youtube

An entire re-editing of our archive of cultural works within a network of digital storage and access is predicted in the next fifty years by McGann. A main concern of his is that the current educational system is not equipped to undertake this overhaul/mission. It is interesting to note that those who have the most at stake in this movement are the least involved. He despairs “not a person in the room seemed to know what TEI was” at a meeting of the editorial board of Critical Inquiry. He refers to an apartheid being in place between literary and cultural studies and calls for an intertwining of the two moving forward in education, particularly in the US.

Print culture, which has been to some extent relegated since the proliferation of the digital, is here given justified praise. He is of the opinion that we must reengage with print culture on our journey into the digital realm, looking specifically at the bibliographical interface and its mode of organization. Using the bibliography as the launch pad, we can then progress beyond traditional conventions, the digital can build and feed upon this original format. McGann envisions an exciting quantum world becoming thus available, encompassing ideas and theories which are by their very nature “inexhaustible,” ever changing and growing.


McGann, Jerome. “A Note on the Current State of Humanities Scholarship.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 30, no. 2, 2004, pp. 409–413.

“Professor Jerome McGann – Truth and Method.” YouTube, uploaded by Crassh Cambridge, 15 May 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptST75n4AHg