Gothic Past Website – A Visual Archive of Irish Medieval Architecture and Sculpture Launched

Posted on: 16 February 2012

The Gothic Past website, an open-access visual archive of Irish medieval architecture and sculpture that showcases thousands of photographs and drawings relating to Ireland’s Gothic past, was launched by Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast, this week.  The website is a rich source of visual material for the general public and researchers of Irish architecture and heritage tourism. The project received funding from the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) and the Irish Heritage Council.

The visual content of the site includes material drawn from collections held in the archives of TRIARC, the Irish Art Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin, some which goes back more than half a century.

Ardfert Cathedral

What makes the Gothic Past archive so valuable to researchers and the general public is that it contains many illustrations of structures that have undergone changes since first being photographed. Images of some of Ireland’s best-known monuments are featured, including St Patrick’s Cathedral on the Rock of Cashel; abbeys and friaries, stone carving and tomb sculpture also figure prominently. The photographs come from the personal collection of Roger Stalley, former professor of the History of Art at Trinity College as well as from the collection of the late Edwin Rae, an American professor who first came to Ireland in the 1930s. Another collection includes more recent photographs and drawings of architectural features by Trinity Research Associate Dr Danielle O’Donovan, a specialist in medieval architectural history and digital learning.

“The availability of the Gothic Past website offers new and innovative opportunities for global users to explore and engage with images of Irish medieval architecture and sculpture. Registered users of the site already include historians, archivists, and genealogists.  A high proportion of users are tourists planning to visit Ireland or those with a personal or professional interest in Irish culture and heritage,” explained Professor Stalley.

Unlike the standard web-based archive, the Gothic Past site is fundamentally a visual resource. Images may be searched using a variety of keywords and the site offers a series of dynamic features that will enable registered users to collate a selection of images for research or study; in time they will be able to collaborate with the site developers by contributing information about specific monuments, as well as adding their own photographs to the archive. This capacity to gather user-generated material ensures that will be an organic and expanding resource for many years to come. The inclusion of drawings of technical features, as well as photographs and other material provides a superb interface for research-led teaching across all educational levels, from primary to postgraduate.

The Gothic Past website, which was created in collaboration with a team from the Trinity Library, is one of the first applications in Ireland of the open source software platform known as Omeka. This has been provided by the Roy Rozenzwieg Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.  In an innovative technical development, records and images archived over the past three years in TARA, Trinity’s Dspace-based Open Access repository, have been selectively exported and displayed in the Omeka-based Gothic Past web resource, 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 Open Access policy and open standards inherent in the Trinity systems have also facilitated the Royal Irish Academy’s Digital Humanities Observatory project to harvest the resources, embed links with the heritage web portal Europeana and create new contextual material using content for use on portable devices such as e-readers and mobile phones. The National Digital Learning Resource (NDLR) is also harvesting the resources for teaching and learning purposes. is a key output of a larger project in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College Dublin, entitled Reconstructions of the Gothic Past. For the past three years this project, led by Professor Roger Stalley, has been investigating aspects of Irish Gothic architecture, and its position within a wider European context.

The development of this innovative site underlines the fundamental importance of Digital Humanities, one of the key pillars of Trinity College’s research strategy.