(Back To 1998 Contents)

THE INTERNET -

A NEW TOOL FOR HISTORICAL RESEARCH   
By Fr Jerry Cremin, December 1998.

This morning I got an e-mail message from a man in Indiana, USA,
asking for detailed information about St. Gobnait. He visited Ballyvourney last year and it was only when he had returned to the States that he became curious about our local saint.  His curiosity led him to search the Internet but all he came up with was a brief biography of St. Gobnait.  I hope to be able to help him, but the greater wonder is that he has found out  anything at all already.  Only five years ago, if somebody in       Indiana wanted that specialized information it would have been          impossible to find  without combing many libraries and even then probably finding nothing on that
side of the Atlantic.

What is the Internet?
     The story illustrates the uses and limitations of the Net.  We can
imagine the Internet as a huge computer with unlimited storage space.
Anybody can connect to that computer with their phone and copy anything they find there -- text, pictures, sounds -- into their own personal computer at home.  In the same way, anybody can also add to the store of  information by sending down copies of whatever knowledge they have  themselves and which they may wish to share with the world.  This is how it  has come to pass that there are more pages of information on the Internet  today than there are human beings on the planet.
  There is no way of classifying the information on the Internet.  As
one would expect, Universities and such institutions are major contributors of serious research data.  But most websites are compiled by amateurs and  enthusiasts.  With so many people running websites, you can be certain of finding something about absolutely every subject imaginable.  The drawback is that the information available is almost always incomplete.
Nevertheless, the Internet is fast becoming a universal reference library.
   

How to use the Internet
     Using the Internet is surprisingly similar to using a library.  You
can use a library to pass a pleasant afternoon, aimlessly  browsing and you can use a library to inform you on a particular subject.  The same happens on the Net -- sometimes you jump from page to page as the fancy takes you and sometimes you are ruthlessly homing in on one set of facts.
As a  researcher, when you  take down a particular book from a library shelf you are making that choice for one of three reasons: it is a known 
TITLE; the library INDEX has led you to it; a REFERENCE in another text has  pointed you to this book.  In computer language these three would  correspond to ADDRESS, SEARCH and HYPERLINK respectively.
     
The Address is the exact location on the Internet where particular
information is found. People usually pass around addresses or read about  addresses that they would find useful. Kilmurry    exiles, for instance, get  the address of our Parish Web Page from relatives at home and then they  regularly look up that address to catch up with local news and events.
     
The Search  faciltiy allows you to put in search words and the computer will give the address of all the pages where those words occur.  The word 'famine' will return stories of all sorts of famines in all sorts of   places; 'Irish famine' leads you to a more specialized area.  This is the  way a huge percentage of information is found.
     A Hyperlink is something peculiar to the Internet and a most useful
facility.  Any word or phrase in an Internet page can be made a hyperlink.  What that means is that the phrase can appear on the computer screen in such a way that when it is clicked on by a mouse, the reader is taken to  another website with further information about that subject.


The Future
     Using the Internet for historical research in Ireland is not very  productive at the moment because there is so little local          information  available on the Net.  I look forward to the time when every   historical and  archaeological society has its own site.  At the moment there are only  about three such sites in the whole of Ireland.  Mallow Archaeological and   Historical Society is one such site.  It has a listing of its Winter  Lectures and Summer Outings.  It also has a listing of the Contents of all  the past       issues of its Journal.  There are links to 14 other Mallow sites  and to 5 pages about Doneraile together with links to Cork County Council,  map of county Cork, local accommodation etc., etc..  You can even hear the  tune 'The Rakes of Mallow' being played.
All this is an illustration of scope which could be covered by any  Historical Society and a lesson about the need and urgency which exist for  as much documentation as possible to be made available to the Internet.   There is practically no limit to the amount of space available, provided  one doesn't go overboard with too many colour photographs.  The cost  too is minimal.
     Here is a challenge and an opportunity.  Students of all disciplines have always lamented the difficulty, cost and delay in getting work published and disseminated.  Today any document, regardless of value or  lack of it, can be made available to the whole world as fast as it can be  typed out.

... finally, some useful addresses
http://www.ria.ie/            Royal Irish Academy
http://www.burrenarch.com/    Burren Archaeology Research              Expedition 
http://www.iol.ie/~sec/sites.htm   Brief Guide to Archaeological Sites:   
http://www.kerna.ie/archaeology/excavations.html  Excavations             Database:   
http://www.ucc.ie/ucc/depts/archaeology               Dept of Arch, UCC   
http://world.std.com/~ahern/mahs.html             Mallow Arch & Hist Soc   
http://www.thecore.com/cgi-bin/ire-srch                Townland Database   
http://vassun.vassar.edu/~sttaylor/                Famine Illustrations;
http://indigo.ie/~lissarda/index.html                Killmurry Parish, Co            Cork
http://indigo.ie/~adam/adam/index.htm         An excellent site by         AdamDawson,Doirenalacken, 
         Ballingeary

http://www.sleeping-giant.ie/inchigeela/         Information on O' Leary Clan Gathering and Daniel Corkery Summer School