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