With an ever increasing number of digitisation projects being undertaken across academic institutions worldwide, it is essential that some degree of co-ordination and inter-awareness be promoted, at the national level at the very least. This can help to ensure inter-operability and to inform researchers about the latest developments relevant to their work. Ireland’s answer to this need is the Digital Humanities Observatory (DHO). The DHO describes itself as ‘Ireland’s window on humanities e-scholarship’, and even a quick glance at its website is enough confirm the value of peering through the glass.
Apart from a discussion forum and useful information on the services provided by it, the centrepiece of the DHO website is its Resources section. The main element of this is DRAPIer: Digital Research and Projects in Ireland. The acronym presumably refers to the famous Drapier’s Letters written by Jonathan Swift in the eighteenth century. This resource provides details relating to a large number of completed and ongoing digital projects and it is the point of first reference for anybody interested in exactly what is happening in Ireland in this area. Projects can be sorted by discipline, institution, period or region covered, methods and techniques employed, content types, data formats, and so on. With projects listed under nineteen different scholarly disciplines across thirteen institutions, DRAPIer certainly conveys the impression that there is currently a great deal of activity in the area of digital humanities in Ireland.
But is all of this progress sustainable? The issue of sustainability can be viewed in several ways: the challenges posed by the need to ensure maximum compatibility with the new technologies which will inevitably emerge in the future is one aspect. However, in Ireland it seems that such crucial concerns are increasingly being pushed to one side by a more basic consideration: money. The current economic situation in the country inevitably places a large question mark over the initiation of new projects, the long-term prospects of those already in existence, and the lifespan of resources such as the DHO.
If the innovation and endeavour that has been employed to date, and the wealth expertise that has been accumulated in recent years, is to deliver its full potential to scholars and to society as a whole, the question of future management and long-term access is one which must be carefully addressed. Unfortunately, some uncertainty currently exists over how this can be achieved in the face of inevitable funding shortfalls and reductions in the financial resources available. Nonetheless, the case for digital humanities must be continually argued in a way which will succeed in persuading government and other authorities of its intrinsic value to knowledge creation and transfer. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from other countries and other institutions about how such challenges can be met and overcome at the national and institutional levels.