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Musings on Identity formation, digital archives and Narrative Visualisation

Musings on Identity formation, digital archives and Narrative Visualisation

Hello, I am Owen Fenton, a 2nd year PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast. I hope to use this opening blog post to highlight my current research interests, and alongside this my explorative attempts towards embracing digital humanities scholarship. My PhD research interests lie in the exploration of the theoretical process of national identity formation, by utilising Northern Ireland as a case study, through the transition of a society in conflict to that of a post-conflict society. I focus on ‘Northern Irish’ identity and examine this through the role of political elites operating as entrepreneurs of national identity (Young, 1976; Shaw,1972), the relationship between historical and myth narratives to ontological security, and media representations of identity formation. I explore the process of national identity formation in a post-conflict society through pre-existing polemic identity structures of British and Irish identities in Northern Ireland, and examine the degree of overlap, or lack of, between them in accordance with Northern Irish identity. My thesis is seeking to provide a theoretical exploration of identity formation, and has broad implications for academic research in understanding national identity and its manifestation in a post-conflict environment.

One aspect of my thesis design is that I am currently utilizing digital data in a large-scale content analysis of traditional media in Northern Ireland, through digitized newspaper archival sources of regional and national newspapers, to provide a longitudinal narrative study of identity. I have just finished the first stage of this thesis element, collecting data that I have had to convert to a more suitable format for analysing. I have greatly enjoyed the ease of access to this particular data set (when not undergoing the laborious proof reading of digital content for errors or mistakes!), and have begun to consider the ways in which I can present my research to better engage audience interest. As a student assistant at the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities QUB, I have become increasingly aware of the growing role of Digital Humanities scholarship, something that the ICRH is keen to promote through interdisciplinary collaboration such as the Digital Humanities Project Research Group.

Of particular relevance to becoming familiar with the topic is the Digital Humanities@TheLibrary project that I became aware of through the ICRH, which enables me to plan my doctoral training with a substantive focus on digital humanities. I recently attended the 'Creating Narratives Using Digital Objects’ Workshop, which helped provide a working knowledge of the decisions and choices available to share and disseminate knowledge by collecting and developing narratives around digital objects. During the workshop we explored a number of possible vehicles that can help share research outcomes such as Omeka, Neatline and Exhibit, amongst others. Overall the workshop opened my eyes to a whole new range of computer programming and tools that I soon hope to become better acquainted with. As my year as a HASTAC scholar continues, I plan to attend further workshops in this series on a variety of topics, and I am greatly looking forward to the upcoming ‘Data Visualisation for the Digital Humanities’ workshop. I am intrigued by the challenge of presenting my own research insights to my thesis topic with techniques such as Data Visualisation, and plan to use this blog to chronicle my upcoming attempts to visualise digital archive insights through my aforementioned longitudinal narrative study.

One aspect of my time as a HASTAC scholar that I am looking forward to developing is my relationship with my mentor Dr Michael Pierse. Michael is a Research Fellow at the ICRH and is known for his proclivity of extremely interesting research projects on a variety of topics. Alongside developing my own work throughout the year I hope to cultivate research interests and linkages with one of Michael’s projects entitled ‘From Dark Tourism to Phoenix Tourism: The Ethics of Cultural Translation in Urban Festivals’. This Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded research will support a number of initiatives around the history of Belfast’s renowned community festival Féile an Phobail, including developing an archive of the festival’s history, an online exhibition of key archival material, a large-scale crowd-sourcing history project and a book-length history of the festival. In particular the importance of festivals to individuals and community, in terms of their local and global consumption through tourism, in producing, affirming and disseminating politicised identities, internally and externally, has a direct appeal to me. With my thesis design being attuned to such questions as the role of identity as currency, identity as a spatial tool for freedom of self-discourse, and identity as an ontological imperative, I think that we will be able to find a synergy of research interests in which I am able to contribute towards this research project through my role as a HASTAC Scholar.

Overall I hope this introductory blog post has given a small insight into my current research interests, and over the following weeks and months I will regularly return to the above items with further posts to let you know how I am progressing.




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