Another year down! According to my recording thereve been 15,000 uploads to this website since last August, mostly in the form of additions to files from primary and secondary sources - and most of these in the Authors A-Z region of the website which continues to function as the chief resource. You can see the records of uploads in the Logbook pages [link] of this website (a fairly discontuous record for the last few years but back on track at present - though these bely the actual level of activity since the site has been greatly altered in functionality and design in the same period.
Sadly the task of keeping the rolling annual Bibliography up to date for the current year has not been as promptly executed as in the past and copies of publishing bulletins, news-clippings and and scholarly journals lie all around me at present.
The reason for this has to do primarily with a lot of family journeys in the summer, normally the period in which the bulk of the work was down - but also with changing family patterns arising from the strange and joyful arrival of a boy-child in the house whose hard-wired capacity to demand time and attention is one of the givens of human nature. He has now graduated to the stage when he knows what electric buttons are for, and all that stands between me and a fatal crash is the tidy wire grill Ive installed between the little explorers hands and my computer.
Aside from that, two major developments have shaped the way in which the site has developed during this year past. Firstly, the increasing stridency of institutional demands to observe strict protocols in regard copyright either in relation to material designed for teaching or simply for archival records - has made it impossible to persist in piling material into Ricorso as I meet it, or to maintain it on open access keep for those many who - as I know from hits and e-mail, have formed a dependence on it for the teaching and research.
The second development worth mentioning is the arrival of Tower Interactive who have suggested that we open a new site to be called the Irish Literature Society with the aim of laying on a range of services for Irish readers, scholars, and students and pulling in a little money in return. The idea is to establish e-commerce on the website in the shape of book sales, and to open a membership register which will enable access to a range of interactive services among which the contents of the existing Ricorso website will take their place - those, at least, which are free from copyright problems. What this spot!
Its astonishing how many titles are becoming available these days in the form of digital books. Here the chief mover is of course Google Books who are creeping up towards their projected 5 million titles at an impressive rate. (1.5 million titles is the current figure behind this rapidly moving wall.) Much as I share in the widespread interest in the question of current publications which has preoccupied living writers, the public and the courts, the real bonus lies in the region of antiquarian books or those of more recent date which are now out of copyright. The genius of the collection held at Googles Internet Archive - and what differentiates it from the collection built up at the Gutenberg Project - is that the books appear in both .pdf and .txt format - though admittedly the latter is subject to often-chaotic scanning error and sometimes to very happenstance ideas about textual editing of the resultant documents.
The case of Edward Hays History of the Insurrection of Wexford, a.d. 1798 (1803) serves well to illustrate the state of online access to Irish texts. The other day I happened upon this work quite accidentally while tidying up my files on Wolfe Tone. I was led to it by a search on the Ask About Ireland website, which gave me a digital copy in .pdf format - see it for yourself here. The whole is prefaced by a lengthy Introduction in which Hay gives an acount of his own family - Norman stock who remained Catholic - and his persecution by the ultra-Protestant Wexford Comittee, as they called themselves, in the wake of the Rebellion. The story that he tells concerns the preconcerted perversion of justice at his expense. It also displays an liberal and even-handed intelligence that refuses to blame one side or the other exclusively for the terrible happenings of the period nor exempts either from blame. (See my file on Hay in Authors, infra.)
Hay was an educated Catholic (actually, an elected member of the Catholic Committee who visited St. James Palace in that capacity and was graciously received) whose very existence reflected a reality often overlooked: there was an Irish middle class capable of proceeding without disloyalty to themselves and their traditions, and without bowing to the landlords or the priests who would increasingly monopolise the real power in Ireland between them, until a combination of Irish radicals and British liberals intervened.
It immediately struck to me that the Introduction, at the least, should be republished. In that spirit I began to make the digital copy which is now among the historical documents on this website, snugly tucked away in the RICORSO Library, Sundry Authors section - accessible via index or direct. I was busily copying the text in Notepad from the version I had found on yellowed paper where Ask about Ireland had direct me - apparently among their assets as the URL suggests (/aai-files/assets/ebooks/...Hays&c.pdf - online]).
As I turned to dreaming about the unwritten book on the topic of the Irish Catholic gentry that I once considered writing as an ancillary to a slightly untypical conception of the political and cultural location occupied by James Augustine Joyce - no less a Norman descendant and a remnant of an old English lineage than Edward Hay, MRIA, Esq. - I began to glose the various links that Google had provided for Mr Hay before closing down the browser. Suddenly I found myself face to face with the astonishing treasure trove that the Co. Clare Library librarians have placed on internet for any Irish bibliophile who cares to find it.
More exactly, I found the gem of Irish digital link pages, not a portal to all the various enterprises and resources that supply the needs of Irish studies - such as the "Gateway" I myself have constructed within the pages of Ricorso (and which several other sites, whether ensconced in the RIA in Dublin or at Creighton College, Nebraska have also put online) - but a total listing of all the Irish-related books now out of copyright which have been digitised by Google. These are the words with which I introduce the copy of the Claremens compilation on the Ricorso site:
The following list of electronic books relating to Ireland has been captured from the compendium of digital resources compiled by staff at the County Clare Library, a remarkable achievement on their part, and a website well worth visiting any day - any not just by Claremen. The original compilation of Irish-related titles is available there under the heading Digital Books and has been copied here in a format better suited to the Ricorso framework.
As the clear account of the list involved given at the head of the page explains, that listing was compiled using the Open Library search feature attached to the million-strong digital collection books now held in the Internet Archive assembled by Google Books. (See specifically the Open-Access Text Archive therein.)
While the search engine itself has obviously been designed by the boffins at Google, it cannot be supposed that a great deal of hands-on work has not taken place in Clare sorting and formatting the resultant information. Plaudits are due to this extraordinary team whose work in this respect is quite unrivalled by the resource-builders of any other Irish county library. If the National Library of Ireland has such a webpage, I have not found it!
The result file of 502 titles, ranging from Dermod OConnors translation of Keatings Foras Feasa ar Eirin, originally penned in 1630s and translated by OConnor, much to the dismay of Gaelic cognoscenti - in 1723, and reprinted in that translation by James Duffy & Sons in 1861, to the Nun of Kenmares Advice to Irish girls in America published by McGee in New York in 1872 - along with works by Eugene OCurry and Willie Yeats; Lecky, Lover and Lever; Spenser and
Mac-Geoghegan; Matthew Carey and John Mitchel; John OMahony and Michael Davitt; Kickham and Lawless, even those indispensable Englishmen Matthew Arnold and Thomas Carlyle.
Among the many others such a lovable unknown as Rebecca Helena Hine - who wrote a historical ballad at 46-page extent on the subject of her hero, Brian Boru, in 1888 while connected - presumably by marriage to J. H. Hine - with the formerly Presbyterian Foyle College, Derry which is now a composite part of the University of Ulster. And, among them, too, The History of the Insurrection of Wexford, by Edway Hay, Esq., in its Google Books incarnation at the Internet Archive. Having followed the trail thus far, it prove irresistable to copy the book in text-format, and to edit it into Ricorso style using the associated .pdf version as the copy text for checking.
Given the use of long s - i.e, f for s - and the random method of editing applied chez Google Books, the checking was hardly less arduous as manual copy-typing might have been. Exhausted by the labour of copying the file into a word processor to retain such format features as italics, then saving it as html and stripping out the redundant tags generated by that software before dropping it into the appropriate region of the website - where it can been seen and for the onward distribution of its booty to the relevant author-entries and the digital Library of the website - where it can be seen - see it can be reached with password access- I was ready to repair (as Joyces Uncle Charles would say) to a pub on Market St., Coleraine, to confer with Uncle Arthur.
There, with a copy of Books Ireland that I brought along for light reading - for what point of bringing Colm Toibins Brooklyn when so many of the denizens have tales to tell of equally poignancy themselves? - I happened on the information in Jeremy Addiss First Flush that a biography of Hay is due to appear from the History Press this very autumn - viz., Margaret Ó hÓrtaighs Edward Hay: Historian of 1798.
Serendipity? Coincidence? There is so much happening in Irish studies at the moment that the odds are severely stacked against any name or title appearing in one context without a related name or title springing up in another. And this is how its been all week as, at various less-than-idle (if not precisely well-used) moments I plugged on through the chapters of what must be the most consummately piece of scholarship to break upon the shore of Irish studies in the last decade: Kate Trumpeners Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (1997).
Suddenly everything anyone has had to say about Lady Morgan, Sylvester OHalloran, Charles OConnor, Carolan and Hempsey, Bunting and Tone and Emmet and Tom Moore, even Petrie and ODonovan, is stitched into an explanatory account of the growth and morphology of cultural nationalism in Ireland and the other peripheral regions of the erstwhile United Kingdom - at least, so far as Ireland is concerned - that it seemed like looking directly into the depths of the well from which all that intellectual refreshment had been drawn.
For decades past I have been copying snippets of informative commentary and criticism into the author files of Ricorso, and in recent years, since the arrival of rapid scanners with easily affordable optical character reocognition programs the temptation is to copy whole chapters and, in some instances, whole books for preservation in the Library section of the website (naturally, under password).
Now, like a jigsaw puzzle nearing completion, or a Rubek cube approaching its solution, the whole of our knowledge about Irish writing in the antiquarian period - whether for the pulpit or the stage, the theatre or the bookstall, the learned society (or gentlemans association), the revolutionary coven or the juntas cabal - is assuming an aspect of final coherence and taking the unprejudiced postcolonial form it happily coincides with the elegant account of texts and contexts which makes the Cambridge History of Irish Literature (2004) such a triumph of re-reading, synthesis, and theoretical good sense.
Im only sorry that I havent contributed first-hand to this exercise in national - yet not entirely nationalist feat of understanding. (Wipe your glosses with what you gnose, is Joyces famous dictum.) All I can hope is that the sheer extent of archaeological graft involved in the compilation of Ricorso - digging out and dusting off the shards of criticism that make up the whole mosaic - will produce an archival counterimage of the pattern in the carpet. But at what a cost! Aside from the inherently arbitrary nature of the archive, the whole endeavour has now become borderline illegal.
Did I say borderline? In the age of copyright audits Ill lucky to avoid a custodial sentence, if not a auto da fé involving the incineration of my mortgages and the domestic comforts associated with them. (What will the three little piggies do then.) I should have been a real writer - thinker, biographer and critic - instead of a scissors-and-paste man of the most sterile description. ... Yet, surely, a cannot be a futile goal to conserve the documentary elements of a knowledge of Irish Literature in one electronic place - as the subtitle on the front page of Ricorso claims.
I emphasis the singular, a knowledge because these are simply the traces of one itinerary across the landscape of Irish writing down the centuries - partial, purblind, partisan and quirky; flawed by the continual ellipses of inattention, failing energy, ignorance of sources. I myself, and several others, understanding its scope: that is, its strengths and likewise its failings - all of which have got to do with the method of compilation.
By the year 2000 Ricorso had comprehensively digested virtually every bibliographical source on Irish literature including not only the Bradshaw Collection at Cambridge University Library, the 1955 catalogue of the British Museum Library, and those of the Belfast Central and the Linen Hall libraries, but also the substance of Stephen Browns Ireland in Fiction (1919) and a wide range of modern Irish dictionaries. It had also eviscerated most of the Irish literary histories, conference collections, and topical studies and had contributed through online open access to the works a number of distinguished scholars in the subject area.
Yet, when that astonishing duo Rolf and Magda Loeber, produced their Guide to Irish Fiction (2006), no reference whatsoever was made to Ricorso or its antecedent, the EIRData website that I built for the Princess Grace Irish Library or the Irish Literary Records which I launched on internet at an even earlier period will acting as secretary to the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures. From these omission I infer that Ricorso and its kind are not considered worthwhile sources for information about Irish literature, notwithstanding the hundreds of lecturers, students and reviewers who weekly visit the site guide their researches or supplement their knowledge.
In large part this is due to the practice of a very proper professionalism as regards the authority of bibliographical sources, and an equal measure of good sense as regards the structure of the Ricorso database - but it also has to do with the fact that the database is not itself a normal copyright undertaking which requires acknowledgement for information and borrowed text. Is this something that can be remedied in the future? Only be excising large portions of the website which have been frankly captured by means of print-book scanning or online capture of one kind or another (i.e., mouse-selection, manual copying and whole-file downloads).
Alternately it would be possible to establish an e-commerce regime of some description, enabling access to quoted passages only on payment of a fee which would be passed on the the authors and/or contributors to the website (perhaps in the form of remission of a proportion of an entry charge or free access the whole.) I am sad to say that this is probably the most likely option for the future. But, once accepted, it is the development route that promises most in terms of site development since the contents would become both corporative and cumulative - building up to a scale immensely greater than the present small beginning. It would then remain only for the author of Ricorso to adopt the part of a contents referee or monitor, and to ensure that the technical capacity for interactive contributions was maintained in top condition. Way to go!
In the meantime Ricorso will remain what it was from the outset: one scholars notebook on the subject, truly a knowledge of Irish literature. And, for those who find its contents serviceable in their own publishing contexts, the second point clearly made in the Terms & Conditions (which meet each user who enters by the front door) must strictly obtain: Texts to be found here should be consulted in the printed originals prior to inclusion in any publication and the original cited as the source.
[ Note: These are first thoughts written in some haste rather than a finished article.]