Helsinki Digital Humanities Research Seminar, Jane Ohlmeyer, Wed 4 May

Helsinki Digital Humanities Research Seminar, Wed 4 May at 16.15-18.00

Wed 4 May 16.15-18 Prof Jane Ohlmeyer (Trinity College Dublin), The 1641 Depositions: Records of Massacre, Atrocity & Ethnic Cleansing in Seventeenth-Century Ireland

(NB! Venue: Metsätalo (U40), Lecture Room 4 (2nd floor)

All welcome!



On 22 October 1641 a rebellion broke out in Ireland that triggered the onset of a decade of civil war. The authorities thwarted an attempt to seize Dublin castle but could not prevent catholic insurgents from capturing strategic strongholds in Ulster. Over the winter of 1641 and spring of 1642 the rebellion spread to engulf the rest of the country.  The rising was accompanied by incidents of extreme violence as catholics attacked, robbed and murdered their protestant neighbours.  The protestants retaliated with equal force in what became one of the most brutal periods of sectarian violence in Irish history. The total number of men, women and children who lost their lives in the aftermath of the rebellion or susequent war will never be known.  Yet it is likely that more people died during the course of the 1640s than in the rebellion of 1798 or in the civil wars of the twentieth century (known as ‘The Troubles’).

The ‘1641 depositions’ record the events that surrounded the outbreak of the 1641 rebellion primarily from the perspective of the protestant community. In all about 8,000 depositions or witness statements, examinations and associated materials, by thousands of men and women of all social classes, amounting to 19,010 pages and bound in 31 volumes, are extant in the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library of Trinity College Dublin. They document losses of goods and chattels, military activity and the alleged crimes committed by the Irish insurgents, including assault, imprisonment, the stripping of clothes, and murder. They reveal as much about debt as they do about death. They recapture the biographies, hopes and fears of ordinary folk, as well the extraordinary.

The depositions are legal documents and certain information was standard to each one.  The name and address of the deponent was always recorded and in many instances the occupation and age of the deponent was also noted.  If capable of writing the deponent usually signed their statement or left a mark if they were unable to sign.  The depositions record the names of over 90,000 victims, assailants, bystanders and observers and include references to every county, parish and barony in Ireland.  The depositions are difficult to read and some are virtually illegible. The language of the seventeenth century is unfamiliar to the modern eye: the spelling is inconsistent and erratic, as is the use of grammar and lack of punctuation.

The 1641 Depositions Project, which involved transcribing and publishing online all of the depositions (, is also a flagship Digital Humanities initiative which has attracted a series of further high profile research grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Irish Research Council and the European Commission.  This multi-disciplinary project involved historians, geographers, computer scientists, linguists and literary scholars and a collaborative one involving Trinity and the universities of Aberdeen and Cambridge.

The 1641 Depositions constitute the chief evidence for the sharply contested allegation that the rebellion began with a general massacre of protestant settlers. As a result they have been central to the most protracted and bitter of Irish historical controversies. It has even been suggested that the depositions constitute the most controversial documents in Irish history.  Propagandists, politicians and historians have all exploited the depositions at different times, and the controversy surrounding them has never been satisfactorily resolved. In fact, the 1641 ‘massacres’, like the siege of Derry (1688), King William’s victory at the Boyne (1690), and the battle of the Somme (1916), have played a key role in creating and sustaining a collective protestant/British identity.  In some circles the seventeenth century is still alive in public memory in ways that it is in few other places in the modern world, but with the easing of sectarian tensions in the twenty-first century, seventeenth-century Ireland may finally be passing from memory into history.

The 1641 Depositions Project forms part of this process, enabling new modes of interpretation in which Irish historiography can break free of the legacy of imperialism and civil war and instead relocate Irish history within very different contexts.  We also hope that the 1641 depositions can be used to explore on a multi disciplinary basis issues surrounding atrocity, massacre and ethnic cleansing across history, from the classical world to the present day.  The importance for the contemporary world of understanding why atrocity, massacre and ethnic cleansing occur cannot be overstated.

Brief biography: JANE OHLMEYER

Jane Ohlmeyer, MRIA, is Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin and the Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity’s research institute for advanced study in the Arts and Humanities. Since September 2015 she has served as Chair of the Irish Research Council, an agency that funds frontier research across 70 disciplines. In 2014-15 she was the Parnell Fellow at Magdalene College Cambridge and a Visiting Professor at JNU in New Delhi. In 2016 she will hold the Yeats Visiting Professorship at Sāo Paulo University in Brazil. She has also taught at the UCSB, Yale and the University of Aberdeen. A passionate teacher and an internationally established scholar of early modern Irish history, Professor Ohlmeyer is the author/editor of 11 books, including Making Ireland English. The aristocracy in seventeenth century Ireland (Yale University Press, 2012). She is currently working on a study of Colonial Ireland, Colonial India, editing volume 2 of The Cambridge History of Ireland, 1550-1730 and preparing an edition of Clarendon’s Shorte View of Ireland for Oxford University Press.

Professor Ohlmeyer was the first Vice-President for Global Relations (2011-14) at Trinity and developed high-level relationships with researchers working in some of the most prestigious universities across the world and with company leaders, policy makers and the heads of cultural organizations, especially in Asia and North America. She was a driving force behind the development of the Trinity Long Room Hub, which promotes multi-disciplinary exchange within the Humanities and across all disciplines, and the 1641 Depositions Project, which has become a European flagship initiative. This was an inter-institutional and multi-disciplinary collaboration involving over 50 researchers (historians, linguists, literary scholars, geographers, computer scientists, mathematicians and physicists), together with IBM and a Bulgarian and Irish SME.

At the level of the European Commission Professor Ohlmeyer was one of the Irish representatives on the European Strategic Framework for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). She took the lead in promoting research infrastructures in the humanities including DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for Arts and Humanities, and sits as a member of the DARIAH.EU Scientific Board, along with the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure Advisory Board.  She has held various positions of trust and served on a wide variety of review, editorial and advisory boards. She is currently a non-executive director of the Sunday Business Post, a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, of the National Archives Advisory Council, and of the Royal Irish Academy.


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