Sunday, 16 August 2020

Archives of the Irish Diaspora List, 1997-2017

Patrick O’Sullivan

Research Note:

Archives of the Irish Diaspora List, 1997-2017

This is the link to the freely available and searchable Archives of the Irish Diaspora List, 1997-2017…

http://idslist.friendsov.com/

The Archives of the Irish Diaspora List, 1997-2017 can be downloaded here…

https://idslist.friendsov.com/downloads.cfm

Note that downloads are available in three formats…

I have put versions of the note you are reading now here, in the ABOUT section, of that web site.

https://idslist.friendsov.com/about.cfm

There is also a version on my blog, at Fiddler’s Dog,

http://fiddlersdog.blogspot.com/2020/08/archives-of-irish-diaspora-list-1997.html

and brief versions in other places, notably Facebook and LinkedIn…

Enough time has now passed, and I think I can now bring to your attention the availability of the Archives of the Irish Diaspora List, 1997-2017 as an online resource.  The Archives are free for anyone to use for scholarly and research purposes. 

Note that we have distorted all email addresses within the archives, so that they cannot be misused.  Most email addresses within the Archive will, in any case, be out of date.  Note that web links, URLs, within the Archive will be old, out of date and unlikely to work.

The Archives of the Irish Diaspora List, 1997-2017, make available some twenty years of Irish Diaspora Studies reference and discussion, over an important period in the development of our field.

The Irish Diaspora List project never received any funding of any kind from any source – it was brought together and maintained as a spare time activity, for twenty years, by volunteers, as a service to the scholarly community.  I thank all those volunteers, and all the members of the Irish Diaspora List, for their support and friendship over twenty years.

I thank especially my friend and neighbour, Stephen Sobol, formerly of the University of Leeds, who was my guide and support through all the technological changes described below.

I thank Bill Mulligan, Murray State University, Kentucky, who has long been a support and a friend - and Anthony McNicholas, University of Westminster, who stepped in at a crucial time,

Yet again, I thank Russell Murray, formerly of the University of Bradford, who can never be thanked enough.


1.  

Some day, in the right circumstances, I might do a Secret Lecture, on 'The Secret History of the Irish Diaspora List...'

In the meantime...

The Irish Diaspora List, 1997-2017, was the email discussion forum for Irish Diaspora scholars throughout the world.

The Irish Diaspora List arose out of the networks I put in place to bring together, edit, and publish the series, Patrick O’Sullivan, Editor, The Irish World Wide, 6 Volumes, 1992-1997.

That series was created in the era of paper letters (in envelopes), phone calls, faxes – and personal contacts, hunted down, one by one.  My 65 contributors were spread over 4 continents.  And some day I might do the Secret Lecture on 'The Secret History of The Irish World Wide.'  Subtitle:  'What I got wrong.'

In bringing together The Irish World Wide, 6 Volumes, it was clear that, as we opened up and mapped out our research territory, those personal contacts were valued - research conversations developed.  Further and future conversations were mapped in my Introductions to The Irish World Wide volumes.


2.  

In the 1990s the use of computers and computerised systems began to take off – the web, databases, catalogues, bibliographies and email.  Of course, the universities were early developers and users of email. 

One development of email was the email 'list', whereby a piece of software has its own email address, and keeps a veritable list of email addresses of members of a group.  An email sent to the software’s address is automatically distributed to every email address, and person, on the list.

I founded the Irish Diaspora List in 1997 - when I had a notional base at the University of Bradford.  The University of Bradford then used the Majordomo software to run its email lists. 

I will leave it to someone else to write the history of Majordomo – it was a sturdy piece of software.  Though – in a pattern that we are all now familiar with – you had to work with the software in order to find out how the software worked.  At one point, I wrote a Guide to Majordomo, so that not everyone had to go through that strange process.

There was one specific problem with the Majordomo software - and, again, it is a problem we have by now all encountered in other areas.  There was no built-in route to the creation of an archive.  But it was obvious from the beginning what the route had to be – there had to be, somewhere, a database with its own email address.  This we created.  Throughout the 20-year history of the Irish Diaspora List there has been, in effect, an extra member, an email address, which collected every message sent to the List and stored it in my back-up database.

I was thus able to preserve the Archives of the Irish Diaspora List.  Through many vicissitudes, which included changes of policy within large organisations, and major computer crashes within large organisations. 


3.

In 2004 I moved the Irish Diaspora list to Jiscmail, the UK’s academic Listserv.  In Jiscmail parlance, I became the 'owner' of the Irish Diaspora.  Which I thought was funny then, and still think is funny now.

In 2011, we were able – with the help of the technicians at Jiscmail – to integrate the various incarnations of the Irish Diaspora List, including the rescued material from Majordomo, in to one database, within Jiscmail.  So, from 2011 onwards, the entire archive, from that 1997 beginning, was preserved within Jiscmail, in the familiar Listserv format.  And, of course, messages continued to accumulate, within Jiscmail, and in my back-ups, as Irish Diaspora Studies discussion continued.

In May 2012 I withdrew from the day to day management of the Irish Diaspora List – I simply had to find a better work/life balance.  Bill Mulligan, in Kentucky, and Anthony McNicholas, in Westminster, wanted to keep the Irish Diaspora list going. They became 'co-owners' of the Irish Diaspora List at Jiscmail.  But I remained interested, of course, and involved, in the background.

In 2013 we made copies of the Archive of the Irish Diaspora List, as it was at that point.  We made that material available to the various web archiving projects that were then active.  Copies of the Archives of the Irish Diaspora List were put on discs, with other research material, and copies of those discs were lodged with the Archives of the Irish in Britain, London Metropolitan University, the Glucksman Ireland House, New York University, and the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh.

By 2017 Bill Mulligan and Anthony McNicholas felt that the Irish Diaspora List had become moribund, and it should be wound up.  I stepped in to negotiate with Jiscmail – specifically to make sure that an up to date version of the Archives would be preserved.

Without going into a lot of detail, the Archive, as presented to us by Jiscmail, needed a bit more rescuing.  And it is that rescue, incorporating all the incarnations of the Irish Diaspora List that is preserved at…

http://idslist.friendsov.com/

It is proposed to place up to date versions on disc with the Archives of the Irish in Britain, London Metropolitan University, the Glucksman Ireland House, New York University, and the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh.

The end of the Irish Diaspora List was sad, in many ways.  The study of Diaspora has entered an interesting phase.  But the email 'list' is certainly in decline.  That being said, none of the replacements really work - they do not promote organised discussion.  And there is that recurring problem of the archive.

At its height, the Irish Diaspora List had, at most, a few hundred members.  At its end it had just 212 members – one of those members was, of course, my back-up database with its own email address.  Further discussion of the membership, and the use made of the Irish Diaspora List, I can leave to the Secret Lecture.  But I think it is possible to argue that those few hundred members represented a significant proportion of the number of people in the world with a genuine, scholarly, interest in the study of the Irish Diaspora.

 

4.

The Archive of the Irish Diaspora List is self-referencing and self-historicising.  Every time there was a development – such as all the changes outlined above – a message would be sent to the List, and that message is archived.  So, if more detail is needed about the history of the Irish Diaspora List that detail is preserved in the Archive.

But here are a few thoughts on the management of the list.

In the background I had a number of standard emails, text ready to send, designed to deal with recurring issues, attacks or critiques – and the detail of all that can be left to the Secret Lecture.  This, from 1997, was the standard email sent to all new members of the Irish Diaspora list…

 

The Irish-Diaspora list

The Irish-Diaspora list is an email discussion forum, dedicated to the

scholarly study of the Irish Diaspora, and its social, economic,

linguistic, cultural and political causes and consequences.

 

The Irish-Diaspora list is hosted, as a service to world-wide Irish

Diaspora scholarly community, by the Irish Diaspora Research Unit,

Department of Interdisciplinary Human Studies, University of Bradford, England.

The Irish-Diaspora list is run by a small team of volunteers, led by

Patrick O'Sullivan, Head of the Irish Diaspora Research Unit

 

The list is a moderated list.  The ethos of the list is scholarly.  We

think we need to stress this - at the risk of sounding prim and

ivory-tower-ish - because we feel there are already places on the Web

and the Internet to support, for example, Irish family and social

networks or discussions of current political debates and crises.  And we

ourselves follow those discussions with concern and interest.

 

But what is missing is a forum which hosts scholarly discussion of the

Irish Diaspora, and is able to support theoretical, methodological and

comparative perspectives - this forum is provided by the Irish-Diaspora

list.

 

Irish-Diaspora list members can post recent book reviews they

have written, fragments of work in progress, brief discussion papers,

and reports on conference papers - thus we envisage something that would

be of special help to the more isolated Irish Diaspora scholar.

Occasionally material is taken from the Irish-Diaspora list and given

wider circulation by being placed on the Irish Diaspora Studies Web site…

 

Membership of the Irish-Diaspora list tends to expand through

introduction and invitation.  In the first instance contact Patrick O'Sullivan…

 

As can be seen that standard introductory email offered some hopes and dreams - and dealt with a number of predictable issues, issues that will be familiar to all scholars of the Irish Diaspora.  And that standard email would, again and again, be quoted – often behind the scenes – as the Irish Diaspora List lived through all the political developments and crises of those twenty years, 1997 to 2017.

As can be seen, the List was a ‘moderated list’ – every message to the List was inspected and approved by one of our team of moderators, before that message was distributed.  We are now all too familiar with consequences in discussion forums where that does not happen.  Our guide to global culture’s current strange mix of orality and literacy remains as it always was, Walter Ong, and the versions of Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, from 1982 onwards.  It was Walter Ong who gave us the mantra, ‘the inherent contumaciousness of texts’.  All I can say now is that some of the cleverest people I know had to be, secretly, saved from themselves.  Often.

So, in the background, in running a forum like the Irish Diaspora List there are two rules…

1.  Bad conversation drives out good.  Self-evidently.

2.  The beast must be fed.  Enough new material must enter the discussion forum to keep the members interested.  Interested, but not overwhelmed.

For me, this was easy.  I had alerts in place.  I had put alerts in place, using the technological developments outlined above, to bring together the series, Patrick O’Sullivan, Editor, The Irish World Wide, 6 Volumes, 1992-1997.  I added further alerts.  I continued to map, catalogue, and seize hold of developments in the study of the Irish Diaspora – and part of the fun of the Irish Diaspora List for me was that it was easy enough to share observations, references and texts with members of the List.  And it was really wonderful to watch our field develop – and to see filled, by much good work, those aching gaps in The Irish World Wide series.

Of course, all my alerts are still in place, and I am still mapping developments in the study of the Irish Diaspora.

The study of the Irish Diaspora is now in a decent enough state.  It could be in a better state – which is something I had hoped to explore further in my new role as Visiting Professor of Irish Diaspora Studies, London Metropolitan University.  We shall see.

 

Patrick O'Sullivan

August 16 2020

Visiting Professor of Irish Diaspora Studies, London Metropolitan University

Patrick O'Sullivan's Whole Life Blog http://www.fiddlersdog.com/

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