At the City University of New York (CUNY) Institute for Irish-American Studies in Lehman College, a massive research project has just begun to create an online archive of Irish-American publications dating back to 1820.
The institute’s director, Dr Thomas Ihde, initiated the project, fearing for the fate of some of Ireland’s oldest and rarest works if steps were not taken to preserve them.
“I do a lot of research at the American Irish Historical Society and New York Public Library,” he told the Echo.
“Many of the materials I would be looking at date back to the 1920s, and some of them are one of only a few copies in existence. Some of the books are very brittle. At the New York Public Library I was amazed – you would see tables covered with little bits of yellow paper where people had been looking at some of the old Irish books – it was frightening. There was one copy of “The first Irish Book”, a book that was published by the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language in 1878 to teach Irish to Americans. It was basically falling apart in my hands as I held it.”
Page by page, researchers at the CUNY institute are transferring old Irish texts onto an electronic archive, from where they will soon be available to the public online.
The institute has invested $400,000 in the first phase of the project, which will see 2,000 texts going online over the next two years. The high cost is largely down to the need for sophisticated scanning equipment.
“We have invested in special scanners that will enable people to cross reference and search through documents, rather than just read them,” according to Ihde. “The scanners also have the ability to read old Celtic fonts.”
In its initial phase, the institute is concentrating on books published on the East Coast before 1922, as books from 1923 onwards are still subject to copyright laws.
The team is working hard to make the collection as comprehensive as possible and Ihde hopes that Irish history enthusiasts may soon be able to access rare works of Irish literature and music at the click of a mouse.
At present, the institute is looking for copies of the score to the Irish-American cantana, “An B_rd, ‘gus an F