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2 minutes to read Posted on Thursday August 23, 2018

portrait of Nathan Mannion

Nathan Mannion

Museum Curator , EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

portrait of Emily D’Alterio

Emily D’Alterio

Editorial & PR Officer , Europeana Foundation

EPIC collections spotlight the uniqueness of legacy

As a part of Europeana Migration, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin has been hosting a series of collections days. We speak with Senior Curator, Nathan Mannion about what it takes to delve into Ireland’s migration history, and the sweet fickleness of personal legacy.

EPIC’s Storytelling gallery, 2018, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, CC BY-SA

EPIC’s Storytelling gallery

2018

EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

Ireland

CC BY-SA
EPIC’s Storytelling gallery, 2018, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, CC BY-SA

When speaking about his key takeaways from the recent collection day, Nathan remarks how struck he has been with the individuality of the significant items participants shared. At both collection events, ‘Share your Story’ and ‘New Communities’ supported by Europeana in celebration of the larger Migration project for the Year of Cultural Heritage, a total of 60 stories were shared and will form a part of the Europeana Migration Collection.

From stories that centered on the sharing of food, to that of jewellery or photographs, Nathan describes how this symbolic act of sharing was a cathartic experience for those who were able to explore ‘their identity in a way that many people have never done before’.

What was the process of organising these Migration collection events?

Hosting three collections weekends throughout the year, we knew that we wanted to make each one unique. We felt that if we themed the events, it might promote wider engagement throughout the year. Our initial theme was on return migration. Our aim was to get people who had lived overseas for a period and had come back to Ireland to share their stories with us.

Our second collection weekend on 18-19 August was held during the annual Heritage Week celebrations in Ireland. The theme of Heritage Week 2018  is ‘share your story’ so we felt it was the ideal time to record the experiences of our new Irish communities. Today Ireland is home to people from every corner of the world but their stories aren’t traditionally included in the Irish narrative, so we particularly wanted to give them a voice and record their experiences.  People of every nationality are already engaging with the museum at present, so we felt ready to explore Ireland’s story of inward migration a little more.

In November, for our final collection weekend, we are going to commemorate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Ireland. We have called the event ‘Migrant Women’, so any woman who has a story, we want them to share it. So whether they are Irish, or returning to Ireland, new to Ireland, or even a descendant or someone from elsewhere, we want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to share stories that they otherwise might not be able to.

What surprised you most about the stories collected?

What surprised me most was the variety of experiences. I think even with a large sample, no two stories were alike. You might have stories from people who have left from the same place, who may use similar objects as a means by which to tell their story, but no two are ever identical.

We learned that people often possess strong emotional connections to objects that would have no inherent financial value; they might not even have a strong familial tie. Taken out of context, you wouldn’t understand its significance. But to them, it's symbolic of a moment in their life that they wish to preserve. To them, maybe it captures that sense of transition from one identity to another. It might represent that duality to some.

We also found that by telling the story of an object, rather than just discussing their experience of immigration, some people found it much easier to explore their identity in a way that they may have never done before.

We had many people who came to the collecting weekend answering questions about their objects that they have never even posed to themselves before. It was a sort of journey of discovery that they found very surprising - which we found very surprising. And a number of them told us that they actually found the experience very therapeutic - it was a chance to unload a part of their story, or their family’s story, to somebody else. They felt that now that it had been shared and it would be displayed publicly, it was safeguarded for the future.

Many felt a sense of duty towards their families, or themselves, that a certain aspect of their identity should be preserved. They also shared a belief that museums, archives and libraries exist to help people embrace their past and to preserve their heritage for the future, for those who come after them.

Epic_image2.jpg

Wedding Present to Another Generation | Gerard Leen, Europeana Collections, 2018, CC BY-SA

How do you use the Europeana platform or services?

The Migration project for the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) was our gateway to Europeana. Europeana reached out to us directly when they were looking for national partners to take part in the project. We are the Irish Emigration Museum; so these are the type of stories we interact with every day. We exist to share and record stories of Irish migration and to promote engagement with this aspect of our cultural heritage, so it was a natural collaboration.

When we were introduced to the project, we thought it was fantastic, and we saw the potential for it. Also, the need for it, on the European stage, particularly in the EYCH. We had come across Europeana already but hadn’t yet found a way to collaborate, so for us, this project was almost tailor-made!

EPIC is a very young organisation. We’ve only been open two years, so it is very exciting to take part in something like this. We have found that it's been very beneficial to be able to meet and interact with all of the other cultural institutions from across Europe who also focus on migration. While we might have had links with these institutions on a one-to-one basis, this is our first experience working together on a core project that everyone can participate in. The opportunity to share knowledge, share wisdom, share training and to share feedback, we have found really beneficial, and it wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t been involved in the Europeana project.

How does digitisation affect the works and projects you undertake?

EPIC is a digitally focused museum. We don’t have huge collections of historical objects. Instead, we use the personal stories of the individual as the means by which we shape, and share our narrative. So for us, nearly our entire collection could be considered ‘digital’.

It is important for us to be at the forefront in terms of making sure that everything we record is available online and in a format that people can access widely. So for us, any project that embraces digitisation is a sound one, it helps us contribute to a valued public resource.  As an institution, it also enables us to enhance our existing collection and provides new material for our education programs. Secondly, through participation in projects like this, we are also able to reach a much wider audience and create greater public awareness of our work. So, while such work will always be a key responsibility of ours, it also brings many benefits to the museum itself and is a real pleasure to collaborate on.

What are EPIC’s next big plans?

EPIC is constantly expanding. On-site, the physical footprint of the museum continues to grow. We’ve just developed a new education space and a new temporary exhibition gallery and they’re already hives of activity. We’ll also be officially launching our new education program next month in time for the new school term alongside our new programme of Autumn/Winter events guide. A highlight, of course, will be our final ‘Story Collecting Weekend’ focusing on the experiences of migrant women in November.

Next year we’re planning to carry out a legacy project following on from the collection weekends. We’ll be launching an online campaign to gather more stories that illustrate Irish migration through our own web portal, so we’ll never really stop collecting.

We’re always looking to expand and grow, so as always there is a lot of work on our plates, but its blue skies on the horizon and we couldn’t be more excited!

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