An Irish woman and a Hungarian woman went to London…so begins this tale of Irish-Hungarian queer collaboration. In June 2016 Orla Egan, Cork LGBT Archive, and Anna Borgos, Labrisz, both presented papers at the ALMS (Archives, Libraries, Museums, Special Collections) LGBT Conference in London. I was talking about my work in developing the Cork LGBT Archive, while Anna talked about establishing a Hungarian Lesbian Herstory Archive, on a panel alongside Ruanr and Tone from Skeivt arkiv in Norway.
The ALMS LGBT Conference was amazing and stimulating and created many opportunities for connections and collaborations amongst people and organisations working on queer history and archival projects. Following the conference Anna and I kept in touch and exchanged further information about our projects. Then in January 2017 I met with another member of Labrisz, Mária Kristófy (Kymi), in Cork. Kymi’s story is one of those told in Secret Years, the Labrisz oral history project. The Secret Years documentary, video archive and book tell the stories of Hungarian lesbian women and provides a unique insight into their experiences.
On Kymi’s visit to Cork I took her to the Quay Co-op, central to LGBT and radical activism in Cork in the 1980s, and to visit Linc, Cork’s community centre for lesbians and bisexual women, further cementing the Irish-Hungarian connections.
In developing a digital archive for the Cork LGBT Archive I have sought to develop a model which could be replicated by other community groups. One of the barriers to the development of community digital archives is the perception that to do so is expensive and requires extensive digital and technological skills. I therefore strove to develop a low-cost, low-tech model which could be used by other groups. However, I had yet to test this model. I needed to find out if it was easy to share the knowledge in a workshop and support a community group to use this model to establish their own digital archive.
Labrisz has an impressive lesbian oral history project but had not yet developed a digital archive. Building on the Irish-Hungarian connections, we decided that I would come to Budapest to deliver a workshop on Developing a Digital Archive. A travel grant from the UCC History Department enabled this trip to happen.
Preparing for this workshop provided an opportunity for me to reflect more clearly on my processes, on exactly how I had developed the Cork LGBT Archive. It also afforded an opportunity to realise how much I had learned on this digital journey; while I still feel that I am a Digitally Challenged Digital Humanist, I have learned a lot and gained some skills along the way! The challenge then was how to easily and clearly explain this in a workshop, with the additional challenge of doing this in Hungary with participants whose English was at least better than my Hungarian!
The Digital Archive Workshop was held in the Labrisz office in Budapest, and was attended by members of Labrisz as well as Sándor Nagy from the LGBTQI organisation Háttér. Also in attendance was Judit Szabó, a member of Labrisz and Háttér and one of the participants in the Secret Years.
I have developed the Cork LGBT Archive using Omeka hosted on Reclaim Hosting with a link to Amazon S3 storage. I use Omeka because it is free, relatively easy to install, use and adapt, and because there is back-up and advice readily available for when you get stuck or confused. Most problems I have encountered are easily address through advice on the Omeka Forum, from the developers at the Roy Rosenzweig Centre for History and New Media or from other users.
The Cork LGBT Archive is hosted on Reclaim Hosting. Once again my choice to use Reclaim Hosting came down to cost, ease of use and incredible backup. The team at Reclaim Hosting are committed to making the process of developing your web space as easy as possible. They are friendly, open, respond quickly to any requests for help and offer easy-to-follow advice and information. It would be amazing support at any price but even more impressive given the low cost. This makes Reclaim Hosting a great choice for community groups, most of whom operate on low or no budgets.
My Reclaim Hosting account is linked to my Amazon S3 storage in order to give extra low-cost storage space for the digital archive. Jim Groom of Reclaim Hosting and I both blogged about the process of setting up this link back in 2015. I was delighted to get the opportunity to meet with Jim Groom on his visit to UCC this year.
In the Digital Archive workshop in Budapest I explained the processes involved in this model. In order to avoid any potential technical hitches on the day, Anna Borgos had set up the Reclaim Hosting account in advance of the workshop, and I had installed Omeka on their site – but we outlined the processes to the workshop participants.
We were now ready to start adding items to the Labrisz digital archive. However, there is little point in uploading items if nobody understands what they are. This is where metadata comes in – Metadata is the data about the data, the contextual information that will help viewers to read the items and to understand what it is that they are looking at. Omeka has Dublin Core metadata built into it. The Dublin Core Metadata Element Set is a vocabulary of fifteen properties for use in resource description. The name “Dublin” is due to its origin at a 1995 invitational workshop in Dublin, Ohio; “core” because its elements are broad and generic, usable for describing a wide range of resources. See my post on Dublin Core for LGBT Digital Archives for more details. In the workshop it was important to explain what the various Dublin Core properties were and how to use them.
So now the hands on work began. A number of items were scanned to be uploaded and one participants accessed a PDF document on her laptop to share in the online archive. Participants worked singly or in pairs, accessed the Labrisz Omeka site and began to upload items and input the metadata. The latter task was the most challenging and led to interesting discussions. It was clear that doing was the best method of learning – explaining the processes was useful but it was only when the participants actually started to upload items and input metadata that they really felt that they understood how it worked. By the end of the workshop we had the beginnings of the Labrisz Digital Archive – just three items had been added but the participants felt confident that they had enough understanding and skills to go on to add to this and build an impressive archive. Sándor also agreed to bring the model back to his organisation, Háttér, to discuss if they would use this model to develop their digital archive. A few days later I visited Háttér to view their impressive archival collection.
So was the workshop useful? I asked the participants:
Anna Borgas comments: “A big thanks for sharing this great tool with us! As for me, it gave a inspiration for extending and organizing the pieces of our archives and make it visible for the wider public, being a simple and well-manageable system.”
Sándor Nagy: “It was interesting and very useful for me, because I am not an IT expert, just an average user of PC and you show me, that it is not problem. The archival system is simple, well organized and clear. If we need help, on internet give the answer. So as Anna wrote the same: it was inspiring for me too. I will show this system to the board of Háttér and we can plan the future digitisation project.”
I have agreed to continue the collaboration with Labrisz and Háttér and to offer whatever support I can as they develop their digital archives.
Before leaving Budapest we organised an Irish Documentary Evening at which we screened two Irish LGBT films. Out and About was produced by Frameworks Films and takes viewers on a LGBT historical walking tour of Cork; it is narrated by myself and John Dunlea. Written on the Soul was produced by Cork independent filmmaker Carol O Keeffe. It explores gender identity in Ireland. It focuses on two main questions: what is gender identity and where is it located in the individual (is it in the heart, is it in the body, is it in the soul?). Three Irish based transgender people, Lucie/Richard, Diane and Stephen, answer these questions from the position of their own gender journey experiences.
The event was held in the beautiful Women’s Library in Budapest. There was a lively and engaging discussion following the screenings.
Overall it was a wonderful and worthwhile visit to Budapest and I look forward to further collaborations and co-operation over the coming years with Labrisz and Háttér.
A very special thanks to Kymi who was our tour guide, translator and companion during our Budapest visit – a friend for life!