2 minutes to read Posted on Friday December 20, 2019

Updated on Friday December 20, 2019

portrait of Nathan Mannion

Nathan Mannion

Senior Curator , EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

portrait of Killian Downing

Killian Downing

Archivist , Dublin City University

Connecting Collection Days at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, Dublin

As part of Europeana’s Collection Day initiative, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin, Ireland, have now hosted their fifth collection day, the last of which was part of the Europe at Work season. 

We talk to Senior Curator, Nathan Mannion, about EPIC’s latest Europe at Work Collection Day, 9-10 November 2019, reflecting on his collection day experience and recommendations. 

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Title: Dublin 7 Educate Together National School pupils
Date: 9 November 2019
Institution: EPIC Irish Emigration Museum
Country: Ireland

At Europe at Work Collection Days, people are invited to share their stories and material relating to their working lives. Europe at Work Collection Days have been hosted across Europe in galleries, libraries, archives and museums and are an opportunity for the public to share their own individual or family stories.

EPIC’s Europe at Work Collection Day, how did it go?

It was a real pleasure to take part in the Europe at Work campaign and to welcome participants of all ages to the museum to engage in this worthwhile project. This was the first time the museum had run a collection day specifically for children and we decided to format it to better suit this target audience. We ran the project in collaboration with 4th class pupils from the Dublin 7 Educate Together National School who were approached about the project a month beforehand. We asked each pupil to interview their parents about an object that reflected their working life and to fill in a pre-designed questionnaire. They were encouraged to bring along these objects on the day itself and helped us to create a digital copy for Europeana. While some were engaged with digitisation, the others transcribed their stories directly into the Europeana platform with the help of our staff and their teachers. We split the group (25 pupils) into two and rotated them between the collecting day centre and an education workshop which we were also running for their benefit. 

We also laid out some 18th and 19th century migrants’ letters so that the children could observe the difficulties in transcribing text and the benefits of learning such a skill. 

Overall it was a very worthwhile experience for us and the children and the stories they shared were fascinating. A key observation of mine and a recommendation for others hoping to run similar events is to ensure all children have adequate time to complete the transcription and there are plenty of activities to keep them engaged between tasks. 

Our second collection day was targeted at adults, specifically former dock workers and those who had worked overseas. We’ve found that collection days usually prove more successful when groups and individuals are invited directly rather than relying on blanket promotion. Holding them on weekends allows more people to attend who might otherwise not but it’s worth remembering that you’re competing against everything else people might occupy their limited free time with so they really need to buy into the project. A number of individuals who took part were visitors to the museum who happened upon the collection day centre and were also happy to take part but lacked objects. We opted to photograph them instead or allow them to share suitable images of their objects at a later date, which many have done. Ultimately, I would advise that to get the best results out of such projects you should generally aim to work with targeted groups and welcome any additional participants as a bonus. 

Title: Dublin 7 Educate Together National School pupils
Date: 9 November 2019
Institution: EPIC Irish Emigration Museum
Country: Ireland

This is EPIC’s fifth Collection Day, why do you think there’s such an appetite for public engagement?

At EPIC, we have really embraced the Europeana Collection Day model. It not only provides an important platform for us to share the stories we gather with a much wider audience but gives us the benefit of the expertise Europeana can provide and links us to similar organisations all over Europe. Collection days can generally be run relatively cost-effectively and one of the features that really appeals to us and our participants is that they can retain their treasured objects after taking part. For us, it ticks all the right boxes; it encourages public participation, allows the stories that are gathered to reach a wider audience and be reused where possible and links thematically to our exhibition themes and narratives. 

Personal stories lie at the heart of EPIC and one of the goals of our mission is to preserve, interpret and share the history of Irish emigration through the personal experiences of the emigrants who have left the island of Ireland. Europeana allows us to achieve all three aspects of this goal and the collection day model is one of many tools we use to achieve this. The Europeana Migration campaign we took part in in 2018 was fantastic but, even without the specific migration focus, we’ve found the themes to be flexible enough that we can still easily participate, albeit with a migration focus. 

Do you have recommendations to improve the collection day experience in EPIC and around Ireland?

I would recommend that collection days have no fewer than four allocated staff, one to oversee the welcome desk, two for the interview desk to cover transcription and interview the participant and one to manage digitisation. Additional staff would be preferable if available. 

I would also recommend establishing a scheme to train potential volunteer ‘field agents’ for Europeana who can travel the country and gather individual themed stories remotely or organise smaller ‘pop-up’ collection days in locations throughout the country. This would not only allow Europeana to establish a better presence in each country but would permit greater flexibility for participants who wouldn’t necessarily need to attend the collection days in person but could be interviewed in a setting of their choice. 

Title: Nathan Mannion and Daniel Sinnott, Europe at Work Collection Day
Date: 10 November 2019
Institution: EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

What are EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum’s next big plans? 

In 2020, we look forward to focusing in particular on gathering and sharing the stories of Irish emigrant and diaspora women and have developed our cultural programming to reflect this. One particular highlight will be the launch of a new six-part mini-series on national television titled Herstory: Ireland’s EPIC Women that we have helped to develop which will air in February on RTE. Later in the year, we are also looking forward to holding a collection day dedicated to diasporic sports and developing a series of new temporary exhibitions in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

Stories and objects from EPIC's Europe at Work collection days will be available in Europeana Collections shortly. In the meantime, check out their contributions to Europeana Migration.