Three years ago, the Bodleian Libraries, the Library of Trinity College Dublin, and the British Library started planning a collaborative web archive collection. Looking at the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016, the idea was to identify, collect, and archive, websites that can contribute to an understanding of the causes, course, and consequences of the pivotal event in modern Irish history. The Easter Rising 1916 Web Archive, as the project was called, aimed to reflect the diverse ways in which the Irish and British states, cultural and educational institutions, as well as communities and individuals engaged with the Easter Rising and its legacy in the centenary year. This meant that we set out to include a wide range of online material, such as official commemorative websites, the websites of museums, archives and heritage institutions, traditional and alternative news media websites, community websites, blogs, social media and even online shops.
Starting in summer 2015, project curators in Dublin and in Oxford collected websites from the Irish and from the UK web domains, and from the domains of countries where the Irish diaspora have a strong presence, predominantly the USA. Our colleagues at the British Library provided the technical and curatorial infrastructure. By December 2016, the end of the collection period, the Easter Rising Web Archive had grown to more than 300 ‘seeds’ – comprising websites, individual online items such as news articles or event pages, or social media feeds.
The project was set within the UK Web Archive (UKWA) environment, but it had one distinctive feature: whilst most themed special collections in UKWA focus on UK websites, the Easter Rising collection – owing to its topic – was designed to include a large proportion of websites from outside the UK. With that came the challenge of having to take into account different laws and regulations around web archiving: preserving UK websites is covered by UK legal deposit legislation, which allows the UK Legal Deposit Libraries to archive any publicly available web content created, published or hosted in the UK. However, no equivalent to this legislation exists in the Republic of Ireland, which meant that for any Irish or overseas website we wanted to include in our collection, we had to seek individual permission from the website owner to capture and preserve the content. This can be a very time consuming process, as it includes finding the website owners and their contact details, sending permission request emails, following up comments and questions, and documenting results.
Where we could not identify the website owner, or we did not get a reply to our permission request, we could not include a website in our archive. As a result, our collection grew relatively slowly, and UK websites, which are easy to archive under the legal deposit mandate, are over-represented. Certainly a drawback – but also a valuable lesson, as it once again highlighted the importance of making the web archiving process transparent: We may not (yet) be able to always capture and preserve everything perfectly – but if we make clear which curatorial, legal or technical factors had an influence on the archiving process and the resulting collections, future web archive users can nonetheless ‘understand’ our collections and interpret them accordingly.
Originally accessible via a temporary project page, the Easter Rising Web Archive is now permanently available as a special collection in the UK Web Archive, through the new UKWA Beta interface.
For more details about the Easter Rising project, and the challenges and opportunities arising from web archive collaborations across borders: we have written an article, Capturing Commemoration: the 1916 Easter Rising web archive project, which was recently published in Internet Histories.