THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What drew you to modern history and the digital humanities?

JANE OHLMEYER

I grew up in Belfast during the ‘Troubles’ (1969-1998) and in a community where the past shaped – and continues to shape – the present. This kindled my interest in modern history. Today I am an historian of Ireland and empire in the early modern period and am particularly interested in how Ireland, England’s first colony, has acted as an ‘imperial laboratory’ from the seventeenth century. As an undergraduate I studied at St Andrews University in Scotland and completed my PhD at Trinity College Dublin in 1990. I felt very privileged to return to Dublin in 2003 as the Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern history, which is the oldest chair of modern history in Ireland (it was established in 1762).

Digital humanities appeals to me because of the possibilities that technology offers are truly exciting. Scholars now enjoy unprecedented access to digital archives. As emphasis shifts from the generation of digital data to how these resources can be interrogated and as technology becomes increasingly sophisticated and user-friendly, we will be able to interrogate sources and represent their findings in ways currently unimaginable. I have been an advocate for digital humanities at the national and EU level since this is an area that really requires national and EU infrastructure. We also need to embed digital humanities in our educational programmes both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. However, the challenges associated with undertaking education and research that crosses disciplinary divides are very real and involve changing mind-sets and research cultures at all levels.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Dublin has a rich literary and artistic heritage. Could you tell us more about the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute and the role you play in 'Creativity, the City and the University’?

OHLMEYER

Ireland is a country whose tradition of cultural and creative practice is considered to be distinctive internationally. By producing many of the world’s leading writers and thinkers – George Berkeley, Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke, Brahms Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Mary Robinson, and Lenny Abrahamson - Trinity College Dublin has, over the centuries, contributed enormously to Ireland’s global reputation for literature and culture. In more recent decades Trinity has also gained an international status for Ireland in all of the performing arts.

Trinity College Dublin has a tradition of innovation in the Creativity, the Arts and Humanities over many centuries. In the twentieth century it pioneered the first drama department in Ireland, in 1984. In 1997, Trinity established the first creative writing Masters programme in Ireland alongside the first dedicated practitioner centre, the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing in 1998. A raft of other innovative programmes at the undergraduate and postgraduate level followed. For example, in 2011, in partnership with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Trinity opened Ireland’s first National Academy of Dramatic Art (The Lir) with a suite of practice-based programmes, including the innovative Masters in Fine Art degrees (in playwriting, stage design and theatre directing).

Since 2006 the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute, housed since 2010 in an award-winning signature building at the heart of the historic campus, provides an important strategic focal point for linking the university with the city and its educational and cultural institutions. It creates multiple opportunities for cooperation, serves as a powerful enabler of innovative cross-cutting collaborative research, and through our successful public humanities programme provides a prominent forum for connecting academic research with public debate.

We work to embrace the creative practitioner in full, which reflects Trinity’s leadership in Ireland in driving a rethink of how creative arts practice is valued and supported within the traditional university structure. Indeed, for many of the university’s academic staff creative arts practice is held in the same high esteem as creative arts scholarship, with many established, or emerging, as internationally recognised writers, poets, literary translators, directors, composers, artists and performers in their own right. The university has now come to recognise this form of creative excellence in its research quality metrics and in its recruitment and promotion procedures.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?

OHLMEYER

There seems to be an obsession that, in order to survive the global war on talent, our graduates must be herded in ever-greater numbers towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects. The irony is that neglecting the Arts and Humanities will put us on a dangerously narrow path for the future.

Five years from now the skills required in the workforce will have changed significantly from those required today. The World Economic Forum estimates that due to advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, the top skills required for success in the workforce will be creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What are your views on the importance of creativity and the humanities?

OHLMEYER

In the Arts and Humanities - disciplines that include everything from classics to cultural studies and ecumenics to English - we educate our students to think critically, to ask awkward questions, to challenge orthodoxies and to explore what is distinctive about Irish, European and global history and culture. Skills like creativity and an ability to think strategically ensure our graduates will be well equipped to compete with the advanced robotic and autonomous work practices of the future.

In fact, some of the biggest issues of the contemporary world can be better understood through the prism of the Arts and Humanities because these disciplines have important things to say about every aspect of human existence. The list is endless but some pressing examples that come to mind are terrorism and war; migration and multi-culturalism; security; privacy and freedom; environmental and digital issues; and mental and physical well-being. The Arts and Humanities both celebrate and challenge the expression of the human condition in its numerous manifestations and place human values at the centre of our world. They are not just at the heart and soul of a civil society, they are its conscience shining a mirror on the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of humankind urging us to think harder and do better.

Yet, despite the importance of the Arts and Humanities, in 2014 only 6% of the European Commission’s major research funding programme, Horizon 2020, was allocated to topics that could involve the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). Within this allocation, the Humanities accounted for only 9% of funded projects. The challenge is to persuade the European Commission to integrate fully the perspectives of the Arts and Humanities into its funding calls for research on Europe’s societal challenges. Unfortunately, this is largely a political issue that also prevails in the research funding culture at a national level in many countries. It also highlights the need for the Arts and Humanities research community to tell our stories about the importance of our research much more effectively.

Jane Ohlmeyer, MRIA, is Erasmus Smith's Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin and the Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity’s research institute for advanced study in the Arts and Humanities. Since September 2015 she has served as Chair of the Irish Research Council, an agency that funds frontier research across 70 disciplines. She is currently a non-executive director of the Sunday Business Post, a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, of the National Archives Advisory Council, and of the Royal Irish Academy, where she chairs the Brexit Taskforce. A passionate teacher and an internationally established scholar of early modern Irish history, Professor Ohlmeyer is the author/editor of 11 books, including Making Ireland English. The aristocracy in seventeenth century Ireland (Yale University Press, 2012) and volume 2 of The Cambridge History of Ireland, 1550-1730 (CUP, 2017/8). Professor Ohlmeyer was the first Vice-President for Global Relations (2011-14) at Trinity.