One of the most enduring miracles attributed to St David is that while he was preaching, he caused the ground to rise under him so that his audience could see and hear him, according to the Museum of Wales. There is in Wales a strong oral tradition, rich artistic and literary threads, historic and modern folk music, and ongoing celebration of traditional dress (as here on the People’s Collections, the flagship site for Welsh heritage online). One of the challenges we at Jisc face is: how can we best use technology to help people see and hear the treasures of cultural history, when many of them do not exist as flat texts but instead stories, songs, objects or precious documents?
If we imagine the history of Wales as a long timeline stretching back to St David in the sixth century AD and beyond, we're confident that Jisc has digitised many, many resources that can help us better appreciate that rich culture. We’ve picked out four highlights below and hope that students and researchers of Welsh culture and history might discover a nugget here to inspire them.
We begin in the 21st century, where if you’re in the mood to be inspired by contemporary Welsh art you’ll find students’ work online at Galeri Cymru – unusually you can even vote on their work and leave comments, enriching the learning experience for the Coleg Harlech students. It’s an interesting example of how an interactive website can bring together community groups who might not yet be fully engaged with one another.
Then – a step back to the 20th century. When Cardiff University asked people from across Wales to delve into their attics for family memorabilia from the World War One, they uncovered a host of treasures. Those precious items have now been photographed, recorded and digitised for posterity so that what started out as individual family heirlooms have now become a shared archive describing the Welsh experience of World War One. Browsing the resulting Welsh Voices collections is incredibly evocative – I can only imagine the mixed emotions of Albert William’s family after the twenty two year old soldier’s discharge certificate sent him home to Swansea after injuring his knee at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. It's soon to be part of the ambitious Theatre of Memory project (PDF) run by the National Library of Wales. Following on from this, we're now working to digitise a more complete picture of the Welsh experience of World War One (Rhyfel Byd 1914-1918 a’r profiad Cymreig) including 190,000 pages of printed text, archival pages, manuscript pages and photographs; 50 hours of audio; and 20 hours of audio visual materials.
If you’d like to delve back even further, Welsh Ballads online can help you access 4,000 digitised ballads, mainly dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, from the collections of the National Library of Wales and Cardiff University Library. Ballads were like newspapers for the poor at this time, sung on street corners for all to hear. The impressive documents will be of particular interest to anyone interested in folk music, the Welsh language or the history of popular art, but these pamphlets also narrate a more widely appealing social history– for example “Y Negroes”, a ballad supporting the abolition of slavery, dating from approximately 1830.
Linking these periods together is some of the very best in Welsh scholarship on Welsh Journals Online which gives people working in institutions free access to scholarship from Wales on topics ranging across the humanities, social sciences, science and technology.
I hope you find something here to interest you – and if you have a useful digital resource for other Welsh scholars, perhaps you would share it below. Thank you.
The Welsh experience is part of a wider international drive to share our cultural history. For a whole world of Jisc Content on Wales and other cultural history, why not search the Jisc content portal
For St David's Day this post is also available in Welsh
by Paola Marchionni and Nicola Yeeles
If you have any questions about what Jisc is doing to digitise Welsh resources, or to find out more about Jisc's investment in econtent, please email Paola at [email protected]