The 1641 Depositions (Trinity College, Dublin, MSS 809-841), a much-cited source of Irish history, are witness testimonies concerning experiences of the 1641 rebellion. The testimonies, from mainly Protestants but some Catholics, document military activity, alleged crimes and violent acts during the rebellion. They provide a unique source of information not only about the rebellion but also about the social, economic, cultural, religious and political history of Ireland during the rebellion.
A commission for the Despoiled Subject was set up in December 1641, charged with collecting statements from refugees and primarily to register claims for compensation. Subsequent commissions sought to expand the range of the inquiry: gathering more evidence about personal experiences, murders, atrocities, information about those in arms, apostates and traitorous words. A further commission operated in 1652, its responsibility was to gather evidence against individuals accused of crimes during the rebellion.
In all about 8,000 depositions, statements and associated materials were collected, amounting to 19,010 pages bound in 31 volumes and given to Trinity College in 1741.
In 2007 the 1641 Deposition Project, a collaborative venture between Trinity College, and the universities of Aberdeen and Cambridge, was set up to conserve, digitise, transcribe and make all available online. All this was accomplished by September 2010. A hard copy will be published in 12 volumes.
The neatly designed site has the usual historical background to the depositions, supplemented by brief, but useful, notes on palaeography, and equally useful FAQs. As well as the depositions themselves the site gives a laudable overview of the funding, the sustainability of the site and the methods and technology used – all useful information for other prospective projects.
The simplest of registration methods allows users to browse or search the site as well as maintain a “favourites” list where users can store their own notes on particular depositions. You can browse the depositions by MS number and compare the transcription to the digital text. A useful pop-up box shows you how to cite the text and provides embedded MS and Folio numbers. The advanced search allows a range of options and neatly – when clicking on drop down box for search terms – a helpful hint outlines the search restrictions. For example when clicking on sex the hint reads “Where clearly identifiable”. There is also an interactive map which allows searching by county.
The transcriptions are exact representations of the original depositions and do not modernise, standardise or correct the original spellings. This may cause problems in searching eg dogs, dog, doges, dogges, doggs. There seems to be no option to use a wildcard. Personal names and place names have been rationalised to aid searching. Future plans include cutting-edge natural language processing, which will normalise texts that contain inconsistent spelling, nomenclature, punctuation etc. The next phase will also include entity and relationship extraction, which highlights the key individuals, events, dates and other entities and relationships within the unstructured text. This is a wonderful resource which can only get better.