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Irish-Canadian Documentary Heritage at Library and Archives Canada

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Symposium 2008

2008 Irish Studies Symposium: November 3 & 4

Session IV: Irish History and Modern Media

Beyond the Reel: Famine Commemoration, Historians, and the Docudrama
Dr. Mark McGowan, St Michael's College, University of Toronto

Summary: For good or for ill, most North Americans come to know their history from cinema and television as opposed to from more traditional media—monographs, articles, and papers. In some cases, the documentary film as a medium has become as strong a memorialization of historical events as any commemoration in bronze, wood, or stone.

For a "screen- orientated" generation of North Americans, the documentary style of Ken Burns on such topics as the American Civil War, baseball, or jazz has emerged as a new textbook for relating history to the masses. In Canada, a country that has pioneered documentary film-making, the historical documentaries have not been without their critics or controversies. The McKenna brothers' The Valour and the Horror or more recently CBC's Prairie Giant have aroused serious debate in the public sphere and among professional historians about the manner in which history is produced and packaged for public consumption. The docudrama brings the historical subject to the next level, by touching the audience emotionally by means of actors giving "real life" to the story beyond what narration, still photos, or motion pictures can provide.

When the publicly controversial and historiographically sensitive topic of the Irish famine becomes the subject of a docudrama, the professional historian becomes torn between the quest to get the history "right" and the film-maker's desire to make something with screen appeal. This paper provides a brief overview of the issues that arose during the recent production of Death or Canada, a Ballinran Films (Canada) and RTÉ (Ireland) joint production. The film is not only the first full-length (2 hours) feature film on the Famine and its impact on central Canada, but a project with strong ties to the construction of Ireland Park, Toronto's Famine Memorial, opened by President Mary McAleese in June 2007. In working on the film, the historian also had to navigate the expectations and opinions of the community engaged in the construction of one of Canada's largest Famine memorials.

Examining Irish Heritage in the Age of Social Media
Mr. Kyle Browness, Library and Archives Canada

Summary: The ability to share content online has never been easier than it is today. Thanks to increasing adoption of mobile computing, high-speed internet access, and social media tools such as Flickr, Wikipedia, YouTube and more anyone with an Internet connection can now actively contribute to the documentation of our collective history like never before.

As digital documentary heritage – from images to videos and sounds – becomes enhanced with geo-tagged information, our ability to explore Irish-Canadian documentary heritage is moving into a new era of location-based digital exploration.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to invite all to participate in this new age of historical exploration by sharing a selection of geo-tagged images on Irish-Canadian documentary heritage on Flickr, Canada's largest image sharing community, as well as a selection of videos from the Irish Studies Symposium on YouTube, Canada's largest video sharing community.

LAC encourages visitors of these albums to comment on, tag, and share these resources with others. Given the nature of geo-tagged and descriptor-tagged online content, these digital artifacts can be visualized in numerous ways, such as through RSS feeds and Google Earth information layers, to help us to see ties in past events with our present realities, making history come alive. LAC encourages feedback on the project by email at The albums are accessible from the Flickr/YouTube Albums of the Shamrock and Maple Leaf website.

Session III | Session V

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