Industrial Memories: Data Analytics as a form of Witnessing

This paper will address the ethics of using human-centric digital methodologies to intervene in cultural memory as an act of belated witnessing.  


The Irish Government’s Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its final report in 2009 (henceforth, the Ryan Report). The Ryan Report detailed the history of child abuse across 50+ institutions in the Irish State, from 1940-1999; the 2,600 page report gathered evidence from 10 years of inquiry, involving over 1500 witnesses. Though the report contains key facts about how institutional abuse can arise and the failure of governmental oversight, its sheer size has meant that the totality of its findings have never been properly communicated to the public.

The Industrial Memories project treats the Ryan Report as a data corpus which can be mined and analysed – the panel will particularly focus on the intellectual/ethical principles of treating this material as data, the emotive impact of the material, the methodology of approaching a governmental report as a corpus, the generation of research questions, and the potential outcomes of identifying behavioural, cultural and linguistic patterns.

This paper will give an overview of the Industrial Memories project and its mission to digitally re-read and re-present the Ryan Report. Pine will discuss the 2 different strands of the project: 1) the text and data analytics approach, and 2) the digital arts strand: the mobile app walking tour, virtual reality platform, and GIS/heat map. Pine will discuss ways in which the data analytics project enables the scaling up of traditional humanities questions, the challenges to this (the risk of flattening data), and the combination of data approaches with memory and trauma theory. As a performance and literary scholar, Pine will examine the promise of ‘digital reading’ and how digitally re-reading enacts a different kind of memory work. In the second half of the paper, Pine will present an overview of results so far, including an introduction to ‘Transfer Analysis’ and ‘Witnessing Analysis’.

The Industrial Memories project is funded by an Arts/STEM major grant from the Irish Research Council, 2015-2018.

Dr Emilie Pine lectures in modern drama at University College Dublin. She is the founding Director of the Irish Memory Studies Network, PI on Industrial Memories (IRC New Horizons 2015-18), Assistant Editor of the Irish University Review, and author of The Politics of Irish Memory (Palgrave, 2011). Emilie is currently working on a book on memory, the witness and the marketplace in world theatre.