Trinity College Dublin - Home and away

Olga Wojtas on Trinity College's cultural outreach work in Dublin, globally relevant postgraduate programmes and historic links with South Asia

September 9, 2010

Trinity College Dublin has had a dynamic relationship with its local community for over 400 years. It was a concerted campaign by the local community, spearheaded by the Dublin Corporation, that led to the university being founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592. The first lectures in the Irish language were delivered in 1628, and while it may have once been seen as a university of the Protestant ascendancy, Trinity has been admitting Catholics since 1793. More recently, the institution's tradition of engagement with the local community has been further enhanced through a multidisciplinary project, Creative Arts, Technology and Culture.

This innovative project is putting Trinity College at the heart of Dublin's cultural outreach. There is an urgent need for research into the ways higher education can contribute to the increasingly sought-after "creative city" status, and the project's first study is an investigation of the existing links between Trinity College and nearby museums, libraries and galleries to see how these can be exploited further.

Spearheaded by Trinity's provost, John Hegarty, the project reconnects the city's many cultural activities - museums, theatre, music, literature and language - by rethinking not only how they operate and their role in the 21st century, but also how they interact with the university.

In a major development for the college, Trinity is now collaborating with the creative industries to deliver courses for actors, directors and lighting designers, curators and conservationists as well as other practitioners. This work is critical in repositioning the university - which is a key objective of the Hub project - by creating a two-way flow of information in and out of the university, and creating connections across disciplines.

Hegarty explains: "It is like having a porous university where the boundaries are not so clear-cut any more, and where ideas and people can move easily across those blurred boundaries."

Poul Holm, academic director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, says: "What we are trying to do is develop a new platform for the new humanities. The IT revolution will let us unlock our treasures."

Funding for the Trinity Long Room Hub project was earmarked before the worldwide economic downturn, but research fellow Johanna Archbold says that cultural collaboration will make sound economic sense. Resources and expertise can be pooled and duplication avoided.

Trinity College is already the city's third-biggest tourist attraction, after the Guinness Storehouse and Dublin Zoo, Holm says. "There's an immediate sense of opening a gateway to a world of love for learning."

Visitors tend to focus principally on the Book of Kells (a highly illustrated biblical manuscript produced by Celtic monks in around AD800), but Trinity College is now set to highlight a much broader range of its treasures and its research, for example through digital displays.

Expectations for the external impact of the Hub are on the same scale as for the science gallery at the other end of the Trinity campus. Unlike the Hub, the science gallery is purpose-built for public access, and it hosts exhibitions and special events throughout the year where the public can interact with and understand science through the arts.

Hegarty believes the Trinity Long Room Hub can become, like the science gallery, "a place in the consciousness of the country, on the trail as a place to visit, and a place that has a spark and is new and edgy". He expects the Hub "to be a nerve centre for helping to organise events across the arts and humanities that would not be possible before", hosting talks, exhibitions, events and being recognised for its activity in its own right.

Collaboration with neighbouring institutions could also be a draw for students, allowing opportunities for joint postgraduate courses and internships.

"This would be particularly interesting to international students, providing employment for postgraduates and an area of potential income generation," Archbold says.

Trinity College has already launched Texts, Contexts, Cultures, a revolutionary postgraduate programme that is leading the transformation of the European PhD, according to Crawford Gribben, Trinity Long Room Hub senior lecturer in early modern print culture.

The programme was developed jointly by Trinity College, University College Cork and the National University of Ireland Galway, and is designed to integrate new technologies and professional placements into the traditional PhD.

There are currently some 40 students on the programme, 15 of them at Trinity College. They develop their research under the guidance of a supervisory panel that is often interdisciplinary and multi-institutional, including academics from leading institutions in North America and Europe. Students have the opportunity to take a placement linked to the knowledge economy, backed by training and seminars in career and aptitude development. Giving students these new skills will increase their employability, Trinity College scholars believe.

Gribben says: "We receive applications from all over the world, from students with bachelor's and master's degrees, from recent graduates and others with significant work experience and professional successes."

Kayoko Yukimura, who took her undergraduate and master's degrees at Kobe University in Japan, is in the first year of a doctorate funded through Rotary International's Ambassadorial Scholarship scheme.

She is investigating the maritime communities of southern Ireland after the Jacobite War, and is keeping in close touch with postgraduates and professors in Japan.

"There are many researchers of European history in my country," she says. "They are interested in the way historians in Ireland and other European countries study history. I report the latest trends of historiography in the Republic of Ireland and Europe to them."

She has been struck by the wealth of resources in the Trinity College library, notably the digital databases that are invaluable to history researchers.

"Trinity College's active interaction with other academic institutions, both domestic and international, is impressive," she says.

The university's links with South Asia go back almost 250 years, with the establishment of a chair of oriental languages in 1762. Trinity College had a major impact on the development of India in the 19th century, not only via its graduates in disciplines such as engineering, law and medicine, but also thanks to 150 graduates from its Indian Civil Service School. Early in the 20th century, Sir George Grierson, who studied mathematics and Sanskrit at Trinity College, produced his massive Linguistic Survey of India.

Those links are now being given fresh impetus through the university's South Asia Initiative, bringing together 70 academics from across the institution, who until now have been teaching and researching on South Asia in relative isolation. The initiative is chaired by Jurgen Barkhoff, Trinity College's registrar (an academic position).

"With Ireland becoming such a multicultural society in the past 10 years, we wanted to use this initiative not only to strengthen teaching and research, but also to strengthen awareness of these cultures in Ireland," he says.

Strong support has come from the local Indian community, with more than 20 organisations coming together to fund a new lectureship in Indian history and culture.

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations is also helping to establish visiting professorships.

"These posts will form the nucleus of a Centre for Indian Studies," Barkhoff says.

The South Asia Initiative has already hosted lectures by Amartya Sen, the economist and Nobel laureate, and Abdul Kalam, the former president of India.

The university is showcasing the centuries-old links between Trinity College, Europe and India in a major exhibition, Nabobs, Soldiers and Imperial Service: The Irish in India, drawing on a material from the 19th and early 20th century held in its library.

• The exhibition runs until 3 October 2010. For more information, visit

Russian-born Anastasia Dukova is in the third year of a PhD investigating crime and policing in Dublin, Brisbane and London in the second half of the 19th century. She believes that the comparative research has given her enormous opportunities, both personal and academic. She has made research trips to Australia, and has links with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security at Griffith University in Brisbane.

"I think universities should encourage their research students to participate in an international academic exchange," she says.

"I'm considering a postdoctorate degree in criminology. My research requires knowledge of the legal and punitive systems of Ireland, England and the colony of Queensland. I hope this diverse approach to criminal history and criminology will make my knowledge and skills equally effective in Europe and in Australia."

Her PhD is funded through the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, set up in 2000 to boost Ireland's research capacity. She says she was attracted by the prominence of humanities and social sciences at Trinity College, and has been impressed by the quality of its collections and its academic supervision.

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