The Prisons Memory Archive:

Questioning and Engaging with Interactivity

Laura Aguiar and Cahal McLaughlin
Queen’s University Belfast

The Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) recorded 175 interviews from those who passed through Armagh Gaol and the Maze and Long Kesh Prison. These prisons were both touchstone and tinderbox during the 30 years of the violent conflict in Northern Ireland. The range of participants includes prison staff, prisoners, visitors, teachers, chaplains and probation officers.

The PMA is an ongoing research project and its aim is to offer possibilities of engaging with the story of the ‘other’ in a society that is emerging from decades of political violence. One way of doing this, we believe, is through interactivity. In 2013, we made available online 24 interviews, totalling approximately 50 hours of filmed material. This material can be navigated in two ways: either via the full interviews, which range from 20min to 3 hours, or through 15 conceptual categories, lasting on average 5 minutes each. With these signposts, we hope to offer users the opportunity to navigate their way around the interviews through different pathways.

However, turning this material into an interactive webpage has raised many questions, such as why use interactivity, how the subjective nature of tagging and categorising affects the outcome, how interactivity can help listen to the ‘other’. In this one hour workshop we would like to discuss these questions with those present through an exploration of the website and debate on the achievements and limitations of the work to date.

We believe this workshop could offer a hands-on opportunity for participants to think about substantial ethical and methodological questions raised when working with i- docs. These questions are even more problematic when working in a place with contested narratives, such as Northern Ireland.

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