About the project

This online research guide provides instruction on reading, understanding and researching a range of archival diaries available for research at the Glucksman Library.

The resource is designed to assist students and researchers at all levels with their research. It aims to build basic archival and information literacy, and outline useful historical research methods. Its lessons offer both a broad introduction to the work of the Special Collections and Archives Department and its collections, as well as specific research advice relating to historical research and critical analysis, the consultation of archival diaries as sources for social history, and guidance relating to the reading and transcription of archival sources.

Project outline

The ‘Opening a window to the past: researching archival diaries‘ project is a collaboration between Special Collections and Archives (archival expertise) and the Department of History (subject-matter expertise) to develop an online digital resource that can be used for self-guided teaching, and within a classroom context. We hope this will encourage greater engagement with Special Collections and Archives by students (as a learning tool) and lecturers (as a teaching tool).

The project was funded under the 2019 Strategic Alignment Teaching and Learning Enhancement (SATLE) Fund by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (T&L) and launched in May 2021.

The project aligns with three of T&L’s four strategic priorities:

Teaching and Learning in a Digital World
Relatively simplistic technology can greatly enhance student and faculty access to lesser-known resources already available at the Glucksman Library. This online resource allows students to access these resources from any location, which is particularly useful for inclusion on blended learning programmes. It was designed with best practice in online teaching in mind, but ultimately, as a resource that is simple to use and maintain.

Teaching and Learning Enhancement Within and Across Disciplines
As cognate disciplines, Archives and History are very much dependent on each other. This collaboration facilitates excellence in teaching and learning by combining the two.

Student Success
This resource allows students to study at their own pace to gain a good understanding of some of the key principles of the archival process and historical research. It provides students with access to digitised diaries that form part of the Glucksman Library’s collection. After completing the lessons, students will be able to explain the differences between primary and secondary sources. They will understand how to how to critically evaluate primary sources, and the various stages that are involved in historical research, from their first visit to the archives through to publishing their research. The resource is designed so that students can engage with the material at any level of study.

The launch of the project also aligned with the launch a few months previous of UL’s new Digital Library, which hosts a number of digitised collections from the Special Collections and Archives Department, including the three diaries included in the resource.

Project methodology

The immediacy, relatability and succintness of diaries make them perfect teaching resources for archival literacy and research methodology sessions. During the Autumn Semester 2019/20, the project team co-taught an introduction to the transcription and analysis of nineteenth-century diaries as sources for social history. Following the success of this session, the team decided to develop an accessible, online resource to support teaching and learning of archival skills and historical analysis using archival diaries as an example.

It was important to the project team that the resource used technology in new ways to bring historic diaries to life for researchers, and with this in mind, an interactive learning element, in the form of an ‘escape room’ type game, was incorporated into the project plan. As the project was developed, feedback was sought from students undertaking the MA in the History of the Family in 2020/21, and their feedback has been incorporated into the final product.


Project outcomes

The research guide showcases archival diaries held within the Special Collections and Archives.

Developed with input of both UL faculty and Special Collections and Archives staff, the project enhances student engagement with the primary research resources held at UL. It provides students with opportunities for self-study, and teaching faculty with an online resource that can be incorporated into their lesson plans. The online resource also raises public awareness of the University of Limerick’s collections, resources and courses.

It is hoped that this project will be added to over time, exploring other types of primary source.

Project team

Project lead: Dr Kirsten Mulrennan, Archivist, Special Collections and Archives

Dr Kirsten Mulrennan holds a BA in English and History from UL, an MA in Archives and Records Management from UCD, and in 2013, she graduated with Ireland’s first PhD in Archivistics from UCD. She has worked as a professional archivist in a variety of services, and has lectured on the Archives MA at UCD. She joined the Special Collections and Archives Department in the Glucksman Library in 2018, and is responsible for faculty and student engagement with primary sources.
Dr Rachel Murphy, Associate Teacher, Department of History, and IRC Laureate Fellow

Dr Rachel Murphy is based in the Department of History at UL where she lectures on the MA History of Family and works as a post-doctoral researcher on the Death and Burial Data: Ireland 1864–1922 project funded by the Irish Research Council. A graduate of the University of Oxford, Rachel completed a PhD in History and Digital Humanities at University College Cork, and also holds a Diploma in Teaching, Learning and Scholarship from UL.


The project team would like to thank the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, as well as the Centre for Transformative Learning (CTL) at UL, for their support of this project. They would also like to thank their respective departments, as well as the following individuals:

Dr Mary Fitzpatrick, Head, Centre for Transformative Learning
Rosaleen Archbold, Senior Administrator, Centre for Transformative Learning
Ken Bergin, Head, Special Collections and Archives
Caleb Derven, Head, Technical and Digital Services
Sinéad Keogh, Digital Librarian, Technical and Digital Services
Olivia O’Keeffe, Library Assistant, Technical and Digital Services
Ray Boyce, Array Graphics
Dónal McFadden, third year UL student, BSc Computer Games Development

Kirsten Mulrennan and Rachel Murphy, 'Opening a window to the past: Researching archival diaries', University of Limerick Special Collections and Archives Department website (https://specialcollections.ul.ie/research-diaries/) (Date accessed).