, , ,

In the summer of 2015, the Irish Research Council called for interdisciplinary project proposals for a scheme designed to give humanities scholars such as myself ‘an opportunity to get involved in research design and methodology at the earliest possible stage with STEM researchers on topics of mutual interest.’ I have long had an interest in the culture and history of the waters that surround the island of Ireland, but my focus was entirely on the ways in which we have registered our island existence in literature and culture. I had never had any meaningful discussions with colleagues who specialised in the science of marine life. Seeking to address my shallow knowledge, I made contact with Dr Rob McAllen in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork and we embarked on a successful bid for funding for a joint project.

Our project, which I am pleased to introduce here, is called Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures. With the idea of deep mapping, we join our enquiries to those of other interdisciplinary researchers, concerned with investigating human interactions with the environment over time and in particular places. Place is what connects the three main parts of our project: scientific knowledge; historical representation and community perception of dangers to the marine environment. We are delighted to be working in a place that all of the project researchers know and love: West Cork.

Deep Maps is both extensive and intensive: it selects a biologically meaningful sweep of West Cork coastline that makes sense as a cultural unit, while developing digital representations of the cultural and historical layers that shape encounters with sea and land. Currently designated a Special Area of Conservation, sites along Roaring Water Bay have long been of interest to writers, travellers, antiquarians and folklorists. The Deep Maps project joins different forms of knowledge about coastal environments in order to produce a deeper and more holistic picture of this unique area. In doing so, we aim to develop a methodology that can be scaled for other coastal sites

In joining the scholarly skills and interest of humanities researchers to those of marine biologists, Deep Maps links up aspects of the maritime environment that are often disconnected in modern debates. Even as we undertake this work, we are very aware of how deep such disconnection runs: there is little in our current scholarly world to enable serious discussions across disciplines, grounded in strong scholarly expertise yet open to those outside specialist worlds.

Books and studies that we have found to be especially inspiring include Iain McCalman’s The Reef: A Passionate History, and Callum Roberts’, Ocean of Life. McCalman warns of the environmental costs of a gulf between the sciences and the arts but is cautiously hopeful of better long-term outcomes if we reclaim a fuller sense of our coastal cultures. Callum Roberts too asks us to ‘plot a new course to safeguard the oceans and ourselves’. The journey starts here.

Prof Claire Connolly