Digital Derg

An Environmental Humanities Deep Map by Dr James L. Smith

Deep Mapping the Spiritual Waterscape of Ireland’s Lakes

The entrance to Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, BnF fr. 1544, 105r, public domain.

Hello, and welcome to Digital Derg, my project blog for a 2018-20 IRC Government of Ireland Postdoctoral fellowship. Here you will find project information, a project bibliography, and access to whatever comes next, including a project monograph and articles.

First of all, who am I?

This is me. I am Dr James L. Smith, and I am a historian by training. I am currently based in the department of geography at Trinity College Dublin, having spent a year as a visiting fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub. This is quite a large disciplinary leap for me, but I am looking forward to growing into my new disciplinary affiliation. I focus on intellectual history, medieval abstractions and visualisation schemata, digital humanities, environmental humanities, neurohumanities, spatial humanities and water history.

My first monograph is Water in Medieval Intellectual Culture: Case-Studies from Twelfth-Century Monasticism (Brepols, 2018). In the photograph above I am holding a copy of The Passenger: Medieval Texts and Transits (punctum, 2017), which is available as either an open access PDF or keenly-priced print on demand paper copy. I am also co-editor of the Open Library of the Humanities collection ‘New Approaches to Medieval Water Studies’. You can read all of my other publications here.

And now, the project! Below you will find an extract of my project description. Please do follow me on Twitter (@ScrivenenerSmith) and keep an eye on this blog for more updates and resources! I also blog about topics related to design and research creativity at my personal site, Scrivener and Smith.


Anthropologist Veronica Strang has called our spiritual obsession with water ‘hydrolatry’, a lingering veneration that goes beyond religion affecting social behaviour in an era of scientific instrumentality and commodification. It is part of the Irish psyche, and contains a reservoir of spiritual history waiting to be delved. As Jamie Linton puts it, ‘[w]e mix language, gods, bodies, and thought with water to produce the worlds and the selves we inhabit’. There is a need to provide histories that reveal this admixture in greater depth, and make it accessible to a variety of interpretations. This project builds a vision of water spanning Ireland’s long spiritual history that will strengthen the cultural resonance of place and space in the face of unprecedented bio-ethical, heritage, environmental, and climate challenges.

Ireland’s Loughs are a salient example, sites of layered spiritual narrative, continuity, and change. Their agency pulls at history and culture. They draw in stories that begin with myths and prehistory, are retold and expanded through medieval spiritual narratives such as the lives of saints and the histories of monasticism, and linger in accounts of travel, poetry, history, and memory. Today, interlinked human and material cultures continue to adhere, mingling with shifts in land use, climate and biodiversity to fill bodies of water with a cultural force. The human and non-human become inseparable.

This project gathers multimedia and multi-disciplinary narratives into an archive with the spatial humanities methodology of deep mapping, shaping a digital environment through the case study of Lough Derg in County Donegal, famous pilgrimage site and complex socio-natural site. Although a single case study, its findings will be broadly applicable to the spiritual history of place and of water.

By gathering four curated collections of geo-referenced digital objects (arranged in literature, social science, natural science and multi-media archives) in the flexible framework of the Omeka content management system, the project will narrate the profound cultural forces swirling around Lough Derg, revealing an ontology spanning its long spiritual history, from prehistory until the twenty-first century. When the project is complete, it will exist as an online case study and resource that demonstrates a complex ontological relationship between faith and waterscape, place and identity. As the Lough Derg website hints when it gathers together diverse accounts of place—Yeats, Heaney, Shakespeare—there is a thirst to capture an image of its diversity.

Furthermore, the project will have demonstrated upon completion that waterscapes are a fundamental element of a region’s cultural history in a manner that is available to scholars, public, and stakeholders alike through the exercise of a new spatial humanities methodology


Station Island Basilica, Wikimedia Commons, public domain courtesy of Andreas F. Borchert.

The project objectives are as follows:

  1. To create a deep mapping archive of Lough Derg hosted within an Omeka collection that contains curated material in four archives, serving as a body of source material for analysis that can be explored by users with different needs.
  2. To pilot a series of interactive outputs for the Lough Derg study such as mini-exhibits built using the Neatline plugin. Examples include timelines, story maps, and sub-collections that tell a focused story (e.g. Station Island).
  3. To write and submit a series of peer-reviewed publications on the content and methodology, and to draft a manuscript for a monograph of the project based on a series of arguments and histories derived from the collection.
  4. To contribute to Irish cultural life and policy by providing an online archive and map. Through this resource, the public will be able to learn about folklore, the history of Ireland and their home districts, and a changing spiritual relationship between society, environment and place. Findings will be disseminated through social media and blogging.
  5. To generate new conceptual possibilities for the study of spiritual waterscapes that will be applicable for future studies, and to contribute to a new qualitative framework for the narration of hydro-social arrangements.


William Lawrence, Pilgrims at Lough Derg, from O’Connor, ‘St. Patrick’s Purgatory: Lough Derg’, 1903, public domain.

The project is based on a series of core questions:

  1. What is the relationship between the Lough Derg’s unique environmental features and its spiritual history, and what kind of digital sources and media across disciplines can best represent these bonds?
  2. What analytic techniques can be applied to a Lough Derg archive to enable spatio-temporal analysis?
  3. How can the link between pre-modern religious narratives of water and the twenty-first century be narrated as part of a continuous whole?
  4. What conversations can material from the humanities and the sciences have when combined in a unified schema and archive, and what is the role of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity in selecting and interpreting content?
  5. How can these relationships be visualised and conveyed in a manner that provides value to all?

The role of this blog will be to keep you updated about my two-year project as it develops, including any new publications or activities, and to offer a venue for the presentation of my visualisations and alternate forms of experimental publication. You can learn more about my 2017-18 as a Trinity Long Room Hub fellow here.

Many thanks to Humanities Commons for offering a blogging option attached to both profile and publications—there often isn’t an easy and flexible niche for ad hoc blogs such as this one.

[Header image: Hybernia Nunc Irlant, BnF, public domain]

Previous Post


  1. La Flynn October 5, 2018

    Dear James, my name is La Flynn – ‘La’ is for Laurence – and I am the current Prior at Lough Derg. You can guess how interested I am to know about this project that you are undertaking. Have you ever been here to Lough Derg? I look forward to a chance to meet up with you whenever that may be convenient.
    Meantime – bless the work!

    • James Louis Smith October 5, 2018

      Many thanks for your comment, Fr Flynn. I am very grateful for your interest, and have sent you an email to follow up.

      Best Wishes, James

  2. Camilla August 8, 2019

    OOO this is sooo coool! I want to b kept up to date on all your progress.

© 2022 Digital Derg

Theme by Anders Norén