Lecture: Understanding religious networks in the archived web

Back in April I was in Jerusalem to give a paper at a two-day conference on web archiving at the National Library of Israel. The majority of the lectures are now available on YouTube, and mine is below.

It draws on material from three projects, some published, some not. The first was my forthcoming piece on religion in Web history in the Sage Handbook of Web History; the second, another forthcoming piece on cross-border religion in the Irish web (due later this year), and thirdly, this (so far unpublished) paper on British creationism.

(It starts about 28 minutes in).

Lessons from cross-border religion in the Irish web sphere

[UPDATED: 21 June 2018. This book is now in production and should appear before the end of 2018.]

I’m delighted to announce that I have a chapter accepted (subject to peer review) in a forthcoming book of essays on national web domains, The Historical Web and Digital Humanities: the Case of National Web domains. It is edited by Niels Brügger & Ditte Laursen and will be published by Routledge.

Here’s the abstract.

Understanding the limitations of the ccTLD as a proxy for the national web: lessons from cross-border religion in the Northern Irish web sphere

The web archiving community has known for a long while that the country-code top level domain (.uk, .ie) only ever represents a subset (although a very substantial one) of a national web sphere. Every national sphere (when defined as content published within a national jurisdiction) includes very substantial amounts of content that resides within the various geographically non-specific domains, such as .com or .org. However, the current state of knowledge is such that little is known with any certainty about the content that ‘lives’ outside the ccTLD, and what factors determine the choices made by webmasters as to the domain registrations they choose.

The situation is particularly complicated in the island of Ireland, since two political units (the UK and the Republic of Ireland) and two ccTLDs (.uk and .ie) share (as it were) a land border. This chapter takes the case of the Christian churches in Ireland (north and south) as a case study in the mapping (or lack of it) between the nation and the ccTLD. The churches in Ireland are organised on an all-Ireland basis: a reflection of their origins that pre-date the partition of Ireland into north and south.

The chapter makes two distinct but related points. It investigates the degree to which the differing historic attitudes of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Northern Ireland to national identity are reflected in patterns of domain registration. Based on data for 2015 and 2016, it shows that Roman Catholic congregations were more likely to register domains outside the .uk ccTLD. However, there was no corresponding prioritisation of registration within .uk for the several Protestant denominations. If organisations which might be expected to register their web estate within a particular national domain do not in fact do so, it suggests that the ‘gravitational pull’ of the ccTLD is weak. Focussing on the Baptist churches in particular, the chapter also shows that the network of links between the individual Baptist church congregations on both sides of the border between 1996 and 2010 was both tightly focussed around the churches in Northern Ireland, and also highly localised within one part of the province, whilst at the same time being spread across four TLDs. While offline patterns of numeric strength and geographic concentration are reflected online, in this case at least, they map only very loosely to the ccTLD. As such, it would seem that the ccTLD on its own is a weak proxy for the national web.

Conference paper: Michael Ramsey and the Troubles in Ulster, 1968-74

[UPDATE: the substance of this paper was published in my book on Michael Ramsey.]

With a sigh of relief, I’m now putting the finishing touches to my paper for this week’s conference on Protestant-Catholic conflict, at Stranmillis College in Belfast.

Here’s my conclusion:

“The complexities of the archbishop of Canterbury’s position in relation to Ulster are a microcosm of his wider predicament. Amongst moderate elements, he was seen as an honest broker at the centre of power, able to create a neutral space in which political schemes to end the Troubles might be able to grow. His own public interventions in relation of issues of human rights abroad caused others to see him as a friend of victims of perceived injustice. However, the bulk of the calls upon him to intervene to end the violence were based on either naivety, a lack of information about what was already being done, or a misunderstanding of the powers of Canterbury over the independent Church of Ireland.

“In Protestant eyes, however, there was an inescapable contradiction between Ramsey’s constitutional role as head of a Protestant state church born at the Reformation, and his own fervent commitment to the ecumenical movement and to closer relations with Rome in particular. In this Ramsey was caught between genuine ecumenical enthusiasm within his own church and within the Irish churches on the one hand, and residual anti-Catholic sentiment in the nation at large on the other. The 1960s were a period in which the relationship between the Church of England and the nation was being renegotiated, in relation to the moral law and to conceptions of national identity. Those negotiations, never easy, were intractable to the point of impossibility in an Irish context.