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Writing Peace

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Writing Peace is an initiative of the Quill Project in Pembroke College and the Faculty of History at Oxford University, in collaboration with partners in Ireland and the US, to create a rounded view of the peace talks in Northern Ireland from the late 1980s to early 2000s. Online resource collections and cutting-edge analytical tools celebrate the constellation of peace makers involved and help scholars and practitioners alike to learn lessons for the future.

Writing Peace offers a unique collection and visualization of primary source material relating to the peace process, allowing users to understand the context within which key decisions and compromises were made, the origins of particular phrases, and the developing roles of individuals and political parties.

The model at the heart of the project is constructed by taking official accounts and papers and using them to create a ‘spine’ in the software platform around which the digital edition is constructed. Unofficial sources, private papers and correspondence, and later recollections are presented as a secondary layer of material around this core. It is hoped that links to relevant public briefings, oral history and media archives will also be added over time. This layering enables us to build multiple perspectives into the model even at an early stage when we are working primarily from a single archive, but it is also sufficiently flexible to allow us to expand the model as we gain access to new sources and additional archives through collaborations with other institutions and individuals.

At the outset, it was anticipated that more papers relating to the Peace Process would have been deposited with archives and even digitized, and so would be simply signposted from the Quill model. Instead, much of the first eighteen months of the project have been dedicated to document recovery and digitization. (All documents acquired and scanned during this process have been returned to Ireland to the care of local archives as acquisition of documents has never been the intention of this project.)

We are now able to make available our first Writing Peace Resource Collections. Several other Collections are currently in production, including David Trimble's archive, and we are actively seeking partners to broaden the range of material either hosted by or linked to from the site. Development of the digital models that will visualize these collections is currently underway, and preview access is provided to the earliest models on the Brooke-Mayhew Talks and the Downing Street Declaration. Further models and revisions to the existing models are anticipated in 2024.

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Description: WORK IN PROGRESS - This project is still under development. It models a series of formal and informal negotiations which led to the publication, in December 1993, of a declaration issued jointly by the British and Irish Governments. The Joint Declaration was a critical policy document which paved the way for a ceasefire and the entry of Sinn Féin into formal talks. It also laid out a shared set of principles – including, crucially, self-determination for the people of Ireland subject to the consent of the people of Northern Ireland – which would come to underpin the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and provide a framework for its ratification.

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Description: A selection of mini-models designed to provide an insight into the ongoing work of 'Writing Peace' and to demonstrate Quill's approach to visualising the archive material and tracking the process of negotiation. This collection is still under construction.

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Description: WORK IN PROGRESS - IN THE FINAL STAGES OF EDITING A series of talks launched by Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for Northern in Ireland, which began in April 1991, and were carried on intermittently by Brooke and his successor, Patrick Mayhew, until November 1992.

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Description: Talks under the Chairmanship of Senator George B. Mitchell. We have only just started this project.

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Description: The International Body on Arms Decommissioning was appointed as part of the twin-track process. It was led by the people who would later become the Independent Chairmen of the 1996-1998 peace talks. They produced the Mitchell report, which set out, amongst other recommendations, a list of principles which all parties signed up to as the basis for the talks.

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Description: The Forum for Political Dialogue met between 1996 and 1998 in Belfast as part of the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

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Description: Dublin Forum convened by the Government of the Republic of Ireland

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This collection is one box (P254) from a larger selection of Dermot Nally's papers held in the University College Dublin Archives. The documents in the box relate to the development of the Downing Street Joint Declaration, made by the British and Irish Governments in 1993. Dermot Nally led the Irish government team during the negotiations. The collection was digitised in July 2023 by Kate Manning, the Principal Archivist at UCD, and the catalogue was written by Niamh Collins.

The Forum for Political Dialogue met between 1996 and 1998 in Belfast alongside the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement. The Records of Debate were originally posted on the Forum's website, which has since been archived. Lord Alderdice later commissioned print versions of the records. The structure of this Collection is taken from the six printed volumes of the Record of Debate and follows the divisions therein. It was digitized and catalogued by Harriet Carter and Jamie Pitts.

From the mid-1980s, John, now Lord, Alderdice, was intimately involved in the Irish peace process. His archive spans more than thirty years of negotiation and implementation, from his early days in the Alliance Party in the 1980s, through his leadership of the party during several phases of multi-party talks in the 1990s, to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement during his time as the first Speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. It also includes a small section on the Sunningdale Conference, inherited from previous party leaders, as a testimony to the origins of the 1998 Agreement.

The section of Lord Alderdice's archive digitized as part of this project focuses primarily on his role in the Multi-Party Talks of the 1990s. A wider collection of his papers, documenting his contribution to liberal politics and conflict resolution in other countries, is held in the McClay Library at Queen’s University in Belfast.

The Alderdice papers to which Quill originally had access were catalogued and arranged chronologically in three subsections, 1985-1992 (particularly focusing on 1991-1992), 1992-1995, and 1996-1998, representing the three main attempts to reach agreement in the 1990s. Papers handed over by Lord Alderdice after this initial cataloguing process had been completed are currently in a separate box and span the whole period. This collection was catalogued and digitized by Ruth Murray, Harriet Carter, Sofia Panourgias and Annabel Harris.

Monica McWilliams is Emeritus Professor in the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, and has campaigned tirelessly for peace and human rights in both Northern Ireland and the wider world for more than four decades. As co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC), she was elected to the Multi-Party Talks in 1996 at a key juncture in the peace negotiations. The section of her archive digitized as part of this project focuses on the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement (1998-2003) and the process of implementation during Professor McWilliams's time as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (1998-2003).

The digitization of the Monica McWilliams Collection is a partnership with Queen's University. The physical archive is housed in the McClay Library, along with wider records of the NIWC and Professor McWilliams’s work with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. This collection was catalogued and digitized by Ruth Murray, Annabel Harris and Harriet Carter. The structure of the Collection is based on the categories used in Professor McWilliams's own filing system. Some reorganization has taken place to interweave loose papers and to ensure that records from each Committee are co-located for easier reference.

A selection of material relating to the Northern Irish Peace Process scanned at The National Archives. The files are mainly taken from the CJ 4 series (Northern Ireland Office records) and the PREM series (Office of the Prime Minister records). The organization of the files reflects their physical location within the Archive at Kew. Documents collated and catalogued by Ruth Murray, Annabel Harris, Harriet Carter, Isha Pareek, Oliver Nicholls, Kieran Wetherwick, and Cerys Griffiths.

This collection of treaties, agreements, legislation, and joint statements relating to the status of Northern Ireland was commissioned by ARINS. The primary source materials in this resource collection were compiled by Harriet Carter and Ruth Murray, and are currently being used to construct a digital model of the Peace Process which will enable users to better understand the context within which key decisions and compromises were made, the origins of particular phrases, and the developing roles of individuals and political parties.