Lives of the First World War

The Imperial War Museum are calling for stories, documents and pictures of the people served, held by families today. Their aim by the centenary for the IWM  is to have 8 million personal stories built on a digital platform using multi mediums.

The project – called Lives of the First World War and launching next February – will see the museum returning to its founding purpose but adapting to the internet age, in what is believed to be the biggest trawl for historical information ever undertaken.

Undeniably, there is this sense today that if we digitise archives, that this is a simple case of making digital replicas. Yet, this won’t make an archive anymore accessible: there still an identical volume of content and no clear route as to where to start. From what Shahidul talks about in a Phonar conversation, he suggests that we must use the tools available to us to keep telling stories and sharing information appropriately, using the correct medium. Although I won’t go as far to say that physical archives are not ‘current’, their form on the digital platform as a simple ‘copy’ is far from up to date. It is up to us how we think best we should appropriate archives for the digital audiences. The same digital audience whom expect information to come at the same time addressing different sense: sight and sound: text, speech, music, soundbites, photographs, illustrations, cartoons, animation. The list is endless.



but the digital age will allow a volume of information to be held that would be impossible to store in archives.

I don’t wholly accept this comment. Nothing is impossible to store in archives: you can catagorise documents into their type (rations,letters, pictures etc); however, what they suggest that is that the narratives together will work best on a digital platform, using multilayers to display information effectively, which physically may be confusing. Nevertheless, it would be possible to collect the evidence for one person together into their own physical folder. In a sense, that would be nice for family members to go and see and/or be able to take away. In a sense, when the IWM have digitised the stories from the collected information, what will happen to the physical? Will it get sent back, or will they still keep them for when this platform is digitally outdated. And, say, jpegs are no long compatible?

From late 1918, all ration books contained a message appealing for “biographical material, printed or in manuscript form, of all officers and men who have lost their lives or won distinctions”. The appeal, printed alongside coupons for margarine and butter, asked for “original letters, sketches, poems and other interesting documents sent from any of the war areas and all kinds of mementoes, even of trifling character”.

This tells us that archiving people’s thoughts and stories was always important, but didn’t have the tools to stitch it together. Or, in other words, didn’t have the communication capabilities for the data and thoughts to be collected by the associations to ever create the archives. However, not, 100 years on, there is the technology for us to share and communicate more than ever before. Moreover, we can tell a story and distribute it to audiences far and wide.

“After the war, many participants chose not to discuss their experiences. This was sometimes due to their personal trauma or to the social mores of the time.

“The centenary gives us a period of common focus to ensure those stories are shared.

For me, there is a sensitivity issue toward the ‘subjects’. For example, if this was a collaborative piece of photography and the subject didn’t want to share their story, it would be respectful not to publish. So, why now they are dead is it acceptable? I can understand that families would like to discover more about their relatives’ experiences of war, but it does make us wonder why? If the people involved didn’t want to remember, then why should anybody else. This is a little off-topic…

“At the same time, the ubiquity of the internet combined with lessons learned from platforms such as Facebook, Wikipedia and Flickr allow everyone to collaborate on such a vast project.”

It seems that it is only really now that we have the knowledge of how we can catalogue on the internet with hashtags from social media that we can now create platforms to upload and share information to create narratives from expansive archives.

I am interested in keeping up with this project and how they succeed in a creating a social-sharing and archiving platform.

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