As an undergraduate history major, I am often stuck when considering that the First World War began in 1914, one hundred years ago this year. It is astounding to think that in the past century we’ve gone from mounted cavalry charges and trenches to drones and nuclear aircraft carriers– but that’s a topic for another post. This week, to mark the centennial of the beginning of this conflict, the British National Archives have digitized and made available an excellent collection of war diaries (check here for the collection itself).
These diaries are official accounts, written by soldiers, of the events taking place in every British military unit. This week, the project was the subject of a New York Times article that caught my eye and inspired me to investigate the collection. I also recently received an email from the folks at zooniverse.org, a citizen science portal that I’ve used in the past to participate in a few fascinating crowdsourced tagging projects, announcing the start of a tagging project for the War Diaries. I had to see for myself what kinds of information could be found in these documents.
Below is a screenshot of a page I worked on:
As you can see, this is a very robust interface that allows users to add a range of tags and other notes to the pages of war diaries. Beginning with dates and times on the left side of the page, moving to descriptions of troop movements, casualties, officers and awards, and concluding on the right-hand column with notes directing readers to associated documents, there is a lot of work to be done on each page to extract valuable data! I was only able to do a few pages before my eyes got tired trying to decipher the handwritten notes, but I’ll be back.
Are you interested in World War I? Citizen science projects? Collaborative tagging? Novel and robust interfaces for academic digital projects? Then I encourage you to check out Operation War Diaries and contribute to a valuable project!
Note: Wikipedia links added for reference. World War I is a fascinating, tragic conflict.
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