2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One (WW1), and yet the immediacy and resonance of the personal experiences of those at the front line remain undimmed by all those intervening years.
“I shall not easily forget those long winter nights in the front line. Darkness fell about four in the afternoon and dawn was not until eight next morning. These sixteen hours of blackness were broken by gun flashes, the gleam of star shells and punctuated by the scream of a shell or the sudden heart-stopping rattle of a machine-gun. The long hours crept by with leaden feet and sometimes it seemed as if time itself was dead.”
F. Noakes, in 'The Distant Drum' (a guardsman’s memoir of his time serving on the Western Front in the latter part of World War One)
Reading that, and other first-hand accounts of life in WW1, can still stop us in our tracks.
The forthcoming centenary offers us a remarkable opportunity to bring these voices to a modern audience, and to enable these unique, powerful and poignant testimonies to communicate directly with the generations who have followed. Now that their words can be delivered digitally, we can give fresh, authentic glimpses into the past and the ‘war to end all wars’, many of which may not have been possible before, because of the sheer volume of material that has been preserved and the limitations of analogue research mechanisms.
Bringing collections to life
At Jisc, we have been working for a decade to enable access to, and use and re-use of, some incredibly rich and powerful content relating to the WW1 era, including a range of primary source materials that we believe will facilitate new areas of research, and open up previously hidden collections to new audiences.
In these substantial collections that are brought together in our World War One Centenary hub you’ll find a rich variety of materials, including expert articles, audio and video lectures, downloadable images, interactive maps and 3D simulations as well as letters, diaries, photos and sketches which relate to first-hand experiences of the war.
Though the war is a powerful presence throughout these resources, much of the content aims to focus on wider, cross-disciplinary themes and to reappraise the war in its cultural, social geographical and historical contexts. The war had a seismic impact on issues such as medicine, technology, the British Empire and women’s rights, and these are among the many issues that are reflected.
These resources are all available now, and I hope they’ll help people to prepare for the 2014 centenary commemorations, and also spark new and exciting scholarly explorations well into the future.
Inspiring teaching, learning and research
That last consideration in very important. We are committed to understanding how academic audiences can lead the review and re-evaluation of themes, events and perceptions of WW1, and also to ensuring that the outcomes of that work can be effectively curated and disseminated via technology that will support innovative teaching, learning and research. Ideally, we would like to create a digitally-enabled user experience that is as personal, rich and vivid as it is focused; an experience that offers the user the ability to contextualise their own understanding and customise resources in line with their own learning and research priorities.
To make sure that you are able to find a Jisc-enabled collection quickly and easily, as well as to stay up-to-date on related activities, our WW1 Centenary hub includes listings for our collections of digital archived materials and resources as well as news, links and information as it happens.