New Collection Gathers World War I Artifacts

By Charlton, John | Information Today, May 2012 | Go to article overview

New Collection Gathers World War I Artifacts


Charlton, John, Information Today


Anniversaries often merit commemoration and perhaps none more so than those heralding the tectonic events that reshaped nations and continents.

It's no surprise then that Europeana, Europe's online cultural archive, is gearing up to commemorate the start of World War I in 1914. With the help of eight national and major European libraries, Europeana is amassing digitized versions of relevant artifacts that illustrate the impact of the war into the Europeana Collections 1914-1918, which will go live in 2014.

Jamie Andrews, head of English and Drama at The British Library (BL), is involved in the collections project. He says more than 400,000 items will be digitized and available online. "Add to this unseen material from people's own homes," says Andrews, "and we will have a truly rounded picture of the impact of the war on families from all the different communities involved."

This personal material submitted from the public will be digitized and added to another Europeana online archive, Europeana 1914-1918. Material for this archive is being collected at Europeana-held road shows in various locations across the continent.

Jonathan Purday, Europeana's senior communications advisor, says the road shows in major German cities resulted in 25,000 artifacts being scanned. More items were digitized in Preston, England, and Dublin. More will follow in Denmark, Slovenia, and other countries this year and next.

"So far, we've had letters, photos, diaries, trench art, tapestry, ... medals, Prisoner of War sketches," says Purday. "These items tell a very different ... story to official documents held by memory institutions such as libraries and museums."

When asked why the collections project is restricted to European countries when the 1914-1918 conflict was a global event, Purday reports that funding from the European Union only goes to member states. However, the BL is digitizing relevant materials from Canada, India, and New Zealand.

Gateway to 48 National Libraries

This month, The European Library website will feature a new look and feel. The revamped site, which is designed for researchers worldwide, will offer access to collections for the 48 national libraries of Europe.

The site was beta-tested in March and alpha-tested in April, and it should be fully live this month. It will provide researchers with access to more than 3.7 million digital items and nearly 53 million bibliographic records, says Aubery Escande, communication and editorial manager at The European Library. The focus is primarily on materials from the humanities and social sciences.

The technology underpinning the site allows research to be conducted across a body of topics that are linked by a common theme or time frames. The content includes 5,000 digitized letters from leading thinkers, such as 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

"The most obvious advantage of such a repository is that a wealth of scholarly material will now be available online," says Escande, "eliminating the need for scholars to undertake a costly physical journey to the holding institution. Online access will be free of charge."

Mein Kampf Revisited

One of the darkest works in European writings is Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. The book is banned in Germany where the copyright is still held by the state of Bavaria. Under current copyright laws that mandate protection for life plus 70 years, this means the book will be out of copyright in 2015.

London-based publisher Peter McGee had planned to publish a three-part series of excerpts, as well as accompanying expert commentaries, from Mein Kampf earlier this year. He publishes, with the aid of German academics, a weekly newspaper called Zeitungszeugen, which contains reprints of newspapers from the Nazi period from 1933 to 1945.

McGee says the supplements in this collection titled Das Unlesbare Buch (The Unreadable Book) have 100,000 print runs and would be inserted in Zeitungszeugen. …

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