First World War Poetry Digital Archive

About the Great War Archive

The Great War Archive presented an innovative approach to collection strategies, digitisation, cataloguing, and public involvement in major research projects. It harnessed the power of the Web along with the potential of 'mass' amateur digitisation to collect thousands of items from World War One that would otherwise have disappeared or remained hidden from researchers and scholars worldwide.

Success possible with limited resources

Launched in March 2008 the initiative invited members of the general public to submit digital photographs, audio, film, documents, and stories that originated from the Great War (which they held the rights to) via a purpose built web-based system. In a short period of 3 months, with only 6 people (part-time), the initiative collected over 6,500 individual digital objects to be made freely available for use in classrooms and research on the site's launch in November 2008. Both those who died and those who lived through the war left evidence of their experience, items collected included diaries, photographs, official documents, and even audio interviews with veterans. However insignificant, each of these items has a part to play in helping todays generation to understand what war meant to ordinary people: the soldiers, their families and the workers back in Britain who kept the country going.

Tackling the cost of mass digitisation

The initiative tackled the problem that it would be too expensive to locate all these items and then to digitise and catalogue them using traditional digitisation process. Yet at the same time these items are being lost, thrown away, or accidentally damaged on a daily basis. Using the web as a collection medium and tapping into the public's enthusiasm for preserving the nation's heritage The Great War Archive met these issues head-on.

Contributing online

The submission web site was built from scratch and allowed users to be able to easily submit single items and items with multiple objects (e.g. pages of a diary). The system guided them through basic copyright agreements, and also collected some essential metadata but in a way that would not be off-putting as it was recognized that many of the contributors would be elderly and not that familiar with online submissions. Additionally, it also had attached an administration system that allowed reviewers to check items for their validity, to correct or add to the metadata, and flag items of particular interest and historical value.

The Great War Archive Submission Site


The initiative's innovative approach also extended its collection strategy to a series of 'road shows' around the country where the team based itself in local libraries or archives and invited members of the public to bring items along for advice and on-the-spot digitization. Thus the project involved the public directly in the collection of material, regardless of whether they had access to ICT or the ICT skills, and in doing so reached a wide audience. The submissions received from members of the general public were made because their family's history mattered to them. In response to submissions received via the website and at the submission day events the project team were able to explain further the history behind certain items, for example why the visitor's grandfather won a particular medal - how out of the ordinary the award was, and what he had been through, but never spoken of. The use of ICT has enabled The Great War Archive to engage with the public on a personal level.

The Great War Archive on Flickr

Although the submission process ended in June 2008, as an exit strategy, the project has used Flickr to allow further items to be contributed (though without the formal submission and metadata process).

The Great War Archive in Europe

After the initial Great War Archive initiative, the same model has been used for other collections, such as Welsh Voices of the Great War Online. In 2011, Europeana, Europe's digital archive, library and museum, brought the German National Library into an alliance with Oxford University to roll out the scheme in Germany. This is followed by collections in other countries within the Europeana 1914-1918 project, starting with activities in Luxembourg, Ireland, UK, Slovenia, Denmark and Belgium in 2012.

The Great War Archive was highly commended at the Times Higher Educational Awards 2008 for 'Outstanding ICT Initiative'