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Oxford University and German National Library sign 1914-18 archive alliance

16 December 2010

1914-18 archive alliance signed


The German National Library, Oxford University and Europeana have signed an agreement to digitise family papers and memorabilia from the First World War to create an online archive about the people involved in the conflict.

Oxford University began the initiative when it asked people across Britain to bring family letters, photographs and keepsakes from the War to be digitised. The success of the idea – which became the Great War Archive – has encouraged Europeana, Europe’s digital archive, library and museum, to bring the German National Library into an alliance with Oxford University to roll out the scheme in Germany. The collaboration will bring German soldiers’ stories online alongside their British counterparts in a 1914-18 archive.

There will be a series of roadshows in libraries around Germany that will invite people to bring documents and artefacts from family members involved in the First World War to be digitised by mobile scanning units, and to tell the stories that go with them. There will also be a website allowing people to submit material online if they are unable to attend the local events. Everything submitted will also be available through Europeana, where it will add a new perspective to collections of First World War material from institutions across Europe.

Dr Elisabeth Niggemann, the German National Librarian, said, “We are proud to be part of this alliance. These artefacts and their stories have survived and we must record them while they are still part of family memory. Little of this material will ever have been on public display, or been made available to historians. What the 1914-18 War demonstrates, especially at the personal level, is the futility of war, and the pity of it for the men and their families.”

Stuart Lee, an Oxford University academic and Director of the Great War Archive said, “Working together with the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek and their partners in Germany to extend this initiative will give it new resonance. The Centenary in 2014 of the first year of the war will prompt many people to discover more about it and find out about family members involved. The 1914-18 archive will bring them close to those who witnessed it at first hand, showing the souvenirs that they kept throughout their lives and telling the stories that they handed down the generations.”

“One such story that was submitted to the Great War Archive during the British project exemplifies what we want to do. It concerns RAF man Bernard Darley who was commended for putting out a fierce fire in a workshop containing petrol tanks. At his side throughout was a German prisoner of war, Otto Arndt. The two became friends and Otto made a matchbox from a shell-casing as a memento which he inscribed and presented to his friend. This story shows the human side of the war – in this case an unlikely friendship between normal people caught up in a war not of their making.”

Jill Cousins, Executive Director of Europeana, says that the organisation is well placed to bring together such partnerships: “Europeana acts as the facilitator in an extensive cross-European network of libraries, museums and archives. We aim to create partnerships with organisations from other theatres of the First World War, such as Belgium, France and the Eastern Front, so their stories can be included.”

“The 1914-18 online archive will reflect the reality of the lives of the soldiery on different sides of the conflict. As a people’s history it will offer a vivid testimony that school students will find compelling, and we are keen to work with educational organisations to create teaching resources. We are also planning exhibitions and information services that provide a pan-European focus on activities around the 1914-18 centenary.”

The Great War Archive

The Great War Archive contains over 6,500 items contributed by the general public between March and June 2008. Every item originates from, or relates to, someone's experience of the First World War, either abroad or at home. Contributions were received via a special website and also through a series of open days at libraries and museums throughout the UK.

The Great War Archive is run by Oxford University Computing Services and was set up in 2008 with funding from JISC, the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Council (England). JISC is the body that directs strategic investment to support the innovative use of digital technologies in UK colleges and universities.

The German National Library

die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek is the central archival library and national bibliographic centre for the Federal Republic of Germany. Its task, unique in Germany, is to collect, archive, document and make available all German and German-language publications from 1913 on. In addition it collects foreign publications about Germany, translations of German works, and the works of German-speaking emigrants published abroad between 1933 and 1945. The German National Library maintains co-operative external relations at a national and international level. 

Europeana

Europeana is a partnership of European cultural heritage associations that have joined forces to bring together the digitised content of Europe’s galleries, libraries, museums, archives and audiovisual collections. Currently Europeana gives integrated access to 15 million books, films, paintings, museum objects and archival documents from some 1500 content providers. The content is drawn from every European member state and the interface is in 27 European languages. Europeana receives its main funding from the European Commission.