The Digital Museum

WW1 meets WWW to create a very social archive

In a recent post, we highlighted that the best digital museum archives are those that allow and invite public comment and contribution.

The Imperial War Museum has done just that with an ambitious and exciting project that records information on the millions of Britons who served in World War 1.

Lives of the First World War draws on official archives and family records to record and remember 4.5m people who served overseas in the 1914-1918 conflict.

Details of many of those recorded are minimal, and the IWM is asking members of the public to help develop the archive by contributing their own stories, memories and images of family members recorded in the database.

Users can sign up to the website and search official records and documents to add to an entry, or simply add their own anecdotal information from what they know about their ancestor.

By effectively crowd-sourcing information on WW1 servicemen and women, the museum is able to create a database with far more detail and interest than anything they could have put together from purely official sources – and mixing official, verifiable historic records with fascinating but more unreliable family narrative in a way a lot of museums can shy away from.

Project head Luke Smith said: “Everybody can contribute to ‘Lives of the First World War,’ whether they choose to simply remember someone online, upload a picture from their family album, share a story passed down through generations, or connect official records to build a full and factual picture of what happened to that person throughout the war.”

The database can also be used to search for family records – I’ve already found one of my relatives and will be adding what information I know.

Overall, it’s a very intriguing project and a great example of how you can not only use digital platforms to push information out but, just as importantly, to bring information in and draw on the vast wealth of knowledge in the hands of the public.

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