Reflections on a Centenary for World War I

Gina Strack Digital Archives, History Leave a Comment

Enos Elmer Winder

The Utah State Archives is wrapping up a yearslong recognition of the 100th anniversary since the end of World War I (also known as a centenary).

As a repository of a number of military records, we knew there would be an opportunity to introduce  them to a new audience keen to learn about the Great War. The motivation came from our former Outreach and Advocacy Archivist Rae Gifford. Rae had previously worked for the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri while completing a master’s degree in history. She  identified records of interest, planned their digitization, wrote a number of blog posts, and planned events all culminating on November 11, 2018.

Archives Month

Archives Month poster

Utah Archives Month 2018

Utah Archives Month is an annual event sponsored by archives and special collections from across Utah. All events are free and open to the public. For October 2018, the Utah State Archives held several events with the theme “Utah and the Great War: Ready and Willing.”

  • From September 17 to November 12, we participated in the The World Remembers project with a slideshow featuring names of those who served from around the world. All people known to have served from Utah were submitted and included in this display, which operated simultaneously worldwide. I often paused on my way to and from offices to watch names from many countries fade in and out.
  • Kent Powell, the editor of Utah and the Great War,  shared his extensive knowledge on the subject from many decades as a historian and former editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly.
  • Two staff members of the Archives, Rebekkah Shaw and Nathan Gardner, shared pointers on navigating family records and digitization respectively. Watch a recording online.
  • Dr. Tammy Proctor of Utah State University spoke on Gender and WWI as the co-author of Gender and the Great War and  An English Governess in the Great War: The Secret Diary of Mary Thorp.
  • Alan Barnett of the Utah State Archives and Beau Burgess of the Fort Douglas Military Museum discussed their project to understand Noble Warrum’s book Utah in the World War (written in 1924) and how they are working to identify what has happened to the original limited-run copies of the book.
  • Finally, as a Halloween “treat” Steve Thain discussed food rationing, sugar hoarding, and the Housewives Vigilance League with the title “Sugar Panic Saturday”.

Digital Archives

While the Archives has published several digital collections in the past based on a theme, World War I was the most extensive topic I’ve ever managed for the Digital Archives. The content was needed right away for blog posts and exhibits, and the usual process was not adequate. Through extensive collaboration, we made it work. See all new collections free to access online.

Featuring:

Plus the newest and final piece, the records of the Utah Council of Defence featuring Ogden City and Tooele and Washington Counties.

Lessons from the (archival) past

While working on all these collections and projects, I had to face the reality of how archives and libraries handled preservation and access in the past. Perhaps influenced by the global microfilming program of the Genealogical Society of Utah (now FamilySearch) in the mid-20th century, the Utah State Archives embraced microfilm technology early and with enthusiasm. The full implications of this practice are beyond the scope of one post, but it’s relevant when it comes to the records of World War I. For one of the complications of creating these digital collections was the nearly total absence of original paper formats.

Many World War I records were held by the Utah Adjutant General for decades following the conflict. With the formation of the State Archives, first as the Military Records Section in the Utah State Historical Society and then as its own division, these records were microfilmed for preservation and ease of creating accessible copies. As with many archives and libraries of the time, the new format was seen as a sufficient vehicle for the informational content and the paper was discarded.

As we’ve discovered with the recent digitization, most of the content remains with us on the film, but is not as readable as the paper would have been. It should not be a surprise, but the Archives no longer discards original formats when microfilming or digitizing records of enduring value.

A World War

Lest We Forget

Display at Caernarfon Castle in Wales

World War I is now studied and taught with a more global perspective, instead of the narratives previously focused on each nation’s involvement (including the United States with its later entry). It was a great opportunity to recently see another nation’s perspective while I was already immersed in the subject. In the fall of 2018 I traveled throughout England and Wales and, while I missed the famed “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” commemorative art piece, I did see signs of remembrance all over the nations that lost nearly a million people to death, injury, and disease from 1914-1918.

In Recognition

The sounds of the artillery were silenced over a hundred years ago, but the struggle goes on to record and preserve history for future generations. I would like to recognize the following for their contributions to all the World War I digital collections, thank you!

Rae Gifford

Avalon Snell (scanning, indexing, image editing)

Rod Swaner (scanning, digital preservation)

Nathan Gardner (scanning)

Digital Technologies at the J. Willard Marriott Library (scanning)

Alisa Bruckman (indexing, image arrangement)

Tyson Acree (indexing)

McKay Howard (indexing)

Dani Newton (indexing, image arrangement)

Michael Porter (indexing)

Jim Duke (indexing, reconciliation, image arrangement)

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