I’m excited to share a neat online volunteer opportunity and educational resource. In January the BBC reported on the digitization of British World War I diaries from the collection of the National Archives (UK). About 25 volunteers scanned hundreds and hundreds of boxes of diaries from military units, and today these are part of Operation War Diary. Operation War Diary allows “citizen historians” or public volunteers, access to these diaries in an effort to catalogue and gain intellectual control of the documents. The website is the result of a partnership between the National Archives, the Imperial War Museums (London), and Zooniverse – a tech savvy web forum to allow for active scientific research by the public.
Through a user-friendly website volunteers can systemically go through and “tag” diary pages for information such as date, location, person, military life, etc. Multiple readers go through each document, the website stresses, so users do not need to feel pressured about exacting 100 % of the information or making a permanent and irreversible error. There’s a brief tutorial on how to “tag,” and users must register an account on the site. Operation War Diary outlines its project outcomes as the following:
- to enrich The National Archives’ catalogue descriptions for the unit war diaries
- to provide evidence about the experience of named individuals in Imperial War Museums’ Lives of the First World War project (another exciting endeavor to help mark the centennial remembrance of the Great War)
- to present academics with large amounts of accurate data to help them gain a better understanding of how the war was fought
I’ve registered and volunteered my time on three separate occasions so far, and I find it engaging and interesting. One thing I should point out is that these are military unit war diaries – so not personal diaries of soldiers. Handwriting is tricky at times, but the pixilation on the scans is very strong, so feel free to use the zoom feature liberally. Another thing I found especially accessible about the project so far is the fact that, again, the website lets you know that no single user is having a final say on specific diary pages. Multiple readers will go through and review each document, so there is a check and balances system in place to ensure accuracy. Finally, there appears to be no minimum requirement of time (i.e. 10 hrs/week), so this is flexible project for both time and energy.
It’s free, easy, and will help historians and the public alike utilize historical documents. Win, win, & win!
For even more information, check out Zooniverse’s blog on the project, which boasts updated stats on users, the data, and additional project goals.