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A Trenchant View of World War I
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Posted On October 24, 2013
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Most of the periodicals were bound—frequently with multiple titles in one bound volume. Pegum noted that this probably helped save them from deterioration, although some individual journal pages proved too fragile to digitize, so they are not included in the database. Rachel Marshall, British Library strategic relationships manager, commented that ownership marks, from rubber stamps to remarks written in ink, will show up in the digitized versions, but they would never be tolerated in today’s archival environment.

Variations in Quality

The quality of the paper differs, as does the typesetting. Some look extremely professional—these are usually ones produced in training camps rather than in the field or at hospitals where both patients and nurses wrote for the journals—while others have a distinctly amateur look and feel. Pegum also told me that titles changed over time. A publication whose first few issues gave complete unit details gained a more generic title over time. Military intelligence may have been behind this obfuscating of origins.

The Regimental Magazine of the 2nd/7th Manchesters changed its title later on, using only Manchester without the full detail of the unit.

The scanning itself required special scanners that can handle the bound volumes. The bindings were not removed, and quality of the scanned pages was a high priority. The British Library reports it can scan 400 to 500 pages per day. Some of the trench journals and unit magazines survive as microfilm copies. The British Library owns a scanning machine that can quickly scan microfilm, at least until it runs into a splice—then human intervention is required.

According to ProQuest, Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War is the “largest aggregated collection of these publications available online.” It’s not resting on its laurels, however. Pegum has his eye on several other collections he’d like to digitize, one in the U.S. and another in Europe. As discussions are ongoing, he couldn’t be more specific. Still, given the value to historians, literary scholars, and researchers interested in this time period, I look forward to its expanding content, particularly in multiple languages and from multiple viewpoints. Preserving this type of ephemera and gray literature aids in understanding history because it’s written by ordinary people rather than those looking at the situation from a safe haven, away from the battlefield. It’s an unfiltered view into life in the trenches during World War I.


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Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search & Discovery.

Email Marydee Ojala

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