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Website Showcases Writing From First World War Trenches
ANN ARBOR, MI, September 10, 2014 – 2014 marks the centenary of the First World War. To commemorate it, information powerhouse ProQuest has created a free online gallery of 100-year-old magazines written and illustrated – mostly unofficially and anonymously – by troops serving on the War’s fronts, including trenches around the world. Poems, essays, jokes, cartoons and observations are displayed within crisp, full-color digital reproductions of the original magazines, providing an intimate, ground-level view of the “War to End All Wars.” It’s a sliver of a massive archive of so-called “trench journals” that ProQuest digitized in conjunction with world-renowned libraries and museums. Trench Journals Digital Gallery provides a museum-like tour of the larger research database, enabling visitors to explore materials that were previously only available in their original (and fragile) print editions.
“These works are a counterpoint to the ‘official’ records and histories of the First World War,” said Dr. John Pegum, ProQuest Senior Product Manager for the Humanities and leader of the Trench Journals digitization program. “They show us how average men and women communicated to their peers about the war, their role in it and the lives they envisioned for themselves when it was over. This is real history, written as it was being lived.”
Entrenched sometimes for months at a time, WWI troops – the first mostly literate military population – turned to writing to pass the time, share their feelings and boost morale. Micro-publishing flourished as these works were collected and printed in magazines that were shared among units’ members and rarely fell into the hands of civilians.
“These anecdotes recounted over and over again in dug-outs and during the tedious hours of rest in camp should be saved from oblivion,” wrote a soldier in May 1916 in Poil et Plume, the magazine of a front-line French infantry battalion. “It is the duty of our comrades of all ranks to record their experiences for their brother soldiers and to history.”
Issues of a variety of military and civilian units are among more than 50 journals displayed in Trench Journals Digital Gallery, revealing funny, informative, sometimes grim and often poignant works. For example, “To My Chum” in the site’s “At the Front” section, is a touching tribute to a soldier’s fallen friend. It reads in part:
“We’d weathered the storm two winters long
We’d managed to grin when all went wrong,
Because together we fought and fed
Our hearts were light;
But now – you’re dead
Trench Journals Digital Gallery is composed from works in Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, the world’s largest online collection of WWI magazines written and illustrated by servicemen and women. Working with institutions such as the UK’s Imperial War Museum, the British Library, The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the Library of Congress where collections have been carefully stored, ProQuest’s digitization team has scanned more than 1,500 different titles -- 500,000 digital pages when complete. They come from every country involved in the conflict and from every type of unit, including those based on the Western and Eastern Fronts and in Gallipoli, Palestine, Egypt, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Britain and America. Magazines such as The Dead Horse Corner Gazette and The Wipers Times capture the words of infantry troops while magazines produced by hospitals (including The Iodine Chronicle and Happy Though Wounded) provide a view of the wartime life of doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers as well as their patients. Prisoner's Pie, Knockaloe Lager-Zeitung and a number of other titles give an inside look at how prisoners of war coped with imprisonment. And there are also magazines from countless other groups including ships at sea, training camps, charitable organizations such as the Y.M.C.A. and the Church Army and independent civilian organizations like the Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers' League as well as veterans’ associations all over the world and on all sides of the conflict.
Researchers, students and historians can access the entire archive via library websites throughout the world. Trench Journals Digital Gallery is open to all with an interest in the essays, stories, poems and sketches that reveal the real history of the First World War.
About ProQuest Historical Collections
For 75 years, ProQuest has played a pivotal role in preserving and unlocking rare historical information for use by students, scholars and librarians around the world. Its expertise in handling rare and fragile documents was honed in 1938 with the microfilming of the archives of the British Museum – a project that ensured virtually every book printed in English between 1473 and 1700 would survive the ravages of World War II. Since then, the company has partnered with an extraordinary range of organizations and individuals, preserving and building access to their information collections.
This creative teamwork has built a digital chronology of history from countless perspectives. Via ProQuest, researchers can access the world’s largest collection of dissertations and theses; 20 million pages and three centuries of global, national, regional and specialty newspapers; major European rare book collections such those of the national libraries of France, the Netherlands and the Library of Florence; and archives that provide unique counterpoints – the records of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; personal notes from AP reporters on the front lines of Vietnam, Queen Victoria’s personal diaries, plantation records from the Slave era in the Southern U.S.
ProQuest’s robust and evolving technology brings that content to researchers where they are, enabling them to explore at will – whether page by page, reviewing full-color scans that are as crisp as the real thing or via precision search that takes them to the exact nugget of information they’re seeking.
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