First World War and archives

The First World War was a turning point in world history. It claimed the lives of over 16 million people across the globe and had an impact on the lives of many more. At a geopolitical level, the war changed the balance of power between nations and established the framework for the rest of the 20th century. It also established a new tradition of national commemoration which remains an important part of our public life.

For all these reasons it is appropriate that we commemorate it. But the First World War is now history. Nobody who fought in it is still alive, and very few can even remember it. The immediacy of personal tragedy has passed and we can focus on what it teaches us: the archives, both official and personal, can speak. As we remember the centenary of the First World War we want to help archives across the country prepare for and mark this anniversary.

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) is leading on the commemoration programme. The First World War Centenary Partnership, established by IWM in 2010, is representing a global programme of cultural events and activities from 2014-2018 to commemorate the centenary of the war. This collective international programme will enable millions of people to discover more about life during the First World War, connecting current and future generations with the stories and impact of this conflict.

Archives offer unparalleled sources of knowledge and access to information. They are repositories of facts and evidence but more importantly the records they hold highlight the human aspect of the war, telling the personal stories of real people.

We want to encourage you to:

  • use the wealth of your collections and help demonstrate the impact of the war on peoples’ lives, and how it changed society
  • help trace a complete story from official processes through to individual life stories
  • bring the past to peoples’ homes through online collections
  • give users a range of materials to handle, so they can literally touch the past, from paper based records (official and personal), to films, sound recordings, photographs and objects

Working in partnership

This is a chance for archives to come together with other partners across the cultural sector to tell a fuller story of the war. There are great examples from the sector of services working with others in creative and engaging ways, but more importantly in ways that maximise access to funding and wider participation with our communities and users.

What are we doing with our records?

We are running a major public facing programme from 2014-2019 featuring:

  • digitised resources including war diaries and Middlesex tribunals
  • volunteer involvement and crowd sourcing for transcribing the records
  • a learning programme, including ‘teach the teacher’
  • interpretative resources, events, talks and conferences, both online and onsite

Our programme goes beyond the Western Front, to show the impact of the conflict across the globe. It has a broad range of themes including:

  • diplomacy
  • technology
  • home front
  • air and sea
  • peace
  • bravery and courage
  • medicine and health
  • global perspectives

What are we doing for the sector?

We are helping by:

  • signposting funding
  • informing you about how to get involved with national programmes like those run by The National Archives
  • reaching more archives through our training programme
  • giving examples and case studies for inspiration
  • fostering partnership development

We want to encourage archives to get involved with, and to use Explore Your Archive can which now offer ready made branding for First World War work.