Do a billion documents change the First World War?

  • Posted on: 1 February 2011
  • By: warren


Do a billion documents change the First World War?
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011, 19:00-21:00
Waterloo Stratford Campus Digital Media Series
Presented by Rob Warren and Shelley Hulan


The First World War has come alive for later generations via their close reading of individual works on the war. But this war was the first lengthy international conflict to keep records on hundreds of thousands of displaced people and military personnel as they moved all around the globe, and the documents generated by them provide a rich source of insight into the times, and in the wake of the large-scale digitization of paper-based data from pre-digital periods, First World War records have the potential to touch readers anew.
Where soldiers' journals and longer accounts bring the conflict to light in a very personal way, the digitization of millions of forms and official documents concerning the "war to end all wars" allows for the detection of global patterns of migration, communication, and disease previously impossible to find using manual research methods. Mining Great War data might be feared to rob the war of its power to illuminate the costs of modern conflict, a power that has historically lain in the personal tragedies and triumphs identified with it and the revelations they offer about human suffering and human potential, not the more anonymous and repetitive information on official forms. In a discussion of the patterns and trends detectable by analyzing millions of data mine-able Red Cross files, however, we will suggest that data mining both significantly alters our understanding of the war and yet continues to move us in surprising ways.