Inside the Anzac Connections project
“…it is simply rotten here in the bad weather up to our knees in mud and water and no chance of getting dry …”
The man who endured these conditions, Private John Collingwood Angus, 28th Battalion, was writing to his sister Nance, from France in May 1916. By 6 July he was killed but the letters he wrote were donated to the Australian War Memorial and his words now reverberate through time because of modern technology.
My name is Daniel McGlinchey and I am an Assistant Curator at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) working on the Anzac Connections project as part of the AWM’s centenary commemorations. Members of the project team have been working for the last couple of years to digitize collections of Australians that served in the First World War. Digitization of the AWM’s paper collections means they are more accessible and prolongs the life of the originals due to less manual handling. The Anzac Connections project has already released 150 First World War private record collections online.
The process of digitizing private collections starts months before their release online. The process starts with nomination, evaluation and selection. Collections are nominated for various reasons. For example collections are nominated because they are unique and iconic and portray life at war in a particularly descriptive manner. Some collections are nominated to support the opening of new galleries or displays and TV programs, which might generate interest in the collection material used in them.
Once we have collated the nominated collections, the fun starts with the evaluation of each one. This means we get to read collections, my favourite part, noting themes, people, and places and how they will complement the collections already online and match the AWM’s objectives. It is all too easy to be sucked into a diary that takes you back to 1915; you can sense the excitement and apprehension of a young person going off to war as though you are in Egypt yourself swatting the flies. This is why I like my job.
Once the collections are evaluated, we hold a selection meeting to discuss each collection and its merits. Each of our small team will have a favourite collection that touches us in some way but through rigorous debate the nominations are reduced down to a manageable “batch”, an in-house reference to the selected collections, of around 7000 images that can be scanned.
The next process involves physically going through each collection and placing it in a recognizable order ready for scanning. The individual pages are scanned and then hours spent on describing each part of the collection and adding links and descriptors. This is essential work to enhance user experience for the public.
This stage of the project includes identifying the correct copyright holders of the material. This can be a bit like “who do you think you are” trying to track relatives of long past Anzac’s by searching the many databases of information now available to us. I must admit though I enjoy this part. It is highly rewarding when you track a family member down and the reaction is a mix of surprise and pride.
There are other steps that contribute to placing the collections online and I apologize to my colleagues that I have not listed them all. Once however we are ready to go live with an Anzac Connections batch, we begin the promotion of the project. This entails blogging stories from the batch of collections that are being released, using social media and work networks to highlight the new collections that are available under Anzac Connections. I enjoy talking and writing about my work and it is a good way to alert a wider section of the community of what is available to help with family history research.
At the end of this month we are aiming to upload more collections in Batch five for Anzac Connections and work has already begun on Batch six, which includes some of my favorite letters and diaries so far. I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the work of the AWM.