Colourised footage artistic rendition 2018 They Shall Not Grow Old by WingNut Films with Peter Jackson. Original black and white film © IWM

IWM to create digital portal for first world war projects

Rebecca Atkinson, 14.08.2019
Plan for digital legacy project led by Imperial War Museums among recommendations in report on lessons learned from the first world war centenary
Imperial War Museums (IWM) is to launch a major communications campaigns as part of a £105,000 project to create a digital portal for first world war centenary projects and commissions.

The money was awarded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) after it failed to include funding for a digital legacy in its original project budget. The omission was revealed in a House of Commons committee inquiry report, published in July, into the department’s role in coordinating the UK’s first world war centenary commemorations.

“It is unfortunate that the need [for a digital legacy] was not foreseen at the start of the commemorations,” the report states. “Given that the DCMS leads on digital policy, a strategic approach to preserving digital assets should form part of the initial planning of any future government-funded arts or heritage programmes.”

Digital legacy

Liz Robertson, the head of partnerships at IWM, says: “[Digital legacy] is something that the wider sector has been concerned about for a while. The digital portal will act as
a snapshot of activity and signpost people to relevant content online. We are working with other organisations to map what the portal will look like and to get a sense of the breadth of content out there – and to understand what people want to do with it.”

IWM is also in the process of feeding the 14-18 Now digital archive into its archives, a project that was stipulated in the original National Lottery Heritage Fund grant. But Robertson says the new portal will not act like a repository for material, as this does not feel like a long-term solution. The challenges of creating a digital legacy for the centenary contributions is revealed by other organisations in their evidence to the report.

“Lorna Hughes, a digital humanities scholar, notes that the first world war is now the most digitally documented period in history, thanks not least to the vast amount of material on community projects’ websites, but it is not clear that this material will be discoverable or usable by anyone in five, let alone 50 or 100, years’ time,” the report states.

“We would encourage the government to act now to coordinate the collection of digital material centrally in order to secure its future, and to show leadership by investing in the digital legacy from the very outset of any future programme of this type.”

The Welsh government said that its Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers programme of first world war centenary commemorations would continue until 2020 to cover the development of a digital legacy, among other things.

Despite criticism of the lack of planning for the retention and preservation of digital resources, the report says the commemorations were “hugely successful” and engaged a significant proportion of the UK’s population.

But the report says the government needs to make early decisions on funding, to ensure organisations have sufficient planning time.

And more attention must be given to legacies such as new partnerships. “We are concerned that little attention seems to have been given [by DCMS] at the outset to what the legacy of the commemorations would be,” it states. “Enduring connections that have developed seem to have been more by accident than by design.”

Reaching out to new audiences

The Lessons from the First World War Centenary inquiry concludes that new audiences were reached.

Projects that raised awareness of the different communities involved in the war were key to attracting audiences that more accurately reflect the UK demographic than traditional arts and heritage participants.

But there is evidence that projects focused on diversity were “the exception during the centenary”.

The report concludes that exploring less-well-known histories could have been “more systematic and better embedded in all strands of activity”. It recommends that “diversity should be included as an explicit criterion in any future commemorations”.

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