Wikimedia UK and World War I

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Presentation at the Wikimedia UK AGM on May 12 2012 about the work Wikimedia UK is doing to commemorate the centenary of World War I. …

Presentation at the Wikimedia UK AGM on May 12 2012 about the work Wikimedia UK is doing to commemorate the centenary of World War I.

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  • Two years and six weeks until the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by GavrilioPrincipYou don’t need me to tell you about the immense impact of World War I, in Britain and globally. Wikipedia cites 38,890,500 casualties. Every continent apart from Antarctica was touched by the War. It has had profound consequences for the whole world, in almost every area of life. Politics, medicine, art,Whether your opinion is that the War was an accident or a deliberate act, a senseless waste or a bloody triumph, it is a subject that deserves study, rememberance and commemoration.Now the War is finally passing from living history. That is why it is important.
  • However, studying World War I is far from easy, and this is one of the problems. How is World War I presented in education? I studied World War I for a term in my third year of secondary school. A year later I studied war poetry in English. But almost every year in my childhood and teens the BBC would show Blackadder Goes Forth with the last episode timed with Rememberance Day. And while Blackadder is good comedy, in many ways it reflects a very stereotyped view of the War.
  • Apparently this isn’t only my problem! Military historians get very worked up about the over-reliance on literature in the study of World War I. There are serious debates going on and serious scholarship going on. Take trench warfare: “everyone knows” the trenches on the Western Front were a bloody waste where men were sent to their deaths by stupid, remote generals who had no idea how to deal with the technology of modern warfare.Everyone that is except academics who study the subject who would disagree with just about all of that, except the “bloody” part. I don’t want to try to run through this whole historiographical debate, just indicate that it is there..
  • .. And what’s more it’s all British historiography. Another one of the challenges is that, because of the vital importance of World War I to so many countries’ histories, every country approaches World War I differently with a different national narrative.
  • Of course complicated subjects, reconciling lots of different points of view, that’s just what Wikipedia should be good at... Right?FAs – 54 are warships, 45 are people


  • 1. Wikimedia UK and the World War I Centenary Chris Keating, Wikimedia UK trustee, Wikimedia UK AGM 12 May 201
  • 2. 28 June 1914
  • 3. The Blackadder problemImage copyright BBC & included forpurposes of criticism and review
  • 4. “The real ‘historical’ War ceased to exist in November 1918.What followed was the resurrection and re-working of theWar largely in terms of novels, memoirs, and war literature ingeneral...”“For years it was impossible to attend a military presentationwithout a clip of Blackadder Goes Forth discussing thestrategic imperative of inching Field Marshal Haig’s drinkscabinet closer to Berlin...”Richard Holmes, Tommy, HarperCollins, London, 2004. p xvii to xviiii.
  • 5. National narratives... United Kingdom: Haig, the Somme, “Lions led by Donkeys” France: Foch, Verdun, the union sacree Germany: Sonderweg, the Kaiser, and HitlerAnd many more. Eg. Canada – Passchendaele. Australia – ANZAC Bay
  • 6. It’s just the sort of thing we oughtto be good at. How are we doing? 121 Featured Articles, that’s not bad is it? (1%) BUT 54 are warships , 45 are people Only 8 are on battles or other military events Only 2 are on topics related to the impact of the war on society (1546 B or better: 11%)
  • 7. Another way of looking at it:“Operation Great War Centennial” 270 “core” articles (mainly on ‘hard’ military topics, rather than social impact...) 6 FA (only 1 about warships): 2% 55 B-class or better: 20% - So 80% of the most important articles suck.
  • 8. What is the GLAM sector doing? Europeana – Roadshows (with Editathons attached) where people come along and digitise family history materials JISC – Pushing forward the creation of Open Educational Resources – assessing, prioritising, developing Imperial War Museum – A very big family history project Every GLAM institution in the UK (and beyond!) is wondering what they are doing about the World War I Centenary
  • 9. Our first World War I EditathonBritish Library, Saturday 16 JuneOrganised with JISCBringing academics andWikipedians together and seeingwhat happens!* Strategy and Operations* Medicine and World War I* Global Impact of the War
  • 10. Where next? Please add your ideas! Digitise the whole British Official History? Work with every local regimental museum? Me: @chriskeatingMore image credits: