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Germany and UK work together on First World War archive

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The German National Library, Oxford University and Europeana will work together to digitise family papers and memorabilia from the First World War. The aim is to create an online archive about the people involved in the conflict.

Oxford University began the initiative by asking people across Britain to bring family letters, photographs and keepsakes from the War to be digitised for the Great War Archive. Europeana, Europe’s digital archive, library and museum, has now helped the German National Library to form an alliance with Oxford University to roll out the scheme in Germany. The collaboration will bring German soldiers’ stories online alongside their British counterparts in a 1914-18 archive.

There will be a series of roadshows in libraries around Germany that will invite people to bring documents and artefacts from family members involved in the First World War to be digitised by mobile scanning units, and to tell the stories that go with them. There will also be a website allowing people to submit material online if they are unable to attend the local events. Everything submitted will also be available through Europeana. 

'We are proud to be part of this alliance. These artefacts and their stories have survived and we must record them while they are still part of family memory. Little of this material will ever have been on public display, or been made available to historians. What the 1914-18 War demonstrates, especially at the personal level, is the futility of war, and the pity of it for the men and their families,' said Elisabeth Niggemann, the German National librarian.

Stuart Lee, an Oxford University academic and director of the Great War Archive added, 'Working together with the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek and their partners in Germany to extend this initiative will give it new resonance. The 1914-18 archive will bring [people] close to those who witnessed it at first hand, showing the souvenirs that they kept throughout their lives and telling the stories that they handed down the generations.'

Europeana also hopes to create further First World War partnerships to include stories from places like Belgium, France and the Eastern Front.