First World War Digital Resources

Informal portrait of Charles E. W. Bean working on official files in his Victoria Barracks office during the writing of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. The files on his desk are probably the Operations Files, 1914-18 War, that were prepared by the army between 1925 and 1930 and are now held by the Australian War Memorial as AWM 26. Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. [Defence in Depth]

Chris and I have both taken to task the highly problematic state of affairs with regard to military record-keeping in the digital era. So it is only fair to also highlight the strengths of the Internet for historical research, one of which is the increasing availability of digitized archival  holdings, documents, and sources.

Although the posts are a couple of years old now, Dr. Robert T. Foley of the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London has provided a wonderful compilation of  links to digital holdings and resources documenting the experiences of many of the many  belligerents in the First World War. The links include digitized archival holdings and electronic copies of often hard-to-find official histories of ground, sea, and air operations.

Digital First World War Resources: Online Archival Sources

Digital First World War Resources: Online Official Histories — The War on Land

Digital First World War Resources: Online Official Histories — The War at Sea and in the Air

For TDI, the availability of such materials greatly broadens potential sources for research on historical combat. For example, TDI made use of German regional archival holdings for to compile data on the use of chemical weapons in urban environments from the separate state armies that formed part of the Imperial German Army in the First World War. Although much of the German Army’s historical archives were destroyed by Allied bombing at the end of the Second World War, a great deal of material survived in regional state archives and in other places, as Dr. Foley shows. Access to the highly detailed official histories is another boon for such research.

The Digital Era hints at unprecedented access to historical resources and more materials are being added all the time. Current historians should benefit greatly. Future historians, alas, are not as likely to be so fortunate when it comes time to craft histories of the the current era.

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Shawn Woodford
Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling.

All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

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