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Who Do I Think I Was - Project Banner
A promotional poster for the 'Who Do I Think I Was' project.

We hear from the Creative Director of ‘Celf ar y Blaen/Head4Arts’ for our next project, an organisation that led on various projects in the South East Wales Valleys region, including ‘Who Do I Think I Was?’

  1. What motivated you to contribute to Mapping the Centenary?  

We thought it was important to share the learning from our project and also to help demonstrate the diversity of commemoration projects that took place across the UK.

  1. How would you describe your commemorative project or activity in five words? 

WW1 from a personal perspective.

  1. Why did you decide to pursue this project?  

It is easy for people to feel disconnected from events that happened a century ago but we wanted to show that those people we see in the old photographs were a lot like us. The project helped people re-imagine themselves as they would have been one hundred years ago, with the same interests and passions as they feel now, but in different circumstances, and then follow their journey as World War One impacted their lives. So many things changed as a result of the conflict - it was a pivotal period of our history which we felt warranted a deeper understanding.

  1. What went particularly well? Was there anything that did not go as expected or that surprised you? 

We loved the way that our relationship developed with the Archive Centres. People don’t always realise that these are not just depositories of old legal documents, but contain a mass of intriguing details about the daily lives of ordinary people including things like diaries, telegrams and love letters. We were constantly surprised by the wealth of material available to inspire our participants. I don’t think any of them had ever been to an archive centre before, but several said they had enjoyed the experience so much that they would go back again.

  1. Did your involvement change your understanding of the First World War, and if so, in what way?  

The project really brought home just how much the war affected everyone, not just those fighting ‘at the Front’. It also made us realise how young some soldiers were and how going to war impacted on their families and sweethearts. Working with a creative writer and putting participants into the shoes of ‘people like them’ was a really effective way of making history feel more real and personal.

  1. What tips or advice would you want to give future commemorative projects?   

Integrating creative artists into the process (writers, drama specialists, textile artists, visual artists) really helps fire the imagination of the participants; bringing the era to life, making the experience more memorable and helping them connect with those who lived through this history.

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Durham at War 2018 Conference.
The morning break at the final 'Durham at War' conference in 2018, featuring the tasting of the Poppy Bake Off.

Our fourth Case Study within this round of projects is from Durham County Record Office and Durham County Council, facilitators of the ‘Durham at War’ initiative. 

  1. What motivated you to contribute to Mapping the Centenary?  

To make sure that people could still find the ‘Durham at War’ website, so that the research created by volunteers can continue to benefit others. The project website was also map based, so we knew how well that works as a browsing interface.

  1. How would you describe your commemorative project or activity in five words? 

Mapped web of connected stories.

  1. Why did you decide to pursue this project?

Durham County Record Office wanted to mark the First World War centenary, particularly because of our highly significant Durham Light Infantry (DLI) archive collection. The DLI touched the lives of many County Durham families - its history remains important to the county’s residents and ‘the wider DLI family’ today. Alongside widening awareness and access to these records, the commemorative period gave us the opportunity to explore the conflict in other archives, bringing together and mapping the stories of County Durham and its people.

  1. What went particularly well? Was there anything that did not go as expected or that surprised you? 

Volunteer recruitment went very well - over the course of the four-year project, we had over 150 people contribute. Additionally, members of the public could add their stories or research to the website without becoming volunteers. At times we struggled to keep up with the content being produced. A big part of this was enabling volunteers to work remotely from home, as and when they wanted.

We held annual conferences for our volunteers, so they could share their research and meet each other; these were extremely popular and helped to keep our volunteers connected. We held some First World War Bake Off competitions at these which produced some fantastic results (see the image of our 2018 Bake Off above).

There were some themes that we planned to explore that we didn’t get a chance to. This was partly because volunteers led some of the direction that research took, based on their own interests; equally some themes had a lot more to them than we anticipated and also because other themes only came to our attention through the research already taking place.

  1. Did your involvement change your understanding of the First World War, and if so, in what way?  

Absolutely, the project generated a more thorough insight into what day to day life was like - for those at home, those serving, and not just on the Western Front but elsewhere. Personally, I’m much more aware of the role of women, and learned about German civilian internees and prisoners of war in our county.

  1. What tips or advice would you want to give future commemorative projects? 

Communication. We had contact with a lot of local projects taking place around the county. This meant we were able to advise on what work was already being done, put similar groups in contact, and try to make sure that the same work wasn’t being done by different people.

We also had very strong communication with our volunteers, making ourselves available for questions in person, by phone, or by email. We built up good relationships, so much so that we plan to involve some volunteers in future projects.

As the majority of our volunteers worked from home, we felt it was important to provide opportunities for them to meet us and each other. This included an annual volunteer-led conference, as well as a Christmas party, which gave us an opportunity to thank our volunteers in person.

Our thanks to these two project representatives for their generous insight.

If you have been inspired to submit a listing for your own First World War commemorative project, please visit the ‘Add Your Project’ section on ‘Mapping the Centenary’.