Dr Ann-Marie Foster is a Visiting Scholar in the School of History at Queen's University Belfast. Her research focuses on family memorialisation after war and disaster in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
As a historian interested in responses to the First World War, digital collections, and public history, the ‘Mapping the Centenary’ website is a boon for future research. The presented site information provides a helpful overview of the types of centenary project that were popular, assisting in quantitative studies of the nature of First World War commemoration in the UK. As a cultural historian, attempting to work out the ‘pulse’ of national commemorations - as well as their regional differences - is usually a daunting task, but this has now been made easier with the resources available on this digital portal.
While the database does not represent all First World War projects run during the centenary, it does offer a both comprehensive and welcome impression. Uploaded project evaluations are of particular use as well, in allowing for a better understanding of a project’s reach within the locality where it took place or being able to click through to the dedicated project website to obtain more detail. For public historians researching the level of centenary engagement, a publicly accessible collation of these kinds of documents are of unparalleled use, not least in being able to gauge what type of organisations were delivering commemorative projects. It would be useful to collate a list of projects that made this data available on the website. Another addition that might be useful for future researchers and users of the site would be if raw data inputted by the project organisations were available via CSV file, as on similar Imperial War Museums’ initiatives (such as the ‘Lives of the First World War’ database). Otherwise, the site appears easy to navigate – especially the interactive map layout (shown in the image below) – with the search function arranged into useful categories and filters (illustrated above).
Going beyond its Learning Resources Hub already available for school teachers and pupils, the portal looks to have a large amount of potential for University-level teaching. This site lends itself to lectures and seminars which probe the cultural memory of the First World War, as well as the reach of digital history for students researching or studying public history. For example, undergraduate students could engage with the website and the ‘Featured Projects Map’ to see what kinds of centenary activities were occurring where, beginning to think about the geographic and topic-based spread of centenary projects. At postgraduate level, this type of basic research could be married with readings such as Anne Bostanci and John Dubber's ‘Remember the World As Well as the War’ Report (British Council, 2014) and the ‘Capturing Commemoration’ report written by James Wallis (University of Essex, 2018) to tease out ideas about how the war was remembered across the whole of the centenary project. Again, these types of discussion could be tailored to public history students, encouraging them to reflect on the joined-up digital approach taken by the portal and digital conservation advice offered, separately or in addition to the nature of the centenary projects. Now that the project data gathering stage for the portal is complete, this site offers a wealth of research potential for historians of memory, public history, and the First World War. I look forward to diving into its depths further, and, in time, introducing students to the data it houses.