Sarah Gambell is a PhD Candidate at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on evaluation of digitisation methods for the preservation of cultural heritage in conflict.
IWM’s ‘Mapping the Centenary’ Portal and database represents a positive move in the direction of good professional practice for protecting digital content and outputs. Whilst the portal signposts content rather than preserves it, giving advice about digital sustainability to all participating First World War Centenary projects (such as through the University of Glasgow published report Saving the Centenary’s Digital Heritage) adds another layer of longer-term public access.
Why is digital content at risk?
Community-generated digital content, e.g. websites created by history groups and societies, is the main output of First World War Centenary projects. It is inherently fragile due to several factors:
‘Poor documentation, lack of replication, lack of continuity funding, lack of residual mechanism, dependence on small number of volunteers, lack of preservation mandate, lack of preservation thinking at the outset, failure of digital legacy planning, conflation of backup with preservation, conflation of access and preservation, and accessibility to web archiving’ (Digital Preservation Coalition’s Bit List, 2019).
Community-generated content produced by funded heritage projects is becoming a significant part of the digital content ecosystem, especially as a means for sharing information with global audiences. But it is also important to think about information management, use and re-use, which directly affect the long-term sustainability of digital outputs (Lorna Hughes, 2019, emphasis original).
The benefits of Mapping the Centenary
Maintaining a searchable database of projects as well as the site’s interactive map, along with links to dedicated project websites not only emphasises public access to the materials. It also raises awareness of the listed risk factors, which is, in itself, a crucial step for ensuring sustainability over the long-term. As a major event in defining national memory and identity, the Centenary was always going to need to be upscaled for mass public interest, as the first truly digital commemoration. 'Mapping the Centenary' provides a snapshot of all First World War commemorative projects undertaken, whilst also reiterating how pressing the need is to capture and record information about completed projects whilst their digital footprints are still active.