Digital Discoveries of World War I

by Slobodan Mandić

The Historical Archives of Belgrade present a unique Online Digital Thematic Guide of the First World War. A vast digitization project that comprises all sorts of documents – from telegrams, to diaries and photographs.

imag_01In the year 2013 a team of archivists from the Historical Archives of Belgrade created the concept and started the realization of a thematic guide through archival material concerning the First World War. The first intention to produce a thematic guide, a scientific finding aid, grew soon into the idea to publish all results from this research in an online digital form, as a thorough and searchable analytic inventory of archival fonds and collections, together with digital copies of a certain number of documents. Lateron, this idea was converted into a separate project, approved and financed by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia.

The Digital Thematic Guide as a total novelty in the archival world

A detailed thematic guide with analytical descriptions of all included records, classified according to the fonds and collections preserved in the Historical Archives of Belgrade was presented to the public in a dedicated Internet presentation, both in Serbian and English language. It allows complete insight into archival material related to the First World War to the widest circle of Internet users. With respect to the traditional approach in presenting archival material and its content, modern technologies provide an opportunity to the archivists to have a more creative and completely new approach. An online digital thematic guide about First World War through fonds and collections of the Historical Archives of Belgrade represents a total novelty in the world of archives as it represents a hybrid mixture of analytic inventory,  thematic  guide, proceedings of documents and exhibition, all followed by a nominal and thematic register. The section with recommended links for different locations on the World Wide Web allows the users to go on an endless online journey in search for information, archival documents and results of WWI researches. It is clearly visible that with the help of the new guide users can obtain many more information than old traditional (analogue) methods and information guides could offer.

The search of the material, i.e. analytical descriptions and digital copies of the documents, is facilitated for users, by offering search and filtering modes according to three criteria, thematic index, nominal index and fonds, in which archival material is being preserved.

Detailed and systematic research of archival fonds and collections of the Historical Archives of Belgrade in the process of creating thematic guide, produced expected results in respect of the richness and importance of the documents related to the First World War. The amount of found documents was influenced by the destiny of Belgrade, Serbia and the Serbian people during the turbulent war years. The work of the state authorities and institutions outside Belgrade and Serbia, great war devastations, citizens’ sufferings as well as organized despoliation of archival material by the representatives of the occupation authorities, without a doubt had the effects on the remains of the past that we handle today.

Reconstruction of life during the years of occupation

Serbian officers, sick and wounded, on the recovery at French families’. Reference Code: IAB, ZF, B-3-44/1-9
Serbian officers, sick and wounded, on the recovery at French families’. Reference Code: IAB, ZF, B-3-44/1-9

Besides the analytical descriptions of all important documents from the archival material, texts and illustrations from Illustrated Magazine from 1920 and 1921 are included in the guide as a significant addition. The thematic guide contains also a bibliography of all the publications about First World War from the library fonds of the Historical Archives of Belgrade, presented in a separate part of the site.

Data from selected archival material reconstruct a complete picture of life in occupied Belgrade and Serbia, military operations and army withdrawal over Albania and Montenegro, as well as picture of life in refuge in Corfu and in exile.

Telegrams and soldiers’ diaries

The rarity that stands out for its significance is a testament of King Petar I Karadjordjevic, written before he went away to war. The minutes of the Municipality of the City of Belgrade reveal information about life in occupied Belgrade and minutes of the formal meetings testify about awarding Belgrade with the French Legion of Honor and with a Medal of the Czech War Cross for its merits in the Great War. Documents of the Ministry of Education and Religion provide information on government work and information on life of Serbian citizens in the refuge. Telegrams of Serbian press bureau reported on war events in European capitals. Archival material abounds with lists of decorated, wounded and killed soldiers, invalids, medical doctors, merchants and businessmen in the country and in the exile. Also the material preserves lists of children sent for schooling in various European cities, of teachers and of clerks in the country and in the exile. The memoires collection treasures several diaries and journals of soldiers, women and children, written in the frontline, occupied country or during the retreat over Albania. Data from archival documents are supplemented by a digitalized rich photograph collection.

It is important to mention that the thematic guide also contains documents produced by institutions after the First World War, cherishing the memory of the war times and culture of remembrance in the newly formed state, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Most of the documents presented herein are written in the Serbian language; documents written in French, English, German, Hungarian and Greek language are included as well.

Reaching younger generations

imag_03Parallel to the production of the thematic guide, documents scanning and data transfer into a database, an Archives’ expert team singled out a certain number of documents for presentation and popularization of archival practice via Web 2.0 technologies. This kind of communication of the Archives with the outer world provides additional possibilities for communication with the younger generations and students. Also, we hope that the successful realization of the project will encourage other projects to be developed in the field of digital documenting of archival material and its presentation though modern technologies.

Future activities on updating of the existing web site will imply the enrichment of the basic database with digital copies of the documents and archival material from other institutions, as well as the enlargement of the existing sections with additional documents, articles, information, links, biographies of important personalities, etc.


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