People Power and Photographs

Today is Armistice Day, and the 90th anniversary of the end of the ‘War to end all Wars’. It is not surprising any longer that commemoration by the public of events of significance are now happening naturally on the web. Oxford University has launched its Great War Archive, originally funded with the assistance of JISC, which has encouraged submissions from members of the public. Other major sites have also created digital archives on the subject, including the BBC, which includes a powerful ‘audio slideshow’, with historians and journalists providing commentary, and BBC archive material selected for it. The Imperial War Museum also has a number of exhibitions and displays. It is interesting to contrast those exhibitions which have been curated with what flickr can offer. The Oxford project has now come to an end, but members of the public were encouraged to go on sending in their images to a flickr group set up around the Great War. Among those who have done so are some libraries (including the National Library of Scotland), whose selected images sit side-by-side with those of interested members of the public. From the latter, there are some poignant contributions, such as the embroidered postcard from his great-grandfather to one contributor’s grandmother, in Ayrshire, a treasured token of love for his daughter.

The contributor’s metadata is full enough for an image like this one, and many of the others here, to be appraised by curators and archivists for addition to professionally assembled collections and exhibitions such as those discussed above. With contributed images, as with contributed annotations to items in the flickr Commons, we need new tools which permit appraisal, or at least the identification of items which merit the attention of a professional eye. Flickr is in this sense something of a worldwide metal detector, and it is bound to throw up many valuable items which we in our communities are as yet not ready to process. What makes it even more impressive is the high quality display tools it affords – so that the Great War Archive slideshow, with the ‘Information’ (user metadata) turned on, provides an effective museum-like experience even of an uncurated collection. Some professionally curated collections on the web could do worse than follow suit.