The State Library of New South Wales holds the diaries and letters of over five hundred people who served in World War I. Today they launched a new section of their website to make these more accessible to the public and to seek more information about the diarists from family members.
A few months ago I wrote some posts about this collection and added a page on this blog to help people find the transcriptions of the diaries on the State Library website. As I said at the time volunteers are still transcribing diaries. Currently the diaries of 238 people have been transcribed but this will increase until the transcription process is completed in the middle of 2014.
Today I have taken down the page on this site where I listed the diaries that had been transcribed as at the beginning of September. The State Library now has an easily searchable list which will be continually updated. This will be a more reliable source than my page.
I encourage you to explore the Library’s WWI commemoration pages. There is a wealth of material there. Here are some of what I think are the highlights of the website:
- The List of Transcribed Diaries (click on the ‘Context’ tab): this is the heart of the website, the source of all the other material on the website. Now on one page you can easily find out if the person you are researching is listed and click the name to access the transcriptions and images.
- How SLNSW Acquired the Diaries: Any collection is a sample of information so it is important to understand how the collection was built. This page gives us some understanding of this. Advertisements were placed throughout Australia, New Zealand and in Britain calling for the diaries. The article on this page indicates that the Library had certain criteria that the diaries needed to meet before they were accepted. A Goldilocks measure of “not too much imagination” but some imagination had to be evident. We need to understand more about the post-war acquisition policies behind this collection. Hopefully the State Library will release more of the original documents that record the criteria used and the reasons why diaries were or were not selected for the collection.
- Indigenous Australian Soldiers (warning: this page has photos and references to deceased Aboriginal Australians): I believe that the recognition and understanding of the involvement of Aboriginal Australians who served in WWI is going to be an important development in our understanding of Australia’s war history during the centenary. Each archival collection will reveal a small piece of this puzzle.
- Women at War: This leads us to another area where there are interesting developments in our historical understanding of Australia’s history. This page links to some interesting secondary sources as well as the list of WWI diaries written by women which have been transcribed.
- Australian Internment Camps: These were one of the tragedies of the war. Australians who were linked to enemy nations suffered from suspicion and hostility of their Australian compatriots and some were interned during the war.
- The Home Front: posters, knitting pattern and papers from voluntary organisations in Australia supporting the war effort. There is quite a lot here that I haven’t explored.
- Reflections of the Transcribers on the Diaries: The transcribers have painstakingly transcribed the handwriting of the diarists. In some cases they may be the first to have thoroughly read the diaries from cover to cover. Some of their thoughts about the diaries are recorded on this page. Most diaries include ‘transcriber notes’ in the file where they briefly share their observations.
- Archie Barwick’s Story: As you can see from my post, The Diaries of a WWI Soldier, the story of this particular soldier holds a personal significance to me. The historian is just as much a part of the fabric of history as the people they study. At times the historian will feel distant from their subject, but at other times the historical story will get under the historian’s skin in unexpected ways.
There is plenty more to explore in this site. You will undoubtedly find other highlights. Go ahead, click here and start exploring the website yourself! Share what you find in the comments below.