South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

DCMS awards funding for Imperial War Museums to create digital portal for first world war centenary projects

Imperial War Museums (IWM) is to launch a major communications campaign to create a digital portal for first world war centenary projects and commissions.

The money was awarded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) after it failed to include funding for a digital legacy in its original project budget.

Launching in June 2020, the First World War Centenary digital portal will be a permanent space on the War and Conflict Subject Specialist Network webpages which will record how the First World War centenary was marked for future generations to explore. Future researchers will have access to an outline of the plethora of activity that happened during the centenary, and will signpost where users can find relevant content online and in archives. The War and Conflict Subject Specialist Network will share and develop sector knowledge of the digital preservation process, and establish and disseminate best practice guidelines. The digital portal is being funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

In a House of Commons committee Inquiry report, "Lessons from the First World War Centenary", Liz Robertson, Head of Partnerships at IWM, said: “IWM is working with members of the Partnership and DCMS to ensure a sustainable legacy for commemorations, including long-term access to digital content created for the centenary through IWM’s website, and ongoing sector support through IWM’s new War and Conflict Subject Specialist Network, funded by ACE."

IWM is also in the process of feeding the 14-18 Now digital archive into its archives, a project that was stipulated in the original National Lottery Heritage Fund grant. But Robertson says the new portal will not act like a repository for material, as this does not feel like a long-term solution. The challenges of creating a digital legacy for the centenary contributions is revealed by other organisations in their evidence to the report.

Lorna Hughes, a digital humanities scholar, noted in the report that "the first world war is now the most digitally documented period in history, thanks not least to the vast amount of material on community projects’ websites, but it is not clear that this material will be discoverable or usable by anyone in five, let alone 50 or 100, years’ time.”

Despite criticism of the lack of planning for the retention and preservation of digital resources, the report says the commemorations were “hugely successful” and engaged a significant proportion of the UK’s population.

The Lessons from the First World War Centenary inquiry concludes that new audiences were reached. Projects that raised awareness of the different communities involved in the war were key to attracting audiences that more accurately reflect the UK demographic than traditional arts and heritage participants. The report concludes that exploring less-well-known histories could have been “more systematic and better embedded in all strands of activity”. It recommends that “diversity should be included as an explicit criterion in any future commemorations”.

The importance of digital legacy is high on the agenda in the heritage sector - in August, the South West Fed held a partners session with the theme 'Project Legacies: embedding outputs into organisations post funding', where the topic of digital legacies was widely discussed thanks to presentations from Tony Eccles (RAMM) and Tim Powell (The National Archives). At the session it was highlighted that the challenge of funding ending is that legacy can end with it. It was stated that ensuring a lasting legacy involves relationships, formal responsibility, future-proofing, succession planning, income stream. It was also pointed out that projects create other legacies besides the promised deliverables (e.g. the vision, the people, the knowledge, the organisation).