Dal archival team hoping to commemorate centennial of First World War

Dal archival team pushes for a project to mark the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War

Research assistant Laurie Chase examines The Great War Diaries – a collection of newspaper clippings from the First World War that are being digitized. They are part of an extensive collection of material about the war housed in the Dalhousie Archives and would be used for the Geographic Information System project. Photo: Evelyn Brotherston

Dianne Landry is stuck and it isn’t her fault.

She’s part of a team pushing for a project to mark the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War. Landry – an archivist at Dalhousie University – and her team want to see something done to commemorate student involvement in it.

Their proposal? To use Geographic Information System technology to make archival material accessible online. The project would see Dalhousie team up with other Atlantic universities to connect today’s students with the past.

By digitizing photographs and records, the project would not only open up the potential for research into Dalhousie’s war years – it would also introduce students to material that’s not currently on display.

But there’s a snag.

Funding for the project hinges on a federal grant of up to $300,000 that may not be awarded.

Although the archival team has its own budget, the scale of the digital mapping endeavour is not something the university will finance.

It’s up to the team to come up with outside funding.

Between 1914 and 1918 about 700 students attended Dalhousie University. A federal directive at the time meant that all Canadian universities had officer training programs, which were compulsory for students.

The number of Dalhousie students killed in action has yet to be calculated. It’s one of the things that Landry was in the midst of researching for the project.

She thinks it’s important to integrate history into contemporary life. Is it done enough on campus? “No,” she says with a smile, “But I’m trying.”

Michael Moosberger, Dalhousie’s Librarian for research and scholarly communications, agrees.

He’s trying to get as many people as he can interested in the project.

If the federal funding comes through he will oversee the digitization of a mountain of material. His vision is of a digital map showing where students were from, where they lived while attending Dalhousie, and where they served overseas. It would also integrate information such as the occupation of students’ parents and the religious denomination of the family.

The project would link to service records digitized by Veteran Affairs Canada. Moosberger also hopes that the project would link to similar online archives at other research institutions.

The aim would be to tell the stories of the otherwise unknown and unremembered men who went to war.

Dalhousie has no commemorative cairns or plaques on campus. There was a proposal for the construction of a memorial in the 1920s, but due to lack of funding it never went ahead.

With Remembrance Day coming up, Landry and Moosberger regret that the project isn’t up and running.

They’ll have to wait until next spring to hear if they will receive the federal grant to continue their work. If they do, they will aim to have the project ready for the centennial of the end of the First World War in 2018.