Pre­par­ing ar­ti­facts from the ‘Great War’ for the dig­i­tal age

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Pat Ea­ton-Robb

HART­FORD, Conn. — Rick May­nard found the Manila en­ve­lope con­tain­ing let­ters from the bat­tle­fields of World War I while he and his sis­ter were clean­ing out the base­ment af­ter their father’s death.

The more than three dozen let­ters were writ­ten, some in pen­cil, by Paul May­nard, Rick’s great-un­cle.

“He was on the front lines,” said Rick May­nard, the parks and recre­ation di­rec­tor for the town of Guil­ford. “In one of the let­ters to his mother, he said he had not slept in 10 days. I can’t imag­ine it. I can’t fathom that.”

Soon, let­ters such as those from 21-year-old Paul May­nard, who died in 1918 dur­ing the last day of bat­tle, will be avail­able for any­one to read, thanks to a project spear­headed by the Con­necti­cut State Li­brary to help mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the U.S. in­volve­ment in the war.

The li­brary is host­ing events across Con­necti­cut, invit­ing peo­ple to bring in pho­tos, let­ters and any ar­ti­facts as­so­ci­ated with the “Great War” to be pho­tographed or scanned for pos­ter­ity. Stu­dents and veter­ans also con­duct in­ter­views with the own­ers to get a his­tory of the items and the peo­ple to whom they are linked.

The li­brary says it has the largest World War I ar­chive of any U.S. state.

Since the project be­gan in 2014, about 130 peo­ple have come to events, re­sult­ing in the dig­i­tal preser­va­tion of more than 600 items and the cre­ation of about 150 pro­files of peo­ple who took part in the war ef­fort.

Sim­i­lar preser­va­tion ef­forts are be­ing done at some uni­ver­si­ties, some branches of the mil­i­tary and lo­cal his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties, but noth­ing on the scale of Con­necti­cut’s project, said Chris Isleib, spokesman for the U.S. World War I Cen­ten­nial Com­mis­sion.

The preser­va­tion is funded in part by an $11,000 grant from the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties. The New Haven Mu­seum will host a ma­jor scan­ning event May 24. There are 16 oth­ers sched­uled this year across the state.

“We can do high-res­o­lu­tion cap­tures of any­thing that comes in, 3D ob­jects, flat ob­jects,” said Chris­tine Pitts­ley, the project man­agers for the state’s Re­mem­ber­ing World War I: Shar­ing His­tory/Pre­serv­ing Mem­o­ries pro­gram. “All of that stuff is go­ing to be on­line. It’s be­ing pre­served in the Con­necti­cut dig­i­tal ar­chive. So, even if that item dis­ap­pears, there al­ways will be a dig­i­tal record of it.”

The li­brary is build­ing a web­site that will al­low any­one to down­load the im­ages. It also is work­ing with schools across the state on ways to in­cor­po­rate the sto­ries and im­ages into cur­ricu­lum.

The project in­cludes not only sol­diers’ sto­ries, but also those of nurses, YMCA can­teen work­ers, those who sold Lib­erty Loan war bonds or any­one else as­so­ci­ated with the war.

The project also al­lows those who own the ob­jects to learn more about their rel­a­tives who served in the war.

In 1919, the state li­brary also be­came the state’s De­part­ment of War Records. Li­brar­ian Ge­orge God­dard took that role se­ri­ously, and be­gan gath­er­ing ev­ery­thing he could get his hands on.

The li­brary sent out ques­tion­naires to ev­ery Con­necti­cut res­i­dent who served in the war, record­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences and thoughts on war. Those are all on file with the state and those at­tend­ing the dig­i­ti­za­tion events can get help look­ing up the in­for­ma­tion.

The preser­va­tion ef­forts are im­por­tant, Isleib said, be­cause they put faces and per­sonal sto­ries to an ab­stract his­tory les­son about a war that not many un­der­stand.

“This is our in­her­i­tance and our fu­ture gen­er­a­tion’s in­her­i­tance,” he said. “These sto­ries make up who we are as Amer­i­cans.”

Ber­nice McNeil, of North Haven, said it was a way to make sure that when she is gone, oth­ers will re­mem­ber the sac­ri­fice of her un­cle, Robert Rem­ing­ton, who was killed in 1918 at the age of 18 in Se­ichep­rey, France.

“These men and women should be rec­og­nized,” she said. “He served our coun­try, and he died for this coun­try, pro­tect­ing our free­dom.”

PAT EA­TON-ROBB/AP

A World War I dis­charge pa­per awaits scan­ning at the Con­necti­cut State Li­brary in Hart­ford, Conn.

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