Archive | January 2014

116,638 names tagged in first week!

We have gathered together the statistics for the first week of Operation War Diary – Tues 14th Jan – Mon 20 Jan. Citizen Historians are already making an extraordinary contribution to what we know about the First World War. Our team are analysing the data, preparing it for its 3 main purposes:

  1. to provide evidence about the experience of named individuals in IWM’s Lives of the First World War project – you are contributing to their permanent digital memorial
  2. to present academics with large amounts of accurate data to help them gain a better understanding of how the war was fought
  3. to enrich The National Archives’ catalogue descriptions for the unit war diaries – this will enable you and others to find what they want in those 1.5 million pages, in future

The data itself is rich and complex, so it’s going to take a while for us to complete this analysis and share the data with you. We’ll explain that process in detail in another post very soon. In the meantime we’d like to share some of the numbers that summarise the contribution many of you are making right here:

Week 1: Tues 14 Jan – Mon 20 Jan:

  • 104,167 pages classified
  • 116,638 people were tagged – including large numbers of Other Ranks (Privates, Drivers, Gunners, etc)
  • 212,832 dates tagged
  • 144,021 activities tagged
  • 24, 644 weather conditions tagged
  • 148,402  people visited the site
  • 746,972 pages were viewed
  • Peak concurrent users, approx 1,000 on Tue 14.
  • 85 diaries completed in week 1
  • Approx 1 person year of effort spent on Operation War Diary site.

Wow – thank you to all the citizen historians who made this possible!

A remarkable start

This is far beyond what we expected for our first outing. Operation War Diary  uses the Zooniverse platform to present large volumes of data (approx 1.5 million pages) for classification and tagging. This approach has been used for some time in Citizen Science — find out more at However, this is the first pure history project to use this approach. As this is a first, there are many unknowns. The main one was “would people volunteer as citizen historians?” We now know that many of you are willing to help us and be part of history – that is essential, and knowing that we can make Operation War Diary even more effective. We can now proceed to refine the available tags and continue to enhance the classification and tagging interface.

More explaining to do

Several people have asked us to explain more about why we are using this approach for citizen history – I hope the quantity of data gathered already begins to answer that. We’ll be addressing this in more detail very soon. And some of you may be wondering why we haven’t addressed every query already – good question! We are a highly dedicated, but small team spread across 3 organisations. We have decided to focus on enhancements to the system in the first couple of weeks. We have already addressed a range of issues that some volunteers experienced in the first week. We also have lots of other exciting projects that overlap with Operation War Diary and these have also required some of our attention. This is is a long term project – its going to take a long time to tag all 1.5 million pages of Western Front War Diaries! So there is plenty of time for us to learn, improve and reach more citizen historians.

A two-way street

Finally, Citizen History is a two way street – the volunteers must get at least as much out as the effort they put in. My own experience of doing Operation War Diary with my daughter tells me that this work gives us a fine-grained, close-up view of the Western Front. It makes us think about the war in ways we never did before and leads us on to learn more from other sources. Chris Lintott, Principal Investigator at Zooniverse has a wonderful phrase for this, he describes it as an “engine of motivation,” in my home this is certainly the case.

Who else out there is learning while they help us? Please tell us about it in the comments below.

Luke Smith, Digital Lead, First World War Centenary Programme, Imperial War Museums

Operation War Diary: Be part of history

Welcome to our project blog. I’d like to get the ball rolling with a few words about why Imperial War Museums (IWM) brought The National Archives  and  Zooniverse together and then led this project through conception, design and development.

Of course IWM and The National Archives  work closely together. The National Archives have digitised and are making available First World War unit war diaries through their First World War 100 portal and they were helping us plan our major digital project for the centenary – IWM’s Lives of the First World War . That project, due to launch in late Spring, aims to uncover the life stories of the 8million men and women who served Britain and the Commonwealth during the war. The unit war diaries can help to tell many of those life stories. A colleague told me one of those stories that she found in a battalion war diary. A story about the wonderfully named Reverend Mazzini Tron that she found in a battalion war diary.

Reverend Mazzini Tron

In early October, 1917, the  3/4th Battalion the ‘Queen’s’ Royal West Surrey Regiment had joined the Third battle of Ypres (often referred to as ‘Paschendale’). This was the first combat seen by the battalion, and as is often the case, those early experiences are vividly described in their Unit Diary. The diary for 2-7th October describes a number of incidents in great detail including how the Revd. Tron, chaplain to the 3/4 Queen’s, kept up the spirits of the men, made sure they received rations despite very difficult conditions and tended to the wounded and dead. At one point:

“A German Officer rushed at the Rev Tron and nearly tore his coat from off his back.  The padre who is a bit of a boxer, repeatedly struck the German in the face until they broke apart.  Unslinging his glasses the German thrust them into the hands of the astonished clergyman, and tendered his surrender.”

This is a memorable incident, but there is a wider point.   Thrice decorated, Rev Tron was clearly a dynamic individual, yet we know little about his war service – why? Because his service records were destroyed by bombing during in the Second World War, along with around 70% of FWW service records. It is very, very likely he is mentioned elsewhere, but how can we find him in 1.5 million pages? Along with Rvd Tron, there are thought to be around half a million people named in the diaries, but how do we find those names?

That’s where Zooniverse come in. My job is to apply new technology to the history of the war, so I already knew about the innovative Zooniverse crowdsourcing platform and their successful citizen science projects . Chris Lintott, Zooniverse Supremo and presenter on BBC’s The Sky at Night, and his team were immediately enthusiastic and wanted to work with the National Archives and IWM, but they told us we needed to underpin the project with formalised academic rigour. From experience, they knew this would give it real purpose and broaden its appeal. I then approached Professor Richard Grayson of Goldsmiths, University of London. His book Belfast Boys pioneered using large quantities of digital and other sources to analyse the war experience of one area. Richard  was supportive from our first conversation and he helped IWM to convene a 25 person Academic Advisory Group for centenary digital projects.

This is what we made

IWM had now brought together all the ingredients required to launch Operation War Diary:

  • The National Archives extraordinary digitisation initiative
  • IWM’s deep historical expertise
  • Zooniverse’s innovative (and highly successful) citizen science platform
  • IWM’s Academic Advisory Group for centenary digital projects
  • IWM’s digital project leadership skills

Together, we have done something extraordinary. We have created operationwardiary.orgthe most ambitious project of its kind to date. Now for the really important stage – we are seeking thousands of citizen historians to find all the references to Rev Tron and the other half a million named people. Together we can uncover the story of the Western front in new and extraordinary detail.

By working together, we can make history.

Luke Smith, Digital Lead, First World War Centenary Programme, Imperial War Museums