The Memorial Afterlives of Online Crowdsourcing ‘Lives of the First World War’ at Imperial War Museums

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Ann-Marie Foster
James Wallis


From May 2014 to March 2019 the Imperial War Museums launched a large-scale digital crowdsourcing project, ‘Lives of the First World War’. ‘Lives’ melded official and unofficial datasets to create an integrated database of people who had participated in the First World War. Over the course of the project 7.7 million individual histories were collected. After the initial collection phase, ‘Lives’ became a permanent digital memorial and database. This article investigates how ‘Lives’ contributed to public understandings of the First World War during and after its centenary. While undoubtedly an impressive and difficult undertaking, this article suggests that large scale data collection as a methodology on its own will replicate collection biases, unless married with specific collection drives. In the case of the First World War, this means that global majority narratives are subsumed by white British ones, at the expense of historically realistic data. The skewed datasets that come from large crowdsourced projects have widespread implications for cultural memories of events if they are to be digitally preserved within national collections.

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