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BYU World War One document archive is a national resource

By Alyssa Carter
Staff Writer

Did you know that one of America's most comprehensive university archives on World War I is at Brigham Young University? Richard Hacken is the European Studies Librarian at the BYU campus in Provo, Utah. He was kind enough to answer some questions for us about his work developing their World War I Document Archive. His answers show how he feels about this important work, and how important the contributions from relatives of WWI soldiers are to the expansive and ever-growing archive.

Tell us about your Archive. What is it? What makes if unique/different from the other collections that are out there?

Hacken Richard 300Richard HackenThe World War I Document Archive has been online, growing and developing, for some 22 years now. The late Dr. Lynn Nelson, a digital history pioneer who had been encouraged by Tim Berners-Lee to develop and expand the WWW Virtual Library for History in 1993, approached me about hosting a site for the Great War at Brigham Young University in 1994 or 1995. (He had known me from my efforts to establish EuroDocs, a portal to online primary documents from Europe.)

What connected you with the volunteers from the World War I Military History List?

This World War I Document Archive was, and continues to be, to be a collaboration of the World War I Military History List (WWI-L). My particular emphases have been on developing the Diaries, Memorials and Personal Reminiscences, on the one hand, and a page linking various topical and geographical aspects of the Great War, on the other. As may be expected in such a collaboration, certain elements of the site are better developed than others. Of particular help have been separately maintained pages on the Maritime War, the Medical Front, and an Image Archive. One disappointment to me was the establishment of a parallel site that has developed separately for the past 12 years or so.

For approximately the first decade of its existence, the World War I Document Archive was an html site. Then, in order to facilitate easier participation of volunteers, I converted it to a wiki. Counting both formats, we have had roughly 30 million virtual visits since the archive's beginnings.

What is the most common submission that comes into the archive?

The most common submissions submitted to the site are diaries and other personal memorabilia. In cases where only physical materials were donated, we have from time to time digitized materials here. The section on diaries is augmented by links to previously established books, articles and other materials in the public domain.

Are any of the submissions under “Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences” from family members of the soldiers? If not, how did you acquire them?WWI Logo

These generally come from family members who have taken the time and effort to digitize, in many cases, the written and/or pictorial record left behind by a grandfather or other relative who was in the Great War. I was particularly grateful to receive diaries and other materials from countries in the Central Powers, though the Allied participants are represented much more strongly.


Alyssa Carter is a Summer 2017 intern with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.