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Remembering World War One: A Community Centered Approach to Commemoration

July 21, 2015

By Christine Pittsley
Project Manager
“Remembering World War One: Sharing History/Preserving Memories”
Connecticut State Library

As the centenary of America’s entry into World War One approaches, libraries and museums around the country are trying to figure out how to commemorate a war that has had an enormous impact on our nation yet is not well understood by the majority of Americans. One way of addressing this is a ground-up approach that examines the war from the local and individual perspective. Here at the Connecticut State Library, in partnership with the Connecticut Digital Archive (CTDA), we’ve launched a project called “Remembering World War One: Sharing History/Preserving Memories,” a digital preservation repository at the University of Connecticut Libraries. We are creating an extensive digital archive of privately owned WWI photos, papers, keepsakes and knowledge collected at public events around the state. The digital images we capture, along with information and stories from our participants, are added to the CTDA for access and preservation and are freely available for use by scholars, students or anyone interested in learning more about the war.

Three WWI soldiers in uniform pose for photos

Percy Winslow Eustis, right, with two unidentified men. Digital image donated by Percy’s granddaughter.

As this project began to grow we realized that our partners in the cultural heritage community needed support as well. From digitization to programming to traveling exhibits, the museums and libraries around Connecticut wanted guidance, support and ideas as they begin to think about the centenary. The Gunn Memorial Library & Museum in Washington, Connecticut, created a truly monumental exhibit, “Over There: Washington and the Great War.” This exhibit was a brilliant example of what can be done on a shoestring budget with mostly volunteer labor. The programming they created around the exhibit engaged the community in really exciting ways that everyone here in Connecticut still talks about.

Museum exhibit with a soldier in a bunk.

“Over There: Washington and the Great War” exhibit at the Gunn Memorial Library & Museum in Washington, CT.

With the guidance and support of the United States World War One Centennial Commission (WWICC), we have established an ad hoc WWI Centennial Committee to coordinate and provide much needed support to the grassroots efforts of museums, libraries, and community organizations in the state. This committee, guided by the leaders of our cultural heritage community, is working with legislators to establish an official commission. It will also continue to work with the WWICC to learn about how other states have formed commissions, what kinds of activities and projects are being planned, and what partnerships are available.

Edwin Fountain delivers a speech behind a podium in front of the Connecticut State Capitol

Edwin Fountain, Vice Chairman, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission speaks at the launch of “Remembering World War One” in front of the Connecticut State Capitol.

The efforts of institutions like the Gunn Museum, Connecticut State Library, and the WWICC have allowed us to begin to tell the story of The Great War through the lens of the nation, the state, the community, and the individual. Connecticut residents have been eager to tell the stories of their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends who served during World War One. Preserving these stories, photos, letters, and keepsakes gives a voice to the silent generation for generations to come.

Christine Pittsley is the Project Manager for “Remembering World War One: Sharing History/Preserving Memories” at Connecticut State Library.

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