Sunday, 13 April 2014

Beta Testing "Lives of the First World War" from the Imperial War Museum

As you will have probably noticed I've become very interested in the First World War in the last couple of years.  With the OH's family coming predominantly from Barnsley I have found connections to soldiers in the Barnsley Pals along with many others.  As I have access to local resources in Barnsley Archives (newspapers, books, archives from churches and other local research) and an ever growing personal experience researching soldiers my lists of 'favourite' soldiers are getting longer and longer, but most of them are Yorkshire based.  My own family comes from the North East of England and so far I haven't done very well finding out about my own WW1 ancestors.
IWM Lives of the First World War logo

Hopefully this new project, "Lives of the First World War", from the Imperial War Museum will help with that - as a national project they aim to link together the personal stories of everyone who was involved in the First World War; soldiers, sailors, nurses and civilians too!

I subscribed to their email link some months ago and on Thursday last week I received an email asking me to log in to the beta site and give it a try out.  The aim is to collect lots of feedback to iron out bugs before the project goes fully live.

The project has been pre-loaded with information from the WW1 Medal Cards so includes only men who served abroad at the moment - there are plans to add the men who served at home and the other categories as the project progresses.  You search for a man by name, unit or service number and then 'remember' them to add them to your own personal 'dashboard'.  This creates a list of men that you can refer back to easily.

I began by 'remembering' a couple of my favourite Barnsley soldiers, Alonzo Wilson Swallow, Reginald Leslie Duncan and Frank Armitage. Last year I created a World War One Soldiers' Stories tab on my blog and started a list of the stories I had researched in depth and written up with links so that it was easy to find them again.  This was very useful for looking up the work I had already done on these men.  
Medal Card for Alonzo W Swallow (from Ancestry)

Finding Alonzo wasn't actually that easy - the seed information is only as good as the transcriptions of course, that's why they are relying on crowd-sourcing to correct these errors.  On his medal card I must admit Alonzo's name is very hard to read unless you know what you are looking for.   It took some cross referencing with his service number to work out that the entry for George N Wilson was my man ... does the name above look like George to you?  Hmm, struggling ... Cross checking on The National Archives medal card pages I see that this is where the mistake originated.  He is correctly indexed on Ancestry - I wonder if I submitted a correction to that at some point in the past?  It is fairly easy to amend the information on the Lives of the First World War site ... well, once you've worked out that the way to do it is to "improve" an entry. 
 
Screen shot of Lives of the First World War - record for Alonzo W Swallow - a blank silhouette, and then his date of birth, date of death and Regiment.  See text below.
Alonzo Swallow's page header on Lives of the First World War (beta)

Now he's got the right name and you can see some of the other information I've been adding.  This could be a long job as each source has to be added and verified (by saying what reason you have for connecting it to the soldier).  Then you can click on a source and start picking out bits of information to record, so from Alonzo's WW1 Service Records (as an external link by putting in the Ancestry website address) I have been picking out the dates when he changed regiment from the 2nd/5th York and Lancaster to the West Riding Cyclist Company and then the Army Cyclist Corps.  When I finally managed to get all the dates in the right order the header, shown above, did show his last regiment and service number, the ones indicated on his medal card - the Army Cyclist Corps and no.20486.

It looks as if, when it goes live, people will be able to link to all kinds of data from the DC Thompson stable of websites - I can currently pick census returns and BMD index entries to link directly - of course DC Thompson also own Find My Past and the British Newspaper Archive.  This part of the process will need you to be a subscriber (charges not yet specified) but anyone will be able to add personal information, pictures and stories for free.  During the beta testing there are no charges to the testers (which is good!).  There is a tantalising note that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission information is to be linked directly "allowing you to add this key moment to a Life Story".

I guess as I work my way around the system a few times I will learn the ropes and stop having to double back to amend things or add them differently.  That's the whole idea of beta testing I suppose. 

What with all the other stuff I am working I might not be able to give this much time - but it is fun trying out something new and I look forward to the day someone else 'remembers' one of my Barnsley men or I find a link to one of my North Eastern ancestors with lots of information already entered by someone else.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Lining up the next OU essay, planning for the exam, and government cuts affecting disabled students

I've got tired eyes after yesterday's all day note taking marathon ... but now there are only two of the nine (!) books that JW borrowed for me to tackle, although two more still look like hedgehogs with yellow prickles (post-it tabs). They have to be returned on Friday, but as we've arranged to meet for a drink in the Sheffield Tap as part of the transaction I'm quite looking forward to that.  As a result of the malfunctioning eyes I'm trying using the laptop with my new reading glasses on - which is actually working - it probably means I'm not sitting right though!

*** I've just tabbed up from the bottom of this post to add a note that despite my intention to write about my OU study this post has ended up being quite a list of the things I can't do any more because of government cuts to support for disabled people including students.  I do not apologise for that ... I hope I can do something  to raise the awareness of able bodied people to this constant drain on our resources. ***

OU shield logo and title
The question for my next essay is, 'Compare and Contrast the use of propaganda in the First and Second World Wars'.  I could also have chosen a question about changes to women's welfare provision in the twentieth century but as I'd already done a women's history question for TMA3 (Tutor marked assignment for those of you who don't OU), 'How did the Second World War change the lives of European Women?', I thought I'd research an different topic to get maximum coverage (I hope) for the exam.  I'm studying A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity which is a new module this year and I've been keeping in touch with other students via a couple of Facebook pages.

It seems we get given some clues as to which themes will be covered in the exam but as I haven't really worked out what the themes of the course are (which is worrying in week 25 of 32) that doesn't sound very helpful.  OK, so at least this blog post has inspired me to go and look up what the course leaders mean by themes, and here they are:
WW1 poster "Women of Britain say Go!" - Two women in old fashioned dresses (one with a shawl around her shoulders) look out of a window at soldiers marching away.  A small child grasps the skirts of one of the women
WW1 propaganda poster

Mega theme 1 (not my name for it!) - War
with sub themes - How wars began; the balance between military and other factors in the waging of war; technologies and modernisation.

Mega theme 2 - Peace
with sub themes - different kinds of peace; democracy and alternatives; ethnicity, nations and states.

Mega theme 3 - The concept of modernity
with sub themes - the expanding role of the state; changing gender relations; economic change; social and cultural change.

Hmmm ... well at least I feel as if I know what some of these mean.  And the module title doesn't look very imaginative at all now - I wonder if they came up with the title first or the themes?

It also sounds as if for at least one part of the exam we will be expected to have read the 'independent study' for our selected favourite topics, a whole swath of suggested books and journal articles for each unit (week's worth of study) that we are supposed pick four hours reading from, after we've completed the directed study for that week ... many of the books are available from the OU online library - but you can only download them to your computer, tablet, phone, whatever for 24 hours at a time - so you have to decide when you are doing the reading and borrow the book then, you can't plan in advance to do reading the day after tomorrow, say.  Also not much use if you are sitting in the doctor's or hospital waiting room without an internet connection.  Also not much use if you don't have a good, cheap, reliable internet connection - how are students who only have phones expected to study?

I was keeping up with the plan during the WW1 years (well, I do like the topic) and struggling inter-war, but now we've reached the Cold War I am having trouble just digesting the directed study bits - they are topics that are completely new to me and to be honest, not very interesting (student unrest in 1968, economics in the 1970s including stagflation!).  I may be concentrating my exam revision on the period prior to 1948 ...

So far I've spent more money than the OH and I can really afford on buying real hard copies of some of the more interesting books, but as the course has rattled along at a good pace many of them still have bookmarks in them about three or four chapters in.  I was very grateful to JW for offering to borrow some books for me from her brick uni and I'm sure you'll understand that I'm not about to get her into trouble by mentioning which uni it was!  I did request a Sconul card which allows me to become a kind of associate member of some brick unis via my OU student status, but it was the journey from home to find a uni which I was very scared about - if I overtire myself I end up spending a couple of days in bed recovering getting not a lot done.  Where I live everywhere is a bus and a train and another bus at the other end ... and since the end of March my disabled pass doesn't work on local trains anymore so to get to Sheffield from here means a long journey on the 265, about an hour and a half all told.

Picture of number 66 Stagecoach bus running up Eldon Street towards the bus station turning.
Ok, not a 265, but it's a picture of a bus!

 I remember the 265 from when I used to commute to work at Sheffield Hallam Uni - I regularly fell asleep and always worried about missing my stop on the way home.  I just can't read on buses, I get very sick!  Trains are so much nicer, somewhere to prop up your book and I don't get sick at all when I read ... but ah, well, not for me anymore!

The journal articles suggested are much more accessible, you can download most of them as .pdfs and save them somewhere (I use Dropbox) so you can read them later.  Unfortunately I still haven't really got the hang of reading from my tablet or computer and much prefer printing out stuff - and you can scribble in the margins too, which makes me feel as if I'm doing something constructive towards learning the topic!  Printing out has a cost though and I have been trying to reserve it for the stuff I need for essays in the first instance.  I think I will owe the OH for several toner cartridges and a couple of reams of paper by the end of this.  Bearing in mind that I have no income these days, bar a little from history talks (about one a month) I might be a while paying him back for all these text books, the paper and the toner.

Drawing of a pile of printed A4 papers, a very tall pile!
Pile of printed paper
I have worked out that my tutor appears to mark on the weight of my  bibliography - my marks have been improving as my bibliographies are getting longer and longer.  Five pages with 55 (yes you did read that right - fifty-five!) sources for my last essay, but at last he gave me a mark in the highest grade.  Too late to compensate for the other earlier poor marks when I didn't know how to play to his preferences but at least I feel as if I might not be a complete idiot this year.  Bear in mind that these essays are only 2,000 words long and you'll understand the complete disbelief of my fellow OU students on the Facebook pages, it seems they regularly only submit a page or a page and a half of bibliography; their tutors must be measuring some other mysterious element to assign their marks!

The next essay - due in on 8th May - is to be 3,000 words so I've worked out that to get a similar mark, pro rata, I need to submit a seven page bibliography, but that's just taking the p***!  I've done four pages so far and hopefully it won't grow much more, however references to newspaper articles from the various OU databases tend to be quite long, and I do like searching those old newspapers ...

Snip of magazine style page, headed "The Usual German Target! East Coast places of worship hit" above three pictures of damaged chapels and churches.
The Illustrated London News, 26 December 1914 (from GaleNewsVault at the OU)
Yesterday I got quite carried away in copies of the Illustrated London News (see above), The Times, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror around two important propaganda news stories of the early part of the First World War - the bombardment of Hartlepool and Scarborough in December 1914  (see my very own blog post about this) and the first uses of poison gas in the war in April 1915.   I regularly use the newspaper archive on Find My Past to look up family history stories but their papers seem very sparse for the period of the war, many runs end in 1911 - I am expecting a great launch of new coverage to coincide with centenary but I wish they'd hurry up!  The digitised Barnsley Chronicle I've been using for the last seven months at Barnsley Archives doesn't really go in for photos before about 1920, except for the picture galleries of fallen soldiers during the war years.  Having access to the newspapers from the OU is something I will miss - I wonder how long I will remain an alumni? with access to their library.  I also tend to use Digimaps a lot as it allows you to directly compare maps from two periods on the screen at the same time, something you can't do with Old Maps, which is very good though ... not knocking it, just saying Digimaps is better if you can get at it.  

University Barnsley Campus logo 'part of the ' University of Huddersfield - except it's not any more!
NOT ANY MORE!!!!
My alumni card from Huddersfield Uni turned out to be not worth plastic it was printed on earlier this year - Barnsley Campus has disassociated themselves from Huddersfield somehow and now I can't borrow books locally anymore - I'd have to travel to Huddersfield, and that brings us back to my transport problems, Huddersfield is two and a half hours away on a bus ... makes Sheffield sound positively neighbourly!

Today's other interesting (I'm being a bit sarky here ...) news is that the government is planning to make cuts to the Disabled Students' Allowances.  I didn't qualify, but I have met many OU students who do and who depend on their readers and scribes and other helpers to get through their studies.  My daughter was able to get some cash help towards computer software and coloured paper through this scheme when she was diagnosed as dyslexic on arriving at Uni in Leicester (how did her schools and college manage to miss that? - how did I miss that? *guilt*).  All these things are going to be cut - I don't know how we can protest, but this is taking cuts way too far now - we don't get any money to be independent, we can't get to work if we need to travel on a train or arrive before 10am and now we can't even hope for assistance to study to improve our job prospects.  Disabled people - together we are stronger - don't give in!!

Anyway, that's quite enough prevarication for one day, I see an hour and a half has passed since I finished my lunch and all I've done is type this blog post ... back to German cinema during the Second World War, *sigh*