Measuring the ANZACs: Collaborating to build a rich database of NZ’s WWI soldiers and nurses

Evan Roberts is pleased to announce the launch of Measuring the ANZACs: a project to crowd-source the complete transcription of New Zealand’s South African war and World War I personnel files.

The project is a collaboration of the Zooniverse, Archives NZ and the Auckland Museum along with a research team from the universities of Guelph, Minnesota, and Waikato. With a little help now from the New Zealand community it will be possible to complete a database of all the New Zealand soldiers by 2018, providing both a memorial to the NZ Expeditionary Force soldiers and a foundation for significant new research in New Zealand history.

Archives NZ completed the digitization of 3.7 million page-images from 140,541 personnel files in 2014, working literally through the night at the end of the project. The files are currently indexed only by name and serial number, making it hard to find people by any other criteria. Yet the personnel files provide incredibly rich information on more than 10% of the New Zealand population in the early twentieth century and their experience in two wars. As well as the soldiers themselves the files identify many other people including parents, spouses, children, and employers. Based on preliminary analyses of transcribed data it is likely that more than 100,000 other individuals are named in the files in some context.

Transcription of key parts of the files will allow researchers, from high school history students to professional historians, to find people’s files by searching for other interesting characteristics such as ethnicity, birthplace, occupation, unit of service, age, and by the occurrence of key events such as wounding, serious illness or misconduct. As the transcription progresses we will be releasing data for research, requesting only citation and acknowledgment for use. A richer database will also provide a broader public audience, including genealogists, with more ways of finding out about New Zealand’s soldiers, increasing public understanding of history.

Measuring the ANZACs is part of the Zooniverse, the world’s largest citizen science organization that has involved more than a million people globally in scientific and humanities research on topics as diverse as galaxy identification and the transcription of Greek papyri. By providing a platform for researchers to collaborate with the public substantial advances in research can be made with small contributions from a large number of people. For example, if every New Zealander over the age of 18 transcribed just one page from the personnel files we would have a complete transcription of the material. Or, if every high school student in New Zealand researched and transcribed one solider this year, and one solider next year the transcriptions would be done.

The website is designed to be used with a minimum of instruction and for a duration of your choice. Do a little. Or do a lot! Yet it can also support more extensive exploration as part of school or university classes. Students from Year 3 to university Honours can use the site in class. Lecturers and teachers can contact the research team for help with lesson plans and support in integrating the website into their teaching.

Contacting the research team: Evan Roberts (University of Minnesota) studied History at Onslow College and Victoria University, and taught in the History Programme at Victoria from 2007-2011. He can be contacted at eroberts@umn.edu, and would love the opportunity to connect by Skype or similar with classes in New Zealand who are using the website. Les Oxley (University of Waikato) teaches economic history at the University of Waikato, and can be contacted at loxley@waikato.ac.nz.

Advertisements