“1914-1918-online”, an international encyclopaedia of the First World War
On Monday 25 March a presentation was given about the international project for on an online encyclopaedia for the First World War at the headquarters of the Institute for German History. For Arndt Weinrich, researcher at the Institute for German History, co-organiser of the project and also member of the scientific committee for the Centenary Partnership Program, it is without doubt the most important scientific project that has been undertaken in Germany ahead of the Centenary.
The aim of the encyclopaedia is to offer an international vision of the conflict which is a better reflection of the global dimension of the war. It will be free to view. There will be six general themes (pre-war, violence, power, medias, rear echelon, after-war) which will be split into different categories (people, organisation, events, objects, concepts, spaces) so as to make more approaches possible. The following figures give an idea of the scale of the project :
- 90 historians from 21 different countries ;
- 15 partner institutions from 9 different countries ;
- 979 entries expected, more than 1,000 suggested articles.
In presenting the principal features of the project, Oliver Janz, professor at the Freie Universität of Berlin (which is at the centre of the compilation of the encyclopaedia), summed up the encyclopaedia with the words: “global access for a global war” . The choice of English as the language to be used, the uploading and free access are the three decisive conditions needed to achieve this “globality” , which is made possible also by the building of a strong network linking all the organisations and people involved in the project.
Jennifer Keene, professor at the Chapman University of Orange (California), showed that this global approach could allow Americans to take a closer look at a conflict which was of little concern to them. The involvement of the United States in the First World War, despite the fact that they only entered it in 1917, revealed the deep diversity of the American population, a nation of immigrants. The war propaganda (in which the famous poster of Uncle Sam appealing directly to the reader first made its appearance) did indeed have the effect of inciting Americans to get involved depending on what their European origins were (notably Polish or Italian immigrants). The war also made it easier for them to feel part of the “American nation”. The international encyclopaedia project will provide American historians with a more global vision.
Élise Julien, senior lecturer at the IEP (Institute for Political Studies) in Lille and also member of the scientific committee of the Centenary Partnership Program, explained her thoughts on the mutual contribution of French and international research. What is evident first and foremost is the determination behind the French research into the First World War, which today displays a more global approach (as demonstrated by the, Museum of the Great War which is on a truly international scale). On the eve of the Centenary, one is aware of the increasing number of initiatives, notably those which have a transnational nature. “1914-1918-online” is however a project for which the majority of contributors are either German, British or American even if a number of French researchers are part of an international network. It is therefore possible and desirable that the encyclopaedia should be become an essential reference tool. A lot will depend on how the publication of the results, on the influence of the uploads and the quality of the updates.