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20 February, 2014 - 21:34 By Tony Quested

Life in the trenches covered in historic collection

Dr John Pegum

A Cambridge electronic publisher has compiled arguably the world’s most comprehensive archive chronicling the experiences of servicemen and women in the First World War.

ProQuest LLC, US-owned but with its European headquarters in Cambridge, has worked on the project over the past couple of years and launched the results in time for the World War I centenary.

Dr John Pegum, who co-ordinated the effort from Cambridge, said the result of ProQuest’s labours was “a landmark database offering unparalleled access to rare and unique sources on the common experiences of First World War servicemen and women.”

The collection – Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War – contains over 1,500 magazines written and illustrated, mostly unofficially, by every type of military unit which were intended for distribution only to the members of that unit.

These rare and previously inaccessible publications open up new possibilities for scholars around the globe and are an exciting new addition to ProQuest’s unique historical collections.

Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War is the largest aggregated collection of these publications available online, sourced from leading archives including the Imperial War Museum and The British Library. The collection contains periodicals written by and for serving members of the armed forces and associated welfare organisations published between 1914 and the end of 1919.

The magazines have been carefully scanned cover-to-cover, in full colour or greyscale, with granular indexing of all articles and specialist indexing of publications.

The database of content also contains the Wipers Times, which was brought to the public’s attention in a BBC satirical drama at the end of 2013 by Ian Hislop, and was also featured on various television programmes including a special focus on The One Show about these very special documents created by those serving in the war.

Dr Pegum managed the production of this product and created this extraordinary corpus of material which provides a counterpoint to the ‘official’ records and histories of the First World War which have until now been largely inaccessible for study.

He says: “These works are rare and collections have been dispersed globally among many libraries and museums. This archive brings them together and supports them with precision search technology, enabling us to have an insight into the experience of the men and women who were caught up in the conflict.

“Now, we can appreciate how they communicated to their peers about the war, their role in it and the lives they envisioned for themselves when it was over. This is real history, written as it was being lived.”

ProQuest an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based electronic publisher and microfilm publisher, provides archives of sources such as newspapers, periodicals, dissertations, and aggregated databases of many types. Its content is estimated at 125 billion digital pages.

Content is accessed most commonly through library internet gateways, with navigation through such search platforms as ProQuest, CSA Illumina, Dialog, Datastar, Chadwyck-Healey, eLibrary and SIRS. Microfilm publishing is under the UMI brand. The current chief executive officer is Kurt Sanford and ProQuest is part of Cambridge Information Group.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dr John Pegum

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