With the help of an NEH grant, the Connecticut State Library has documented more than 450 men’s and women’s experiences in World War I. Over the course of four years, the Remembering World War One project collected nearly 5,000 images and artifacts illustrating these individuals’ stories. This extensive and deeply personal collection was amassed through 47 public digitization events hosted by partner institutions throughout the state. Remembering World War One stands out as an exceptionally comprehensive state-wide commemoration of the war’s centennial; it garnered two nationally-syndicated AP stories and numerous local television and radio spots.
NEH funding enabled the Connecticut State Library and its diverse partner institutions to sponsor public programming in advance of these digitization events. They gathered communities to remember the war, raised awareness about the project, and prompted Connecticut residents to consolidate and prepare their family heirlooms for the public archive. Participants contributed a range of objects, including a box of personal effects that had been shipped to one man’s family when he was wounded in the Battle of the Marne. Preservationists helped a woman identify medals that recognized her grandmother’s courageous service in the Slovakian Red Cross. “We were able to tell not only the story of Connecticut during the war,” says project director Christine Pittsley, “but of Connecticut after the war: the people that came to our state and make up our state today.”
The program’s impressive impact continues to expand. Connecticut residents are still contributing to the growing archive through an online portal, and local historical societies are able to easily contribute to the Connecticut Digital Archive using a system developed by the library. The program also facilitated state-wide digitization events for Rhode Island and Maine—the Maine State Library will soon adapt the training they received to commemorate their state bicentennial. And for three years now, journalism students at Southern Connecticut State University have participated in the project as part of their capstone course, recording oral histories from those who contributed particularly interesting items.