Veteran History
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by Pete B. Asch

I will compare three sites here:

The Rutgers Oral History Archives, established to record the personal experiences of the men and women who served on the homefront and overseas. The goals of the project are multifaceted and include:1

  • Conducting interviews of individuals beginning with Rutgers College alumni and Douglass College alumnae.
  • Preserving the original interview tapes and edited transcripts in Rutgers Special Collection and University Archives at Alexander Library in New Brunswick.
  • Encouraging individuals from the World War II era to make their personal papers and memorabilia available to scholars and the public.
  • Disseminating the oral memoirs and other materials collected by the project to both the academic community and the general public.
  • Involve students in the interviewing process, and the use of the material as well as fostering intergenerational bonds between them and the World War II generation.
  • Offering other academic institutions a model project that demonstrates how alumni can be encouraged to take a greater part in the life of a university on all levels.
  • [http://oralhistory.rutgers.edu/]

The United States Marine Corps History Division, a site created by the History Division of the Marine Corps, who are responsible for the collection and dissemination of the official history of the corp. The division is divided into four branches:

  • Historical Branch, the publishing arm of the division and also runs the Oral History Program.
  • Historical Reference Branch, the research and reference service of the division and overseas a number of programs inclusing: Unit Lineage and Honors, Commemorative Naming, Marine Corps Flag Manual, and Marine Corps Chronology.
  • Field History Branch, detachment of historians responsible for collecting "historically relevant material" from deployed units.
  • Editing and Design Branch, the document editing branch of division.
  • [http://www.tecom.usmc.mil/HD/Home_Page.htm]

The 447th Bomb Group Association, official website of association is maintained by the children of World War II veterans of the the unit. [http://www.447bg.com/index.html]

The Rutgers Oral History Archives

Formerly , the Rutgers Oral History Archives of World War II, was founded to preserve the WWII and homefront experiences of Rutgers Alumni in response to the increasing threat of losing these valuable stories. On the fiftieth anniversary of end of the war, the Rutgers College Class of 1942 donated $100,000 to begin the project. Since its inception the focus of the project has expanded to include veterans of all American conflicts, men and women who impacted Rutgers University, and/or New Jersey. Each interviewee is requested to fill out a pre-interview survey that allows the oral historians to conduct the necessary research to formulate questions and fact check the interview’s voracity. The interview is recorded, initially on cassette tape and more recently digitally saved on cds and exterior hardrives, is recorded and transcribed by a professional transcriber. The transcript is reviewed against the recording by the project staff before being sent to the interviewee for any corrections or clarifications. Once the corrected transcript has been edited, the interview is placed in the Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives and posted on the website. * [http://oralhistory.rutgers.edu/]

The website, that claims to be, one of the first oral history programs on the World Wide Web, features approximately 400 transcripts. The online resource represents just over half the completed interviews. The goal of the ROHA site is to disseminate its holdings across the Internet that serves as a two-way portal between the project staff and researchers, students of all ages, potential interviewees, and the general public. The site is to serve as a resource while attracting potential interviewees, donors, and continued interest in the goals of the larger organization.

The site is driven largely by typed transcripts, but the website has added a number of materials, diaries, letters, photos, memoirs, period publications, and short biographies of Rutgers alumni and students who were killed overseas, mostly donated by the participants that deal directly with their oral history. The added value items are rather limited and range from one diary to a couple dozen-photograph collections. A glaring absence on the site is audio provided through full-length recordings or clips that highlight key moments from thousands of hours of conversation. The haphazard presentation of added value documents and lack audio or movie are a result of the age of the website. The site has been online since 1996 and has only undergone one major renovation that occurred in 2004.

Treatment of the online documents is discussed by the website creators in the About Us section the website that includes short essays on the Justification and Methodology of the project. The process of how the final product is produced is explained in some detail. An oral history is uploaded and added to the online database with a detailed record added to the transcript of who was interviewed, who were the interviewers, everyone who transcribed the audio, and who reviewed the finished project. Online collections often separate out or embed metadata through some kind of tagging, but the ROHA site is completely html encoded and all information pertaining to the interviews are placed in a header that is technologically undifferentiated to the rest to the document.

Searchability is less than desirable as the only query search is a simple google search box that offers only two choices: search entire internet or just this site. Individual transcripts can be located off the homepage (http://oralhistory.rutgers.edu) and searched by reading through a choices of an alphabetical index, graduation year index, service branch index, conflict index, military unit index, or medals index. Search ability of the other materials is even more limited. For example, to access the online image collection from the homepage requires going through the document tab and clicking onto the photo icon. The images are organized only alphabetically by who provided the photographs to accompany their oral history. The short summary located next to the name serves as the only documentation for the photographs with the exception of Dr. Brown’s images. The summaries range from one word description to a couple sentence and do not appear to be formulaic in data given.

In their 2003 book, World War II on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites, historians J. Douglas Smith and Richard Jensen gave the website five out of five stars for content. They remarked that, "The interviews are superb, by far the best available on the web, and contain a wealth of information that places the war within its broader historical context." It is impossible from the survey of only three websites to ascertain whether or not the quote is still accurate six years later. The project has prided itself on its impact on teaching grade schoolchildren, involving undergraduates in primary source research, reaching out to Rutgers alumni and New Jersey Veterans, and serving as a resource for amateur historians researching their family or geographic histories. The reality is that the inability of the site to maintain an up to date web presence undoubtedly hurts this website. In addition, the lack of a comprehensive method of adding new types materials, both other documents and possibly audiovisual aspects of the interviews, limits the resources appeal to non-researcher audiences. A ranking of the overall website would be closer to 3 out of 5 stars, with the five start content buoying the grades of the document treatment, searchability, and presentation. The above average rating is directly due to the success of the project can be partially measured by the Accomplishments section of the website.

Books featuring interviews include:
Atkinson, Rick. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 . Little, Brown, 2003.
Major Problems in American Military History, ed. by John Whiteclay Chambers, II, & G. Kurt Piehler. Houghton-Mifflin, Co., 1999.
Parker, Matthew. Monte Cassino: The Hardest-Fought Battle of World War II. Doubleday, 2004.
Spector, Ronald H. At War, At Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century. Viking, 2001.
The Boys From New Jersey, ed. by Tom Kindre. Trafford Publishing, Co., 2004.
Turner, Barry. Countdown to Victory: The Final European Campaigns of World War II . W. Morrow, 2004.
Museum/Exhibits based on materials:
In 1995, in conjunction with the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance and through a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the Oral History Archives sponsored a series of conferences and an exhibit.
In the Summer/Fall of 2002, the Morris Museum featured thirteen hours of audio clips from the ROHA's oral histories in its "Share Your Story: Reminiscences from New Jersey World War II Veterans" exhibition.
In 2005, "Witnesses to War: Voices From the Rutgers Oral History Archives," opened in Alexander Library's Gallery '50, part of the Rutgers University Libraries, to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II.
The following books and periodical articles have reviewed or discussed the Rutgers Oral History Archives and/or its website:
Coffman, Edward M. "Talking about War: Reflections on Doing Oral History and Military History." The Journal of American History 87.2 (2000): 582-593.
Floyd, Bianca P. "Bookmark: Rutgers Creates On-Line Archive of Oral Histories of World War II." Chronicle of Higher Education 46.11 (1999): A54.
"Sites to See." American Heritage 51.8 (2000): 20.
Smith, J. Douglas, and Richard Jensen. World War II on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites. Scholarly Resources, 2003. [Review]
Sparrow, James T. "The Rutgers Oral History Archives of World War II." The Journal of American History 89.4 (2003): 1631. [Review]

The United States Marine Corps History Division

Site goals

The rationale behind the establishment of the History Division of the Marine Corps is to collect, preserve, and add historical value to the records of the USMC in order to understand the past in order to gain insight into the future. The goal of the website is directly tied to the objectives of the History Division as laid out in its official manual:

  • Make the cumulative historical experience of the Marine Corps available for the widespread study and exploitation
  • Enhance esprit de corps through wide dissemination of Marine Corps history and tradition.
  • Collect and preserve significant documents and records relating to the Marine Corps.
  • Give substance to tradition by identifying, collecting, maintaing, and exhibiting objects of lasting historical and sentimental value to the Marine Corps.
  • Emphasize the importance of military history as an essential element of professional military education.
  • Stress the virtue of military history as a significant ingredient in staff planning and command decisions.
  • Provide source material for the study of the development of tactics, weapons, and equipment, both air and ground.
  • Encourage creative scholarship that promotes a deeper understanding of the United States and as an instrument of national policy.
Range of materials offered

The materials offered on the site are limited in terms of volume of content, but contains a wide range of primary and secondary sources. The site brings into question what should be considered a document, as much of its holdings were prepared by the Historical Division that serves as both creator and repository. Primary sources include audio of marine hymns and songs; pictures of important marines; illustrations of marine ranks and insignia; and transcriptions of orders, speeches, manuals, and other documents. The amount of materials is comparable to the non-interview documents on the Rutgers Oral History Website, which is unfortunate considering the possibilities that exists with the resources and documents held by the military. Perhaps due to an interest in controlling and crafting the image of the Marines, the website does feature an assortment of secondary sources produced by the Historical Division. The website features a who ’s who biography section, histories of the various customs and traditions of the Corps, timelines of important events, background on the Medal of Honor and a database of Medal of Honor recipients, and finally a frequently requested section that features an assortment of resources. The frequently requested section also provides the contact information for further requests. Unfortunately, the sources used to construct these resources are not provided and feature little information to its origins beyond little footnotes, such as Edited from an earlier fact sheet prepared by the Marine Corps' World War II Commemorative Committee or Reference Branch of the Historical Division. The exception to this is the Publications section that features dozens of scholarly works on the Marine Corps history.

Audience

The lack of true primary sources and the absence of source information on much of the site’s content suggest the audience being considered for the resources of the website is the general population rather than researchers and internal use. This is patently true as the site is designed steer researchers, possible oral history candidates, and servicemen to contact or visit the physical Historical Division on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. The site breaks down the perceived needs of veterans, their families, researchers, and visitors in order to steer them in the correct location to find the answer to their queries through non digital means, such as letters, buying publications, or visiting the archives. On the other hand, a casual visitor, school child working on a short paper, or internet browser interested in military history would likely be more than satisfied browsing through the online resources. Given the limited accessibility of the History Division’s holdings, this is a greatly missed opportunity to provide universal access to valuable military and historical documents.

How Documents are Treated

Ironically for a website that features hundreds of pages of manuals, procedures, and standards on the functions and practices of the History Division of the Marine Corps there are no detailed paid to informing users to how the documents went from the physical collection onto the website. This further suggests that the History Division does not see its website as the end point for any serious internal or external inquiry. All text documents are transcribed, but without any indication of the transcription procedure. Clicking on the images and selecting properties reveal that the thumbnails and actual images are jpegs, but do not provide the dpi or scanning methods.

Searchability

There is no search box anywhere on the site to allow users to find specific items, but there is an ability to search the Medal of Honor winners by conflict, last name, or unit. Documents can be found by going through hyper links in the bottom right of the home page into the different sections:

  • Customs & Traditions – Provides list of the eleven subjects covered
  • Frequently Requested – Broken up into sections of Frequently Requested and Research tools, then listed alphabetically by topic
  • This Month in History – Broken up into each month that once selected provide chronology by day
  • Who's Who – Alphabetically divided up and can be search by selecting first letter of last name and scrolling
  • Medal of Honor – Drop down menu of Campaigns or link to database similar to Who’s Who
  • Historical Documents, Orders and Speeches – No perceived rhyme or reason to order, sorta chronological but divided up by creator.
Rating the sites

The site earns 2/5 stars, but maybe a result of unfair penalization due to the hope that it could provide the resource the rater so desperately wanted. In many ways the site has everything a historical document project would want, except enough documents. The added value, documentation on the activities (sans the digitization process) of the History Division, and site design are above average. As a division of the USMC the funding is likely limited, but available. The addition of documents may represent a perceived security concern, image issue, or just not part of the current aims of the Historical Division. Perhaps in time the website will fulfill its potential and become not only the official, but the leading online resource to Marine Corps history.

The 447th Bomb Group Association

Site goals

The 447th Bomber Group Association website serves to fulfill the objective of the association by “preserving the legacy of the men that served in the 447th Bomb Group.” The site also serves to allow members and the public to maintain contact with the veterans and their families, plan reunions, and collect information on the unit’s history. The goal of the site is also to host a collection of online materials that provide information, background, documents, pictures, and maps to its members, researchers, and the general public. The site also offers merchandise with the goal of raising money for the association.

Range of materials offered

The association seems to post anything related to the unit and therefore has collected a wide array of materials. They include an interactive map, a collection of diaries, written recollection of events, collected data on every plane that served in the group accompanied by a photographs of plane and its crew, scans original operational charts, a produced chronology, and the official report on Strategic air operations, 1942-1945. The photographs are the most extensive set of primary documents on the website, featuring black and white of all the planes, as well as a number of color pictures. The site also features a collection of images of the famous nose arts that decorated many of the planes. Also there are a large number of pictures of the flight and ground crew. These pictures are all supported by impressive documentation about every plane and the 477th Bomb Group.

Audience

The main audience of the site is the members of the association and veterans of the unit, as well as their families. The site is not up to “scholarly standards”, but certainly is interested in attracting amateur historians and offering a portal for serious researchers to contact the Group’s veterans. It is not stated, but the number of publications and documentaries featured on the site could have likely been inspired by contacts made through the site.

How Documents are Treated

The documents are delivered on the website in two different ways: posted on the website or downloaded pdfs that are displayed by Adobe Acrobat in another browser window. The reason for the varied display appears to be technologically driven. Only small pictures, text, or other features of minimal byte size are posted to the website. The photo galleries, government documents, diaries, and stories are presented in pdf form. I am not sure if the website has limited bandwidth, designed for use by lower quality computers, or the product of amateur webmasters. The use of separate windows is distracting and can result in the losing the main website among the sea of popups. The treatment of the documents themselves is not clear; the pictures are obviously scanned but provide no metadata or provenance. The diaries and other text based materials are a mixture of transcribed and imaged documents that do not explain who created the digital images, why some are transcribe and others not, when the document was obtained and transformed, where the originals are held, and how the transcription was done.

Searchability

The site does not feature a search box, but does offer a number of features, none great, to access the websites content. The nature of the material and limited size of the website allows the website to get away with a less than par searching. Access is established by going through the subject links, such as the 447th Aircraft, on the left hand side of the page that simultaneously take the user to a main page page and opens a quasi search field that can better be described as a navigation table. For example after clicking on 447th Aircraft the following appears:

Aircraft Pages
Alphabetical listing of aircraft
Aircraft Profiles
Aircraft Galleries
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6
Color Aircraft Gallery
Pin-Up Girls of the 447th
The Harvard Planes
Rating the sites

The site earns 3.5/5 stars. On the negative side, the site lacks the metadata and methods information expected of a scholarly website. In addition, the inability to find materials quickly without already knowing what your looking for lowers teh score further. The website earned the highest rating of the three for its impressive amount of added value features, such as the timeline and detailed research conducted for each plane's history and crew. The Association offers a wide variety of primary materials, the website is slightly out of date but is continuously updated with addition documents and is pleasantly laid out, and overall does a great job of fufilling its goal to memorialize the 447th Bomb Group.

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