digitizing wwii

When I first arrived at SFU, someone mentioned a cache of French World War II documents housed in Special Collections. At the time, I was a brand new faculty member trying to finish a dissertation on another historical period and get my footing in the classroom. I forgot about the collection and didn’t think about it again for years.

A few months ago, I decided to teach a summer intensive seminar on France during the Second World War and I remembered these documents. I got in touch with Special Collections and (thanks to Melissa Salrin!) had a look through what turns out to be an AMAZING set of posters, pamphlets, newspapers, and other sources from Vichy,  the French Resistance, and the Liberation. I’m now very excited about using some of the materials with my seminar this coming term. Many of my students are unable to read French, so the posters will be especially useful. 

If you’d asked me in 2001 (when I first heard about these sources) whether I’d be talking about digitizing them one day, I would have said ‘What do mean “digitize”?’ I also never imagined at the time that I’d teach this particular seminar, or that I’d be as interested as I’ve become in working on pedagogy and a variety of forms of scholarly activity. Technologies shift. Our own interests and ideas about what kinds of work we want to do change. And isn’t that a good thing…?

I recently learned that I received funding from the SFU Library for the digitization, translation, and annotation of over 140 posters in the collection from the period of the Liberation in France. I’m super excited about this project that will create a permanent repository of these posters for consultation by researchers, students, and a wider public. I am also developing a related digital humanities project that will present these materials in a way that will work well for students and teachers.

The provenance of the World War II collection at the SFU Library is a bit of a mystery. I’ll be keeping track of our efforts to track down the source of the whole collection (the posters comprise just one element of a larger whole) and of the stages of bringing the digitization home in all of its facets. I’m hoping that I will be able to share our process with others to illuminate some of the ups and downs of these types of initiatives, and to help others who might be interested in pursuing similar projects. More soon!