"Keep holding on": the uses, continuing value, and enduring power of the records of the First World War
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Postmodern theory maintains that analyzing the history of archival material can enrich our understanding of archival methods over time and help us understand their effect on society. Examining various records of the First World War, from the perspectives of Britain, Canada, and Australia, from their creation to their uses today, demonstrates the lasting effect that these records have had on the memory of the war, and on our understanding of the past. During the war, records were largely used by governments and individuals for the war’s prosecution and the well-being of soldiers and civilians. The interwar period was faced with whether and how to preserve millions of government records as well as the need for governments, in particular, to use them to shape public opinion and international relations. Today personal First World War records such as letters, diaries, and photographs have taken centre stage and are used primarily for education, commemoration, and entertainment. Although these and other First World War records have increased in popularity in Britain, Canada, and Australia, archival institutions remain in the shadows. Nevertheless, the First World War centenary and the interest in the war's records allow an opportunity to address that problem. This thesis aims to provide greater awareness of the varied uses of the war's records across their histories in order to add to their value and thus demonstrate the importance of preserving archival records. It is hoped that this will help to garner much needed political, economic, and societal support for archival institutions.