First World War Poetry Digital Archive


Launched on 11th November 2008 the First World War Poetry Digital Archive (based at the University of Oxford) made available to the general public a wide array of archival resources relating to literature of the First World War. Building on the success of Oxford's 'Wilfred Owen Multimedia Digital Archive', and the 'Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature' project (1996), this multimedia digital archive contains archival resources from other major British poets of the First World War plus images, text, audio and video of primary contextual materials.

The archive was one of 22 projects funded by the JISC Digitisation programme (Apr 2007 - Mar 2009) delivering high quality online content for use by the UK further and higher education communities. Further work was made possible through the JISC Enriching Digital Resources Programme (Oct 2008 - Sept 2009).


There can be no doubt about the widespread popularity of war poetry, and First World War poetry in particular, in literature and history courses across the country. It is taught in most universities, FE colleges and, of course, at school level. It also continues to attract considerable public attention due to the cultural importance of the period for modern day Britain, and the way it shaped attitudes to warfare.

This multimedia online database of primary source material (manuscripts of poems, letters, diaries, etc) plus contextual information (images, audio and film material from the Imperial War Museum) is browsable and searchable, and freely available. Among the 7,000 digital images are drafts of Robert Graves's poems for Over the Brazier and Fairies and Fusiliers, drafts of Edward Thomas's war poems and diary, correspondence between Vera Brittain and Roland Leighton, the poetry drafts and letters of Isaac Rosenberg, plus the war poetry manuscripts of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Through the digitised contemporary artefacts from the Imperial War Museum, the archive widens its remit to include archival resources focusing on the role that women played during the war, imperial troops, and writing from the Home Front.

The Great War Archive: A Community Collection

The development of The Great War Archive has enabled the remote contribution of digital objects to the collection, thus releasing material which up to now has been stored by individuals but inaccessible to scholars. Over four months in 2008 the public were invited to submit digital objects of items originating from the First World War. This proved a powerful means of building the archive and making use of the Internet’s ability to tap into amateur digitisation and bring together unknown collections. Because of the chronological proximity of the First World War, many people hold personal items to do with the war that they have been happy to share via a straightforward licence. All submissions required basic metadata, copyright clearance, limited in file size, and have been vetted before release. In total over 6,500 items were submitted to the archive, all of which are now freely available online in the Great War Archive.

Supporting Education

Fully aware of the educational significance of this archival collection, in conjunction with teachers and lecturers the project has developed a rich education area for both educators and learners. Here visitors can find a range of instructional tutorials and resources to support the teaching of World War One literature and history at school level, as well as resources to help family historians. Visitors to the archive can create their own annotated trails through the archive for others to use using the path creation tool and also map historical and archival data using the site's interactive interactive timelines.

Beyond the Archive

One of the things that makes this resource so rich is the community surrounding its webpages. We have an active google group for discussion First World War literature, and you can find out about gems in the archive, and the lastest news and events by following us on Twitter or by becoming a fan of our Facebook page. If you are willing to try a completely different experience visit our Second Life exhibition and experience the archive's holdings whilst walking through the trenches and no man's land. For time to time we may run workshops for educators and other special events