Help transcribe World War I love letters

Do you speak English, French, German, Dutch, Italian or Slovene? Okay well if you’re reading this you can obviously speak English, and I know many of you are fluent in other languages, ancient and modern. You can put your polyglot skills to good use by transcribing a collection of World War I-era love letters in Europeana’s digital collection.

Europeana, an online cultural heritage network that brings together millions of digitzed items from libraries, museums, collections and assorted other institutions in Europe, launched a crowdsourcing campaign last November to transcribe personal, handwritten texts from World War I. The records come from libraries and archives all over the world, and from members of the public who submitted their precious family keepsakes to memorialize their loved ones’ experiences in the Great War. The Transcribe Europeana 1914-1918 project enlists the aid of an Internet’s worth of eyeballs to decipher the idiosyncracies of handwriting. Once transcribed, the item can then be translated and searched by keyword, subject, author, etc.

The Love Letter Run, as this sub-initiative of Transcribe Europeana is called, contains more than 40 letters, notes, postcards, diaries, autograph books and other personal documents written by soldiers at the front and their loved ones waiting desperately for their safe return.

To cope with the separation, many soldiers sent long, romantic letters of to their loved ones back home. Some women waited longingly for their lovers on the field, while others sought companionship with the men left behind. There was love that transcended borders, love that lasted the ages, and love for one woman fought over by two different men. In the Love Run, we present you stories of romance and betrayal, of lust and longing, heartbreak and new beginnings – all the makings of your favourite melodrama, but from real, handwritten sources of real, lived experiences.

It’s a poignant experience reading the sweet yearnings of young war-torn lovers. There are also all kinds of interesting side-issues that crop up. For instance, if you’re a postcard aficionado (which I am), there are some fascinating pieces in the collection: war propaganda postcards, postcards featuring slightly naughty stolen kisses, sentimental postcards targeted to loved ones separated by war, postcards bearing the official “censored” mark.

Because I am not the only sucker for a theme, the Love Letter Run was launched on February 14th. It will run through 2018, the centennial of the end of the Great War. The database of love letters will be updated with new documents regularly so check back every so often to see the latest offerings. There are plenty of records yet to be transcribed even in English which tends to be the first category completed in crowdsourcing project because the pool of English-speakers on the Internet is so large.

4 thoughts on “Help transcribe World War I love letters

  1. “Beloved Husband, plz be informed that I have trespassed against you. It was not My fault, Dear Husband, but you will -no doubt- forgive me Anything that I tell you here, as I am ‘in the Family Way’ from someone else. I know that you will be good and all will be forgiven. Please understand that he persuaded me into doing it, and he also said that you wont return from the battlefields, and in addition I was having my weak phase. You know your weak gender well, and you cannot do anything about it but forgive me, as it all has already happened. I thought by myself that something must have happened likewise to you, as you had not written to me for three months, and it was quite a shock when suddenly I received your letter, and you were still alive. I wish it to you, but forgive me, Dear Francis, maybe the little one wont be delivered, and all will be fine then. I do not like that bloke any longer, as I know that you’re still alive. Note that everything is very expensive here, and it is a good thing that you are not with us. Being out there, you wont have to pay for your meals. The Money that you sent -btw- is very necessary. Once more, My Dear Husband, receive a deep-hearted Farewell from your unforgettable wife, Anna”

    Found in ‘The Last Days of Mankind’, a satirical play by K. Kraus, published in 1917/-19.


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