Return to Sender launch!

by Garfield Benjamin

Addresses have been written, postcards have been stamped, deliveries have been made and archives have been stored. In other words, the Return to Sender map has finally launched!

You can now view the full version of the interactive map tool on the project website. Have a play around, try out the filters, and see what you can find! In this post, I’m going to take you through the interface and some of the things you can use it for.

So, if you load the page and click ‘Generate Map’ you will see the full range of postcards (that have location and archive data) from Europeana between 1914 and 1918. It should look something like this (please be patient, the loading time is due to the Europeana search):

The key explains what the different colour markers and paths mean. The animated paths show the direction of travel from the postcard’s origin to the archives. You can change the settings on the left to filter by year, country, archive or digital aggregator (the organisations that collect data from individual archives before they are added to the Europeana database). Filtering by year looks like this:

There are many entries directly submitted by users to Europeana as part of their 1914-1918 collection. While this provides a huge number of interesting postcards (often with very personal stories), it can block up the map with the number of lines all headed towards Europeana HQ in the Netherlands. To get a better view of the physical movement of postcards to local archives (giving a general indication of where they were sent to at the time, or where the collectors returned after their travels), you can adjust the layers on the map itself to show/hide these postcards and paths:

Return to Sender is a digital humanities project, and that means emphasising both parts of the term. It was always important to us to highlight not only the metadata of the postcards as entries in vast transnational digital archives, but to link this digital approach with what might be the core of the humanities – the specific narratives of individual people and their perspectives on society at the time of great historical events. For this reason, we always aimed to keep the artefacts themselves ‘on the map’. Try clicking on a map location – this reveals the postcards that originated there, which in turn calls up the details of the specific entry:

We would also love people to be creative with how you use it. You can even ‘hack’ the tool by extending the dates. Here is WWII for example (please note, some archives may not be displayed for searches outside the 1914-1918 range):

As the formal part of the project comes to a close, we would like to thank our developer, Niall O’Leary for all his work getting the tool functioning properly, and our intern Stefan Bernhardt-Radu for the unenviable task of finding long and ever changing lists of coordinates. The map is now open for everyone to use, so please do get in touch if you have any comments (whether bugs or if you find it useful) – we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, we have a couple more posts here on the blog and then get down to writing articles (watch this space). From metadata issues to notes home about cake, it has certainly been a fun and varied project to work on!

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