About this Site
The idea for this site germinated for about six
years. When I began casting about for “content” to post on the AHA
web site in 1996, I often pulled down the bound volumes of the G.I. Roundtable
series and maintained that they represented an ideal example of what the web could
provide—an archive of primary materials that was interesting on its own
terms as something that made you rethink some of the easy divisions we sometimes
make about the 20th century. The images and text also resonated with the stereotypes
we have of the fifties, and yet the pamphlets themselves were clearly looking
to the immediate past to pose questions and shape answers for the future. At the
same time, the cheap wartime paper was disintegrating, with the acids in the paper
slowly burning the pages and destroying the bindings. The web seemed like a last
opportunity to preserve the texts, while making them available to a wider audience.
the modest capacities of our first scanner made the effort of converting the text
seem impossibly difficult—at a pace of almost 20 minutes per page to scan,
proof, correct, and code the 1,726-page project seemed an impossible challenge
for the simple intellectual pleasure of the thing. And the problems involved in
making the images even somewhat viewable seemed insurmountable at the time.
the idea remained dormant until I needed a fresh project for a pair of courses
on History and New Media at George Mason University. Advances in high-speed scanning,
improvements in the object-character recognition capabilities of Omni Page Pro,
and a little time spent actually learning to use Photoshop made the project seem
doable, if not easy.
A preliminary sketch and site design was prepared as the final project for Roy Rosenzweig’s Clio Wired class
in the fall of 2001. With encouragement from Roy and his colleague,
Paula Petrik, the project was carried forward in her "Creating
History in New Media" course in the spring of 2002. Despite
my firm conviction at the time that the web is really just a vehicle
for transporting text, Paula slowly (patiently) convinced me that the
structure and aesthetics of a site were a crucial part of the web publisher’s
responsibility. At the same time, a research seminar project under
the guidance of Peter Stearns provided an opportunity to delve into
the archives and produce the analysis connected to the site. Wil Murphy,
of the Modern Military Division in the National Archives at College
Park, offered essential guidance into the sources there. Subsequent
readings by Frances M. Clarke (now at the University of Sydney) and
Lawrence Levine helped to sharpen the analysis. Special thanks are due
to all of them for their inspiration and guidance. And particular thanks
are owed to Liz Townsend who proofed each pamphlet as it came (often
poorly) off the scanner.
Whatever faults remain
in the site are entirely my own, and I welcome any and all comments and criticisms.
Regardless of whether it makes you angry, uncomfortable, or amused, if it made
you think about the past in a new way, it will have served its purpose.
February 23, 2002