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.
However, 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.
So 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.
Robert B. Townsend
February 23, 2002
A Cautionary Note on Proper Use of Primary Sources
A certain caution is in order when using the materials on this site. While the pamphlets contain numerous facts and figures, and venture a number of opinions on everything from the role of women to the best place to work, it is important to remember that they reflect the facts and opinions of historians and social scientists at a particular moment in time. As such, these pamphlets are reproduced here for use as primary sources, and they should not be used as the source for a particular statistic, or support for a particular opinion.
Many of the statistics, for instance, have been superseded by improved statistical methods or new data. Likewise many of the opinions in these pamphlets (and their analysis) reflect the limitations of a given moment in time. The purpose of this web site is not to support the return of the worldview represented in the pamphlets, but to provide evidence of this worldview and sources for its examination.
Historians use sources like these to look at change over time, both within a particular era, and in comparison to today. We hope that the materials on this site will stimulate further interest and exploration of the past.
The materials in this site were originally prepared for the War Department by the American Historical Association. As materials written under contract to the federal government they became part of the public domain. However, the design, encoding, and photo retouching in this electronic version have been copyrighted in 2002 by the American Historical Association.
Original analysis of the series is copyright 2002 by Robert B. Townsend.