Films from the Home Front: Public History with Archival and Recently-Produced Video Components

by Matthew Amyx

The website “Films from the Home Front” showcases footage of life on the British Isles during World War II and a project studying this topic by students at Whitehawk Primary School in Brighton, England. While the site shares many similarities with simple archives or collections (each film is accompanied with a good amount of metadata and you can browse by theme) there are no search functions or finding aids. The site contains more of an exhibit-type feel, with interviews, student work samples, and the main “Films” page laid out as a timeline – a very cool feature. However, the video selection feature on pages with film, whether archival footage or modern production, requires a separate window for playback and – at least in my case – having to select a media player app. This clunky design broke the exhibit experience somewhat for me. Additionally, the audio and video quality lacked polish.

Whitehawk Primary School was the site of air raid trenches during World War II. The schoolchildren are often taken there for history lessons, which explains why the school is linked with this project. In addition to the timeline with historical footage mentioned above, the Whitehawk part of the site includes video interviews with veterans and citizens who lived through the war. The children themselves are asking the questions at what appear to be large community events, but the filming and audio suffer due to the informality of the setting where multiple interviews are going on at once. The site itself apologizes for this, saying “Please be aware the sound quality for some of the recordings is not ideal as they were recorded in a busy school hall.” Still, the earnest students are adorable when questioning the seniors, who are also obviously eager to share. The website is not just digital public history, but the record of a moment of inter-generational local community public history as well.

While the site is both educational for kids and useful for researchers, the poor audio/video quality suggests that maybe some more pre-production planning in how these interviews would be preserved would have been nice. Additionally, they should tinker with the site so that videos play automatically on the same page – not requiring a separate download. That would preserve the exhibit feel of the website.

 

 

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