HomeNewsIsland & CoastWar letter database shows the individual lives of Canadian soldiers

War letter database shows the individual lives of Canadian soldiers

An online database created by a VIU History Professor aims to put a “human face” on the Canadian war experience. 

The Canadian Letters and Images Project is a digital archive of wartime photos and letters started by Dr. Stephen Davies who teaches World War I history in Nanaimo. 

“I started the project for my students, hoping to get a hundred or two hundred letters online that they could work with,” Davies says the project then ‘snowballed’ with many people asking to contribute to the database.

At the time when Davies started the project back in 2000, there weren’t many materials like this available online. As of this year, the project has collected roughly 35,000 letters, pictures and diary entries.

Davies says using letters to teach what happened during war times is effective because it gives a glimpse into the lives of individuals rather than focusing on armies or countries. 

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“They put a human face to war. When you are teaching about large battles, where you have 10,000 or 20,000 casualties, the numbers become so large that they become meaningless.”

Beyond being just a teaching tool, letters from the database have been used to create an opera and paintings created by artificial intelligence.

Davies sees the project as a way to showcase the letters to the broader public.

“Too often academics end up writing for other academics. They will publish articles and books that are largely read by other academics, other historians.” But he adds that everyone can get something out of reading these materials.

If you’d like to support the project you can donate through the VIU Foundation or send in materials to be added to the collection. All submitted items are scanned and returned to families.

The database is open to the public and can searched by visiting the Canadian Letters and Images Project website.

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