Big gaps spoil the archive

20th June 1997 at 01:00
THE WORLD WAR I ARCHIVE. CD-Rom for Multimedia PCPounds 79.99 plus VAT. Yorkshire International Thomson Multimedia, The Television Centre, Kirkstall Road, Leeds LS3 1JS, Tel: 0113 243 8283

However appalling some of the battles in later and even bigger conflicts, none epitomises the wastefulness of war as much as the protracted, entrenched struggles of World War I, where a combination of old tactics and new technology produced a tragedy of unprecedented scale. The causes, conduct and consequences of the whole ghastly business are investigated in this uneven CD-Rom, intended mainly for A-level.

The main screen consists of an Editor window divided in half, with one side labelled Archive, the other Scrapbook. Dozens of files can be selected from the Archive, previewed, then transferred to the Scrapbook for editing and printing. More ambitious research is possible via a Web site.

There is some absorbing material here. A couple of clicks, for example, and users can listen to reminiscences from war veterans, then print a transcript of the accounts. Or they can track the Gallipoli campaign from ill-advised start to bloody close, selecting explanatory text, propaganda postcards, photographs and paintings depicting major battles. Key in "conscientious objectors" and the search facility turns up files containing photographs, letters, taped recollections and photographs of labour camps. So students will enjoy using this resource.

Whether they will learn as much from it as its price suggests they ought to is a different question. Take one small, but fairly typical example: a painting of the signing of the Armistice in 1918. We do not even learn the identities of those involved, let alone the place, the time and the political context. Especially disappointing is the absence of any video clips. Miles of film exist, both of military and civilian life; even a few sequences would have put users more in the picture. So would moving maps, but the only ones here are static.

One is left with the impression of a resource only partially completed. Perhaps the price makes this a crucial consideration.

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