Potted shots of the war
Gareth Davies looks at a Second World War encyclopedia on disc.
The Second World War has become a popular topic for CD-Rom producers. The wealth of material available from a variety of sources provides an ideal opportunity.
Attica Cybernetics sources are impressive, The Hulton Deutch collection, The BBC Archives and The Imperial War Museum combined together to produce a CD-Rom encyclopedia aimed at both school and home (a version specifically for education, World War II Archives, which contains the complete text of a vast database of Cabinet and other government papers, is available at Pounds 149, and will be reviewed in a future edition). With so many other CD-Roms available on this topic, teachers must judge them all on their value in the classroom.
There are two ways of accessing the information available on the CD-Rom. From a "Home" screen you can choose to either search the encyclopedia or an audio timeline. Choosing search provides an alphabetical list of some 1,500 photographs, film, artwork (such as paintings or posters), sound clips and text extracts. Typing in a word will find those items that have that word in the title. It is also possible to deselect source types if you only want to examine one or more particular types. Selecting a source takes you to its "card" with its contextual note.
The audio timeline provides 127 cards in chronological sequence. A picture, text and audio clip is available for each card and the user can move to any place in the sequence using a traditional timeline. On screen buttons also enable you to access additional information relevant to the card such as another audio clip, or additional photographs.
World War II Encyclopaedia provides valuable sources in a slick presentation that is impressive at first sight. However, the overall result does not live up to the expectation. Many will expect an "encyclopedia" on such a topic to provide detailed reference information that cannot be found in a normal history text book. This is not the case. Even relatively well known events such as the assassination attempts on Hitler are treated scantily with no real way of gaining all the contextual information needed for proper study. This does not mean to say that there is not some excellent material on this CD. With 852 photographs and 255 sound clips it will be an excellent resource for students guided by a teacher who can optimise its potential.