Oral History Discovery Connects Carving in Italy with Kentucky WWII Veteran

Released: 2-Apr-2014 8:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: University of Kentucky
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Newswise — Seventy years after the date of combat in the small town of Tremensuoli, Italy, during World War II, the University of Kentucky’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History is bringing to life the story of a Kentucky soldier. From Italy to Dachau, the discovery and the center's own OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer) technology will give researchers and the public a detailed personal account of one American GI's experience.

About a year ago, the Nunn Center began to follow up on a request from Italian researcher and author Giovanni Caruso, who was looking to find out more about a soldier who had left his mark on that community. While working on a story he wanted to write on a battle in the small town of Tremensuoli in 1944, Caruso had discovered a carving in a stone wall there that identified an American soldier by name, hometown and state, and date (M.A. Webb, C-ville, Ky., 1944 March 30).

Interestingly, the writer had been able to connect the name to an oral history interview in the Nunn Center's collection with World War II veterans. The interview, recorded in 1986 by Colonel Arthur L. Kelly, was with Marshall Webb of Campbellsville.

There was a major battle in Tremensuoli where Webb and his fellow soldiers fought for around three months. In his oral history interview with UK, Webb talks specifically about the battle around the time of the carving and even reads a poem he wrote about the battle.

To hear the entire four-hour interview with Webb, visit: www.kentuckyoralhistory.org/interviews/21342.

While Webb died in 2004, Doug Boyd, director of the Nunn Center connected with Marshall Webb’s widow Opal, and with the Webb family to find out more. In addition to conducting follow-up interviews about Marshall Webb’s life, the family donated to the UK Archives Webb’s photographs as well as papers related to Webb, his life and his service as well as more than 80 poems that he had written about the war.

“The oral history is an important piece of history about Marshall Webb but the archival documents make his story more complete," said Deirdre Scaggs, associated dean of UK Special Collections. "Marshall Webb was a soldier, but he was also a poet, he had a family, and these materials reveal the more complex story about a man who did a great deal more than carve his name on a wall.”

Outside of his combat service in Italy, Webb was part of the unit that first entered the Dachau Concentration Camp in the hours following liberation. Much of his remembrances and collection powerfully document this experience including several horrifying photographs of what the soldiers saw upon entry to the camp.

This additional collection will now help UK Libraries bring Webb's momentous story to life for researchers and individuals accessing the collection and interviews.

Through OHMS, the Nunn Center can make the content of Webb's collection come to life on the computer screen. The web-based system allows users to search for specific terms within recorded oral history interviews. Now with the interviews and collection of poetry, journals and photographs, viewers will be able to hear Webb speak about his time in the war, look at photos from where he served, and even hear him read and see the poetry in his own pen.

This story is just one great example of many that underscores the importance and value of oral history and archives in the digital age. "It is a brilliant example of why we do what we do over here and why these oral histories matter," said Boyd. "In oral history it’s the moments that matter, and OHMS connects users to that moment."

The Nunn Center, under the direction of Boyd, and Digital Library Services, under the direction of Eric Weig, created OHMS to inexpensively and efficiently enhance access to and discovery of oral history online. The system provides users word-level search capability and a time-correlated transcript or index connecting the textual search term to the corresponding moment in the recorded interview online. The ability to pinpoint specific terms in lengthy oral history interviews will save the experienced researcher, as well as students or the general history enthusiast lots of time and effort.

In 2011, the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the Nunn Center a National Leadership Grant to further develop OHMS. The grant project is designed to make OHMS open source and free, empowering institutions, both large and small, to provide an effective, user-centered discovery interface for oral history on a large scale.

Since its creation, the Nunn Center has used the OHMS system to upload more than 1,500 interviews in the past five years. To try an OHMS search of the Nunn Center's oral history collections, visit the Kentuckiana Digital Library at http://kdl.kyvl.org/cgi/b/bib/bib-idx?c=oralhistbib;cc=oralhistbib;page=simple. For more information on OHMS, visit www.oralhistoryonline.org.


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