Since the 1990's there has been a steady growth in the role of Digital History as historians harness the power of computers to assess data sets, covering both economic statistics and increasingly social statistics. However the growth of the internet has allowed the digitisation of document to reach a far wider audience and allowed collection of disparate groups of documents from distant archives, both of which have changed the writing of history for the better. These developments have been helped by the rise of spreadsheets, databases, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and and image processing software that allow these digital images to be converted into text and numbers. A good overview of the scope and extent of Digital History can be found at the Institute for Historical Research in their "Digital Tools" online course (see here). A brilliant advocate and exponent of Digital History is Prof. Jamel Ostwald who outlines the latest ideas in EMDH (Early Modern Digital History) in his blog "Skulking in Holes and Corners" always well worth a read just for the technique alone.
It was between 2003 and 2007 that the Russian Federation passed a series of laws allowing the Soviet era archives to be digitised and published online. This resulted in three large websites which appeared around 2015:
Pamyat Naroda - The Memory of the People - https://pamyat-naroda.ru/
Memorial - https://obd-memorial.ru
Podvig Naroda - The Feat of the People - http://podvignaroda.ru
The Podvig Naroda website is concerned with Awards given to Soviet soldiers and has in excess of 50 million individual records while 'Memorial' website records over 8 million personnel records regarding the fate of Soviet soldiers. For historians, the most useful of the three is Pamyat Naroda which holds 425,000 archive documents on military operations, 6 millions points marked on the routes of individual units, 100,000 thousand maps (many of them georeferenced,) and 12 million awards to soldiers with their locations on maps. Yet this is an ongoing project with several million more documents being added to the site in February 2018.
This is the Home Page which usually appears first in Russian however in the top right hand corner of the screen is an option to switch to English, although the content in many of the boxes still remains in Russian. However activating Google Translate will translate this text into English and so the whole page can be rendered readable by non-Russian speakers. The menu across the top gives access to the main sections of the website: Heroes, Combat Operations, War Graves, Military Units and Documents of Units (Google Translate in its literal way often translates Частей as Parts instead of Units or Formations.) however in reality these sections will each link through to additional information from the other sections and the documents behind them, it is just that the emphasis of each section is different.
Below this menu is a search box which will search for individuals by last name, first name, patronymic written in Russian so this will bring up results in either the Heroes or War Graves Sections (see below). The other tools on this page sit below the Banner and include a Timeline with a slider which controls the Interactive Map and its linked Heroes box, Operations links and Unit links while under this sits four boxes of Feats, Battle Route, Military Burials and Videos & Photos. As you move the slider across the Timeline, it updates the Interactive Map and all the other sections to show items for that date, so that moving it to the 7th July 1943 brings up the Battle of Kursk Operation, Heroes with awards for that date, units involved in the Battle, the career details of the commanders, military graves in the area and contemporary photos. All of these, including the Star markers on the map will link through to the main sections of the website.
One point to note about the website is that all searches have to be conducted in Cyrillic Russian, so in order to enter a search term, you can either use Google Translate to convert from Latin to Cyrillic script or Windows users can go to the Language settings on their computer and install a Cyrillic keyboard (you can switch from English to Russian in right hand side of the Taskbar).
This displays a Search Box which will search by Name and provides two kinds of results. For names personalities - Commanders, such as Vatutin, it provides a career path on a map, list of units associated with that commander and operations in which they were involved. For ordinary soldiers who won an Award, the results being up their Award citiation and links to the operation in which they were involved.
This section has a search box which will search by Operation name or by Commander name. Underneath this, on the left hand side is a list of 226 different operations and on the right hand side a map which displays each the operations by pointers. Clicking on any of the links will bring up the page for that specific operation which shows a series of maps depicting the course of the events, a brief summary of the operation, units and commanders involved, sample documents, a list of Heroes, photographs, combat logs of the units, war graves from the operation and a link to the website "Victory Calendar". All of these are links and will direct you to the relevant section of the website for that operation, unit, etc. Also listed are the operations preceding and following the selected operation in the same area of the front-line so that a particular sequence can be followed.
This section operates in a similar way, with a search box to find a particular name and below that a list of 1,271 cemeteries or 29,227 burial sites and an interactive map with points showing the location of the burials, hospitals and camps. Clicking on any of these links or pointers brings up the relevant information page. What is amazing is that these burial sites are scattered all over Europe with about a dozen in the UK.
This section only has a simple search box into which you can type the Front, Army, Corps, Division or small unit of your choice. The box works with complete words such as механизированный корпус or abbreviations such as 2 мк and this will bring up the page for that unit or a list of units. Each unit page gives you information about the history of the formation and what it was before and afterwards. It gives details of the Commanders with links to the Heroes section, Higher formations that the unit belonged to such as Fronts and lower formations that made up the unit such as brigades and there is a map showing the track of the unit all through its existence, with way points that can clicked on to produce relevant documents for that date, buttons to add details of higher and lower formations and this generates further lists of relevant documents for that date. (This ability to make connections to higher or lower formations is a powerful tool in gathering information around a particular date or location.) To give an example of the 2nd Tank Army during the Uman Operation, clicking on the map pointer for the 5th March 1944 - the start of the Operation shows 532 documents (ie. for the whole operation) while the next pointer, the 7th March shows 114 results for just that one day.
Documents of Units
This final section is probably the most useful to the military historian as the search box will search by unit, operation, document title or document author, while the advanced search adds a drop-down list of operations, a separate box for units, start and end dates and the file reference for the TsAMO documents of Fond, Opus, Delo. These are really useful alternatives to the search map offered under the Units section. So the Advanced Search option enables a search for all the documents of the 2nd Tank Army during the Uman Operation or even for a particular day of the operation. Using the example above the 2nd Tank Army shows 159 documents appearing in the results, which you can see below:
By now you will have realised that the Units section and the Documents of Units section are bringing up a different albeit overlapping set of results, even if you search for a specific unit, during a named operation and even for a particular day. That's because different types of documents seem to appear depending on which section you are searching in and how they are searched for by the website. In the results page above you can see that a search in the Documents of Units section using the 2nd Tank Army and the Uman Operation from the drop-down list produces a result of 159 results while clicking on the 2nd Tank Army route map in the Units section for the same operation produces 532 documents. These result can be narrowed down using the tabs across the top and the side bar categories. The immediate difference can be seen in the "Operations Record Book" tab, for the Documents of Units result this is zero, while the Units result shows 108 documents all of which are called "Combat Journal of 2TA". The short answer is that using a search with the Operations drop-box excludes these documents, while a straight-forward date based search reveals them.
I will be looking more closely at this phenomenon in my second blog post "Hacking Pamyat Naroda".
A suite of useful programmes
There are a wide variety of software programme suitable for this work however this selection seems to work well together and allows a fairly seemless work flow when using Pamyat Naroda. They include the Google Chrome browser (with Translate, Zotero and OneNote extensions), Zotero to keep track of the bibliographic records, OneNote to record notes and to take quick screen shots, Abbyy FineReader 12 to process the images and convert them into readable digital text and to scan documents using a flatbed scanner, Microsoft Translator and Lingvo Live provide alternate translations, Paintshop Pro or FastStone Image Viewer is used for marking up images, LibreOffice for word processing, spreadsheets and databases and Ultraedit for text correction.
My work-flow for exploring Pamyat Naroda is to conduct my searches in Chrome and if I find what I am looking for to record it in Zotero and then download it. Inevitably, I find items of interest about other things which would simply be book marked in Chrome for later exploration or 'clipped' by OneNote if they fit into a particular project. The downloaded file is carefully filed in my nest of folders, recorded by Zotero and later taken out and uploaded into FineReader so that it can be scanned to make a digital text in Russian. FineReader can export into a whole variety of different file format but the easiest is html, because Chrome will automatically open the file and translate it into rough English. I often go back and make corrections to the original text when I see errors, re-save it and re-translate it. Once the text is reasonably accurate and I have determined that the document is of particular interest, then I will save it as an document file in LibreOffice so that I can manually translate sections, arrange tables and other corrections. Documents of lesser interest are often left as hmtl files. For large files, I can upload rtf documents to Google Translate to bulk translate and if I have problems with translation due to text formatting (mainly extra line breaks added to make text fit to a page,) I use Ultraedit to amend the entire text in one go (see the Institute of History). Again Zotero can be used to record the final location of these files so that they can be found later and to produce a reference list for journal articles. Documents with maps or diagrams are translated and marked up in PaintShop Pro or FastStone Image Viewer while large tables are transferred to spreadsheets in Calc in LibreOffice, often copied and pasted from within FineReader.
There is little in Pamyat Naroda which cannot be processed by this basic list of programmes. This particular collection works well with other and a lot of them are freeware with the exception of FineReader, Paintshop Pro and Ultraedit.