The romance of Louise Jayne and her fiancé Auguste Longinotti was brief, cut short by the French soldier Auguste’s death in World War I. Yet their correspondence during this fleeting engagement, when Louise was working in a pyrotechnics and weapons factory in southern France, is preserved in postcards, Auguste’s news from the front, and even a song, all sent back and forth between February 4, 1915 and March 8, 1918. Their story is one of many waiting to be recovered through Europeana’s Love Transcribathon, a transcription project for digitized World War I love letters that launches this Valentine’s Day.
Europeana, an online platform for digitized cultural heritage from hundreds of archives, museums, and libraries around Europe, has previously organized “transcribathons” for World War I Christmas letters, and the unpublished “Nature of Turkestan” manuscript by a POW who died in 1919. The platform’s Transcribe Europeana 1914–1918 initiative is continuing through 2018, the centenary of World War I’s conclusion. Although many of this era’s documents and ephemera are now digitized and available online, their crowdsourced transcriptions will add to the historical record of the 20th century’s first major military engagement. The Love Transcribathon also marks the beginning of Europeana’s 2017 #AllezLiterature campaign, which concentrates on love letters and poetry.
In particular, these letters illuminate the lives of the soldiers, on both sides of the battle. The initial batch of letters includes text in English, French, German, Dutch, Croatian, Slovenian, and Greek. There is a French soldier’s illustrated songbook (one sappy lyric goes: “Without recognizing obstacles, / Love makes miracles”); an English nurse’s autograph book with tales of her patients and sketches of relationships; and letters between a French-Italian couple bridging the wartime borders. Transcribathon participants are invited to share their findings with the hashtag #WW1LoveLetters, while their geotagging and annotations will support better access to this epistolary past. With notes of separation, of yearning for a return home, and even some century-old pressed flowers, there’s an intimate connection through these letters to the human experiences of World War I.
Join the Love Transcribathon “Love Letter Run” on Europeana.