The National WWI Museum and Memorial Brings New Life to Old Media with GIFs

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(National World War I Museum and Memorial)

While there are troves of films and photographs from the era of World War I America, the National World War I Museum and Memorial is reviving them for today's audiences. Specifically, they’re using the lingua franca of social media: the GIF.

GIFs are small, usually animated images, first developed for video games. Today, they’re used to convey a reaction or emotion on various social media platforms. Using the technology of today, the museum hopes to bring new life to things filmed more than a century ago.

Our website doesn't currently allow for GIFs, but you get the idea. (National World War I Museum and Memorial)

The National WWI Museum and Memorial has created and compiled a collection of GIFs from WWI-era films, mostly by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and made them available on Giphy.com. This means the WWI GIFs will pop up in common GIF keyboards on Facebook and Twitter.

“This GIF collection is a fantastic way to add an unexpected layer to education and engage new audiences,” said Lora Vogt, the WWI Museum’s curator of education, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to have been able to find and use video for this project that features not just the U.S. experience, but the experiences of individuals from around the globe.”

Aside from the film reels of the Signal Corps, the WWI GIF collection also contains GIFs created from film reels from World War I-era allies and enemies, including France, Germany and Russia. The creators also included the Black experience and those of female soldiers in the Great War.

The museum’s educators watched more than 350 hours of film reels and converted video files to curate carefully the images now available through Giphy. They then encoded them to include poignant scenes from the war while retaining a high-quality image resolution.

GIFs are just one part of the museum’s dedication to preserving the history and experiences of World War I. The Kansas City, Missouri-based museum and memorial currently holds the most comprehensive collection of World War I-related items in the world. Now it holds the most comprehensive collection of WWI GIFs.

Like this, but animated. (National World War I Museum and Memorial)

“Similar to how we often seek positivity during some of the heaviness we are experiencing today, soldiers sought normalcy during the war through dancing, playing tricks on fellow soldiers, and even photobombing one another,” Vogt said. “The quirky and often hysterical GIFs provide a glimpse into the life of soldiers beyond fighting on the front lines.”

To see the entire collection of GIFs, visit the National WWI Museum and Memorial on Giphy. To learn more about World War I and the museum itself, visit TheWorldWar.org. Or better yet, visit the museum itself; its doors now are open.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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