Geolocating the First World War with Nationaal Archief

Posted by Thijs van Exel in Articles

On October 21, 2008, the Nationaal Archief and Spaarnestad Photo became the first Dutch heritage institutions to place a small selection of their photos on Flickr in The Commons. Within two weeks, the photostream of the Nationaal Archief had over 400,000 page views and 400 comments. These large numbers were caused by the extensive amount of attention the media dedicated to the initiative — resulting in, among other things, articles in national newspapers De Volkskrant and Het Parool, radio reporting by the Wereldomroep, and, most spectacular of all, a prime-time news item in NOS Journaal (causing page views to rise up to 100,000 in one night). This initiative was started as a pilot project to involve the broad audience in photographic collections and metadata generation. The pilot proved successful: with almost 2,000 comments and over 6,800 tags added, Nationaal Archief has incorporated the use of Flickr as a standard feature for public presentation and metadata generation.

dc57gvcz_38f3qbztds_bRecently, Nationaal Archief has launched another Flickr pilot:, an online tool aimed at collecting geographical metadata on a selection of photos from World War I. Partly thanks to The Commons, Nationaal Archief has gathered quite a lot of data on this collection, but for most of these photos the locations are unknown. With, the archive seeks to research what significant role a geotagging game can play in adding specific knowledge to its collections. is a mashup of two data streams: a subset of Nationaal Archief’s Flickr photos and Open Street Map data. A new and simple website was developed as a game “shell” for the mashup. The game is simple: select a photo, study it, and add it to the (suspected) right location on the map, adding an “argument” for that location (”I recognize that bell tower in the background”) or even a photo of that same location today. Earlier locations can be overruled by every new player, but selection of the “right” location (some degree of uncertainty will always remain) is in hands of the jury: every month, from a pool of the most frequent players a jury selects a winner. He or she (we see an almost even distribution of men and women on the website) wins large reproduction of a WWI photo.

Up till now, some 50 locations have been added to the photos. Since we aim at WWI “knowledgeables”, discussion tends to develop around specific themes. Some users disagree about the origins of a certain war vessel — a phenomenon we love to observe and stongly encourage. Hopefully it will lead to a just location in the end … (sorry, only in Dutch)
Open now until April 24, 2010

Thijs van Exel works with Kennisland,
developers with Nationaal Archief of

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3 Responses to “Geolocating the First World War with Nationaal Archief”

  1. George Oates Says:

    Thijs! This is fantastic! Congratulations on a clever, useful mashup. I’m really pleased to see it’s already providing new information for the collection. Yay!

  2. Thijs van Exel Says:

    Hi George, thanks for that! We are indeed gathering useful data on this collection. Watch out for more of these in 2010!

  3. Jocelyn Schwald Says:

    Nice post!!

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