Website Review

Historic Government Publications from World War II

Southern Methodist University

Part of the Southern Methodist University Library’s digital collection, Historic Government Publications from World War II provides public access to over 300 high quality scans of archival material from the Second World War. As noted on the tin, these are American government publications that include, but are not limited to: pamphlets, reports, and propaganda materials, all of which were distributed by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Given that this particular collection is but a relatively small part of SMU Library’s much larger digital collection, the site itself is largely minimalist. Arriving on the main page, users are presented with a scroll-bar of highlights from the collection, as well as a simple search-box. Below that, there is a short overview of the collection’s contents, links to other related collections, and general information about using the digitised archival material.

Looking first at the Overview, it’s worth noting that the library team has suggested a handful of categories that users can explore. Clicking on the category of women’s issues, for instance, leads directly a pre-filtered search results page – this being particularly useful for anyone in the exploratory phase of their research, or for people who might initially find the collection too large to sort through. That aside, the inclusion of these pre-filtered searches is particularly helpful in demonstrating the kinds of directed searches that can be done within the collection. Meanwhile, under the Related Collections section, the library team has also helpfully noted two other digital collections that might complement the Historic Government Publications materials. Given the Library’s various other digitised collections (which are definitely well worth a look), this is a great inclusion that will be quite helpful in providing additional historical context.

To explore the collection, users have a choice of simply browsing through the entries, or sorting them according to date, creator, and type of government publisher. Searching more generic words such as “Crops” or “Transport” will filter results according to those areas, too. For the entries themselves, each comes meticulously tagged and described, resulting in very detailed descriptions. Importantly, most entries also come with a table of contents (when applicable) and a brief summary, which allows for quick evaluation of the archival material without needing to open it up in the viewing box. It’s also worth highlighting that unlike many other digital repositories, the SMU Library allows users to download its archival digitisations as PDFs – this being particularly important for researchers who prefer to work offline, or for teachers who would like to use them as class handouts. While this particular collection itself is fairly small when compared to other, larger repositories of World War Two materials, this feature alone already puts it far ahead of the pack.

Given how straightforward the site is, Historic Government Publications from World War II would be a great addition to any classroom syllabus. Teachers will have plenty to draw on for lessons, as the material here ranges from simple posters and page-length instructions, to entire guides on regions and wartime issues such as food production, health services, and childcare. For a history unit on female experiences of war, for instance, teachers can assign students to examine particular publications (e.g. guides on female safety equipment, reports on women in different wartime industries, home economics guides to stretching resources) and consider how different women had vastly different roles. Further to that, students can also be asked to explore the site and then brainstorm other kinds of guides that might have been needed during that time. English classes, in turn, can look specifically at the type of language used in certain publications and consider what the aims were, or who the audiences might have been.

On a whole, while the site could have used a larger list of pre-filtered categories and perhaps a longer explanatory essay on the historical context of its materials, the lack of these features does not take away from the site’s main purpose. The archival material has clearly been digitised and described with care, and as previously mentioned, the ability to download each document is nothing short of fantastic. Easy to use, chockful of useful content, and easy to access even when offline, Historic Government Publications from World War II shows that repositories do not need to be overly complicated to achieve good things.

Reviewed by Joanna Lee, Monash University

How to Cite This Source

"Historic Government Publications from World War II," in in World History Commons, [accessed December 8, 2021]
Vintage illustration of a woman plucking fruit, with the words Works for Victory, 1945 below in italicised font
“Easy to use, chockful of useful content, and easy to access even when offline, Historic Government Publications from World War II shows that repositories do not need to be overly complicated to achieve good things.”