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Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial, Canberra
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Reviewed by:
Kirsten McKenzie
University of Sydney
December 2003

This website provides extensive information about the history of Australia at war, through primary and secondary material, as well as information about the memorial itself. Major conflicts covered by this site range from the Anglo-Maori Wars in New Zealand (1860�1866) to the 2003 Iraq War. There are two main categories of databases on the site—Collections databases and Biographical databases. The latter reflects the widespread use of the site by genealogical and family researchers. Both are easily identifiable on the left of the home page. While the site is set up to order copies from the collections, this is not necessary in order to utilize its resources.

Students and teachers of world history, who are less likely to be searching for a specific individual, will find the Collection databases more useful than the Biographical ones. They provide online access to the memorial’s collections of art, photographs, film, sound, private records, military heraldry, and military technology. Currently more than 4,000 works of art, 203,000 photographs, 3,500 films, 350 sound recordings, 8,200 private records and 2,000 heraldry and technology items are available. Approximately 400 oral history transcripts may also be accessed. When images are available, they are presented in thumbnail size, and can be expanded for closer viewing. Both simple and advanced search features are provided. It is possible to limit searches to items that include images or documents. The sign-in feature allows users to save searches or to store individual records and images for later use in the work area.

The online primary sources are only one aspect of a very large and diverse website. Under “Australians at War” on the home page can be found an encyclopedia, a guide to military organization and structure in Australia, and an “Australian Military History Overview.” The historical overview is particularly recommended to users as a valuable introduction to context. It includes suggested further reading under each chronologically divided section. The Oxford companion to Australian military history1 is a useful general reference work. Australia: Two Centuries of War and Peace2 provides a general introduction with a social history focus and considers the conflict between Europeans and Indigenous Australians in terms of warfare. Despite the contextual introduction under “The Colonial Period” in the overview, this site largely does not place this history under the rubric of warfare. Also recommended is Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century.3

The vast size of the collection is daunting. Students of world history wishing to use this site might wish to focus on one issue or question to make materials more manageable. “Collections Highlights” are one useful method of targeting particular areas. In the realm of world history, particular campaigns or theatres of war presented from the Australian perspective might be compared with their place in other national narratives. Thematic approaches such as memorializing war, war diaries, or the role of women in war are possible through advanced searching. Under “Australians at War,” a subsection entitled “Australia’s Prime Ministers” has collected primary sources for each of Australia’s leaders, from Edmund Barton (1901�03), to the current Prime Minister, John Howard, with reference to their role in war. This is a particularly useful comparative source in a world history context for students to analyze the connections between war and ideas of leadership and nation over the course of the twentieth century.

1 Peter Dennis et al., The Oxford companion to Australian military history (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995).
2 M. McKernan and M. Browne eds., Australia: Two Centuries of War and Peace (Canberra: Australian War Memorial in association with Allen & Unwin Australia, 1988).
3 J. Damousi and M. Lake, eds., Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

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