Texas Tech’s primarily digital modern war collection relies on the donations of veterans to preserve history and benefit research.
In addition to being a “Best for Vets” and Purple Heart University, Texas Tech University is home to a number of unique military collections that preserve the donations of veterans, the youngest being the Archive of Modern American Warfare (AMAW).
A branch of the Vietnam Center and Archive, which houses the largest collection of Vietnam War records outside the National Archives, the AMAW was created in 2007 to collect and preserve the records of veterans of military conflicts after 1975. Though the collection houses physical material such as uniforms, newspapers and propaganda items, the AMAW is primarily a digital archive. The AMAW's push for digital material such as photographs, videos, emails, text messages and other digital documents makes it unique, and puts these materials at risk if they are not donated soon.
Andrew Hinton, special projects archivist for the AMAW, said it's imperative that modern war veterans donate their digital materials as soon as possible, before advancements in technology make accessibility of modern digital records difficult or impossible.
“We're trying to get modern war veterans to think about the importance of preserving their history and donating their digital materials now,” Hinton said. “If we don't get that stuff soon and give it the attention it deserves by migrating it to a format that will be sustainable over time, none of this stuff is going to be accessible in the future because the technology that was used to create it will be obsolete.”
The AMAW aims to preserve veterans' history by collecting their donated materials and arranging them in a way that is both accessible to researchers and reminiscent of its original order and use to veterans. An online portal is being created in order to make digital records accessible online.
“Privacy is a big issue a lot of veterans are concerned about when it comes to donating their material,” Hinton said. “Many are concerned they may not have the right to donate some of their material or release it to the public, but we want them to know their privacy is our top priority.”
The AMAW has software that can restrict material as necessary, creating a controlled environment for each veteran's donations based on the content of the materials.
“We're not like WikiLeaks or something like that where we're just throwing it all out there for anyone to see,” Hinton said. “Our collection is very controlled, and its accessibility is focused on providing material to researchers wanting to learn about what it was like over there during these wars.”
With each collection organized by donor, a benefit to donating digital materials is veterans do not have to part with items that may be sentimental to them.
“Some veterans have sentimental reasons for not wanting to donate materials, like they have journals or diaries which they may not want to part with the original,” Hinton said. “However, we're always willing to make copies of donated items so veterans can keep any original material they want.”
The archive, which will help researchers at Texas Tech understand modern warfare, is unique compared to other military collections in the United States.
“There are a few other institutions doing similar things, but what makes this collection unique is it's born digital,” Hinton said. “I haven't seen anybody collecting things like emails, and that's really information-rich content. Those are the letters home of the modern era. That's what makes it so important to donate these things now – we need to give them the attention they require before they're lost.”
Following in the footsteps of the Vietnam Center, the AMAW hopes to one day be the largest collection of modern war records, focusing on digital-born materials and preserving veterans' history while benefiting research.
“We have a unique project here,” Hinton said. “When we really get this off the ground and continue building, I think it will be a really impressive thing for Texas Tech.”