We are still going through the centennial of WWI, each month there is a new anniversary of a campaign or battle. The Great War was such a titanic struggle that people hoped that it would be the last great war. Sadly, a lot of the history of WWI gets overshadowed by WWII and the average student often struggles to remember what sides the different countries were on.
With the centennial, a lot of history has been revived. A Harlem Hellfighters movie is in production and the big budget Battlefield 1 is going to be set in WWI. Now Facebook’s chatbot feature is getting in on the action. A chatbot is a (usually) online messenger where anyone can ask a range of questions and get an appropriate computer generated response.
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps has launched ANZAC Live, a Facebook chat service that deconstructs WWI veteran’s diaries. These diaries, journals, and other writings are used to computer generate an appropriate response to questions. ANZAC Live has about nine Facebook profiles of veterans, from a nurse to an Explorer and many more. The profiles put up status updates from their journals and often attach a picture of the historical site mentioned.
One of these profiles, that of Archie Barwick, has a message feature. This allows you to send Archie a message just like you would to any other Facebook user. Ask where he is from, and he will tell you, Mayfield, Tasmania. Ask him when he thinks the war will end and he will go off wondering where he will be in a year, home in Australia or pushing daisies.
So far the chat aspect is quite rough, the chat window will often prompt you on how to better phrase questions and occasionally it will stop completely. You can subscribe to Archie’s diary within the chat for him to send you diary snippets through the day, an easy way to follow the life and career of a WWI soldier.
To chat with Archie just search Facebook for Archie Barwick, or go to the ANZAC Live website here.
While some people might find it simpler and easier to just read the diary outright, others might just be curious about a few aspects of WWI life. With more work, the chatbot could be a fun way for kids and students to engage more in the history. Think about the diary of Anne Frank, often covered in schools. If children could have a conversation with Anne, the engagement would be much more memorable.