People @ War deals with the question how ‘ordinary people’ lived through WWII and its aftermath on the one hand and addresses the increasing societal demand for information on this period in history on the other hand. It develops instruments –digital and others‒ to connect scientific research and non-expert audiences.
This research starts from big series of personal files produced by judicial and administrative authorities on four different groups of the Belgian population (about 15% is involved) whose lives were directly impacted by war and occupation, not only between 1940 and 1950, but also in the following decades: collaborators, war victims and workers in Germany, resistance fighters, soldiers.
This extensive collection of data, which is only recently centralized in the State Archives and available for research.
First of all the analysis of these data will be used to assess the impact of war and occupation on biographies of individuals, families and other peer groups. More in particular will be analysed how people dealt with war, occupation and its legacy and how they interacted with the actors of the administrative and judicial institutions. The central research focus is the agency of people in the societal crisis of war and occupation and, after the war, in the struggle for recognition.
This bottom up research perspective will result in a new comprehensive social history of the Second World War in Belgium, which will serve to feed and stimulate the societal and political debate on the long-term impact of the Second World War and the upcoming commemoration of eighty years end of the Second World War in 2025 with high quality scientific information.
Secondly, the large scale, systematic exploration of these sources will lead to a better understanding of these sources and serves as the starting point to develop tailor-made digital tools to meet the demand for user friendly access to information from the descendants of people whose lives were dramatically impacted by war and occupation. This combination of new fundamental research on the Second World War and its aftermath and a entangled public history projects will enable the State Archives/CegeSoma to meet more adequately the demands of specific user groups, in particular people who are not acquainted with archives.