Letter to an Unknown Soldier Marks Halfway Point

17 July 2014 in | Comments (0)

Today we reach the halfway point for the 37 days of Letter to an Unknown Soldier.

The project – to create a new digital war memorial, made of thousands of words written by thousands of people – has gone from strength to strength. The website opened for submissions in the middle of May; for the first week we were getting about 20 letters per day.  We began publishing all those submissions at the end of June and the numbers of letters submitted per day has grown steadily – by Thursday and Friday last week we were getting more than 500 letters per day.  We’ve had a fair amount of press and we’ll be getting more, and word of mouth seems strong – so fingers crossed our numbers keep increasing.  We received our 10,000th letter on Friday last week.

This is by far the largest scale participatory media project I’ve ever been involved in running. And what we are asking people to do for Letter to an Unknown Soldier is not a small thing: write a letter to a long-dead soldier from WW1. Think hard about what you want to say. Ask yourself a few difficult questions – what does that war mean to you? What does it mean to remember something you can’t remember?  What does the unknown soldier mean to you? Put your thoughts into writing and send it to us.  Not a small thing – and yet, people are responding. People are taking that time, they are sitting down, they are thinking it through, and they are writing.  All kinds of people – Neil Bartlett and I, with the help of our team, have achieved mass participation on a scale we have yet to fully appreciate.

As well as the website for the project itself, our team of Editorial Moderators – all students from Bath Spa University where I teach – have created a terrific Letter to an Unknown Soldier tumblr page. We are active on Wattpad, the enormous online writing community, and Figment, a community for younger writers and readers.  We have our Facebook page, and our twitter account, and we’re telling our press and social media story through a series of Storify pages.

And our project is spawning other projects, including writing workshops up and down the country. In Hampshire, 1400 people at Bohunt School took time out of their busy summer term to design and then create an enormous poppy on their playing field – that one made the national news.  At Bath Spa Uni, Anthony Head and Neil Glen have created ‘Oak’ for the Media Wall there, a digital work that collects all the words submitted to the project and adds them to a tree as word-leaves.  On Monday this week Neil Bartlett invited more than a dozen actors to help create a filmed reading of the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker’s letter to the soldier - see the video at the top of this post, or here on the Letter to an Unknown Soldier website.

And, we hope, the letters will keep streaming in.