World War One on the iPad

If ever there was an apt day for discussing World War One on the iPad, this one would have to be pretty near the top of the list. In fifteen minutes the entire country will fall silent to remember the Fallen for the customary two minutes. It marks the high point of a year of remembrance that has found expression in art, music, drama, dance, cinema, television and the printed word. Perhaps no single act of commemoration has touched the nation more than Paul Cummins’ Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red, an installation in the moat of the Tower of London consisting of 888,246 ceramic poppies, each one representing a British or colonial death during the First World War.

App writers have joined in too.  There are now more eBooks, podcasts, iTunes U courses, poster collections, music compilations, electronic games and online quizzes available on the iTunes Store than one could possibly consume in any given year, but the quality is to say the least mixed.  Although I did indulge a boyhood passion for First World War aircraft earlier in the year by downloading an app dedicated to them (and surprised myself by how much geeky knowledge about the SE5a or the Fokker DVII I still retained), even I had to admit the app was at best a filler for those of us who have a specialist interest in this esoteric subject matter.  There are some worthy collections of First World War voices, and the poetry works especially well in audio format of course.  But I remained disappointed in my search for a truly comprehensive and worthwhile (not to mention affordable) app that I could use to support conversations or lessons with students about this huge event in twentieth century history.

Happily, as the year progressed things improved.  On reflection I feel the best app currently available is the BBC History Magazine’s The First World War Story.

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This is something of a win by default.  The app is far from perfect; the maps feature is particularly disappointing in failing to take advantage of the interactive possibilities afforded by the medium (it presents just two cartographic representations of the European theatre – one from 1914 and the other from 1923 that allow one to compare the two sets of political boundaries). But the app is reasonably comprehensive – at least as far as the European theatre is concerned, and the scrollable history of the war runs to 50 parts and links to some excellent articles and audio contributions from authorities on war-related subjects.

There is also video footage to peruse, although other apps and specialist courses do this better. Whilst World War One remains without a definitive representation for teachers and others seeking to understand it using the iPad as their main source of information, The First World War Story is a worthy launching pad for further exploration, and for £4.99 it represents good value for money.