Reading and studying war letters of WWII – From collecting, digitizing, transcribing to reading and understanding of ego-documents of Luxembourgish conscripts 

Summer Semester 2022, MAHEC, University of Luxembourg

Teaching with Transkribus – War letters

The 13 Week program on studying, analysing and transcribing war letters was structured as follows.

WEEK 1 – Introduction

  • Formal requirements – equipment, software, assignments
  • Introducing Project Warlux and war letters from Luxembourgish conscripts during WWII
  • by WARLUX team – Sarah Maya Vercruysse and Michel R. Pauly (PhD students, C2DH)
  • Introducing the source corpora
  • Introducing research literature
  • Supporting material

Info on Project WARLUX and the Digital Collection 

Article on war letters of soldiers 

Research Blog DigiWarHist

Questions in Research Journal : 

  1. Letters, especially war letters, differ from “official sources” – In what respect?
  2. In relation to our topic (forced recruitment of Luxemburgers) – What research questions could be used in the analysis of the war letters?
  3. What information is needed to analyse a letter?
  4. Value of war letters for historical research? 
  5. What can be answered and what cannot?
  6. Go to Transkribus Lite and sign up –

WEEK 2 – Letters as sources and introduction to  HTR 

War letters / Feldpost during WWII 

  • Why do we write letters?
  • The significance of communication during war time 

War letters in historical analysis – The value of transcriptions and digital tools

Transcriptions and HTR as (digital) tools to read and analyse letters

Text recognition 
– OCR and HTR

Practical exercise

Introduction on Transkribus

Supporting Material 

Writing in Luxembourg during WWII: Wagner, Melanie. “Private Literacies – Strategies for Writing Luxembourgish in World War II,” 2011, 203–29.

HTR and Transkribus


  • Anne Baillot. Digitalisierung und ihre Einflüsse auf den Umgang mit alten wie neuen ’Briefen’ in deutscher wie internationaler Perspektive. De Gruyter. Handbuch Brief. Von der Frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart. Band 1: Interdisziplinarität – Systematische Perspektiven – Briefgenres, p. 387- 398, 2020, Band 1: Interdisziplinarität – Systematische Perspektiven – Briefgenres, 978-3-11-037510-7. hal-02543927
  • Hotson, Howard, and Thomas Wallnig. Reassembling the Republic of Letters in the Digital Age. Reassembling the Republic of Letters in the Digital Age, 2019. 
  • Jannidis, Fotis, Hubertus Kohle, and Malte Rehbein. Digital Humanities. Eine Einführung, 2017 

Questions in Research Journal

  1. What could be the approach for letters?
  2. What is the advantage of HTR?
  3. Transcription – why does it help or why is it necessary?
  4. Read Wagner’s article (on moodle, session 08/03)
    1. How can language be used to analyse the letters of the Luxembourgers?
  5. What are you most interested in reading war letters?
  6. Go to Transkribus Lite and sign up –

Course_notes_Transcriptions_OCR_HTR_MAHEC_2022 Download

WEEK 3 – Introduction to Transkribus and Practical exercises 

  • Transcription of Letters
  • Step by Step with Transkribus 
  • Workflow and Folders of the Documents 
  • Practical exercising of transcription and text recognition with Transkribus 

–> Build group for the editing and review process 

Transkribus Step by Step

  • Joint folder (of the digital letter collection) University server
  • Joint google sheet – template internal

Supporting Material:

  • Süss, Harald. Deutsche Schreibschrift : Lesen Und Schreiben Lernen. München: Weltbild, 2007.

Here is a workflow for the transcription process (which is always to modify and to adapt based on input by the students)


You will find on Moodle all necessary links 

  1. Google sheet – what to do – my name/my group
  2. Dropit – download letter

a) meta deta put in

b) rename file – in number 

3. update excel with meta data 

4. Transkribus Lite 

a) Upload letter

b)  Run Layout – Baseline – all correct?

c)  Lines all correct?

d)  Run TR

e)  Check lines- maybe again 

f)   Correct the text 

g)  Group partner # 2 – review check ? Correct?

h)  Mark done 

5.  Download text file

6.  put in dropit under group folder and text files

7.  update excel as transcribed and done 

Questions for Research Journal:

1. Try the next letter in your group folders – we will discuss together – talk to your group colleague how you organise the review? 

2. Pitfalls – challenges here? – Write down your problems 

3. What is necessary to work with historical documents digitally?

4. How do we find the letters or the work you are doing now in 10 or 100 years?

WEEK 4 – War letter collection

Discussion of your experiences with the transcriptions of the letters

1. Problems

2. Workflow

3. Improvements

(Digital) Collections of War letters or Ego – Documents in Luxembourg and abroad 

Examples of Collections online

  • Analogue vs. digital collections
  • Searching and Finding collections
  • Exersice: Together transribign the same document – live and at home – with the groups

Questions for Research Journal 

  1. What are the differences – advances, dis-advances for letter collections 
    1. digital 
    2. analogue?
  2. Find a letter collection online – any letters from any period – but it has to be letters. 

Discuss the search process, the accessibility, the meta data. Can you search IN the letters? Are the letters transcribed? Manually or with HTR?

3. Find an analogue letter collection in Luxembourg. 

Discuss the search process, the accessibility, the meta data. What do you need to go there and check the letters?

WEEK 5 – Indexing war letters – key words and categories 

  • Indexing war letters
  • War letter collections – was is needed in terms of metadata? 
  • Finding key words and categories for the Collection 

Input on keywords:

How to create the keywords? 

– here we discuss together which keywords and categories we will form

– Categories – type of document – simple letters

– and categories like home/front – war letter, front letter etc. 

– Keywords more difficult in finding common words and descriptions of the content: Fair, exhibition, culture – leisure, but what about progpaganda events?

– In German or English? The letters are in German ….

– Then we also need summaries – what is not mentioned – and how do we sum it up 

Questions for Research Journal: 

1. the digital collection you chose last week – check the contextualisation: identify the category, key words and structure of topics/archival system/holdings. 

2. the “contextualisation” of collection – what is the difference in searching for documents between the ANLux and the BNL? How does it differ?

3. how could the Pierrard collection be integrated into an archive or digital platform?

What is needed for infrastructure, metadata and keywords?

And DON’T forget to transcribe a letter (one person at a time, work with your team partner, follow the worlflow and upload the text file to Dropit / if that doesn’t work, then here on moodle).

WEEK 6 – Copy right and Archival Law 

  • Research Journal – Discussion Round 
  • Transcriptions – Questions/Solutions
  • Recap of Key Words – Develop common key words
  • Copyright and Archival Law 
    • Using Letters in private collections
    • Using letters in public/archival collections 
    • Publishing and private / sensitive details 

Copyright and archival law (short overview)

Class_notes_Copyright-and-archival-law-short-overview Download

WEEK 7 – Analysis of Letters Part 1

  • The category of a WAR LETTER – what is it? 
  • What are the typical characteristics? The differences to other documents/letters? Field post or war letter? War letter only written from the front? From a soldier? Soldier’s letters? From a soldier who was NOT stationed at the front during a war? Still a war letter? 

Introduction to research methods/ approaches PART 1 

Approaches, Methodology and Limits 


Censorship and war letters 

– Example – the last letter packet from Stalingrad 

Supporting Material: 


  • Everling, Nico, and Everling, Martine. Liebe Jett : Feldpost Eines Luxemburger Zwangsrekrutierten. Luxembourg: Saint-Paul, 2013. Print.

Questions for Research Journal:

1. can the war letter be defined as a separate category? Is there one? 

Consider the category of love letter.

2. can you already think of a research question based on the letters you have transcribed (based on your interests and your letters)? The research questions can of course be modified over the next few weeks – but it would be beneficial if you stick to this question and develop the idea based on the input from the Week

Class_notes_Loveletter_and_other-categories Download

WEEK 8 – Analysis of Letters Part 2

Introduction to research methods/ approaches PART 2

Approaches, Methodology and Limits 


Discussion of transcriptions and solutions

  • Discussions of difficulties – like lined paper, layout did not work etc.
  • Drop down text etc.

Questions for Research Journal:

1. formulate your research question about the letters you transcribed and what we discussed in Week. 

2. how would you proceed with your research (what additional files/archives are needed, how would you structure the following procedure – reading, gathering information, transcribing, keywords)?

Class_notes_Analysis_Feldpostforschung Download

WEEK 9 Analysis of Letters Part 3

Introduction to research methods/ approaches PART 3

Censorship and war letters 

– Example – the last letter packet from Stalingrad 

Questions for Research journal 

Take a letter and follow the research steps (the methodology level 0 to 6) – Discuss with your project/group partner and present together on 10/05. 

What are the advantages and pitfalls of digital tools like Transkribus for your research question? 

Correct your last transcription and add and/or correct key words. 

Class_notes_Censorship-in-WWII-Letters Download

WEEK 10 – Research Questions and prep for final poster presentation 

Exercising the analysis methodology in the groups

Repetition of methodology 

Questions for Research Journal and Prep for Poster 

1. Start a first draft of your poster.

2. Review all your research journal entries

2. Is the digitalisation of historical documents and/or tools like Transkribus crucial for your research question? Define pros and cons (only this question to answer here).

Docs – examples and tipps how to create a poster 

WEEK 11 – Preparation Poster Presentaiton 

1. Preparations for the poster presentations – first drafts 

2. Discuss your research questions in the plenum 

3. Research Journals

Leading Questions: 

(reflect on the research questions in the diaries).

Focus on two main aspects on the poster: 


1. what is a war letter?

2. how can a war letter be used to study the war experiences of Luxembourg conscripts and their families?


1. what difficulties do you typically encounter when transcribing a source, whether in an analogue or digital environment? 

2. how can you bring your research questions into the process of digitisation and transcription? Or how does this process help you answer your question?


10-15 Minute for every students – and questions

WEEK 13 – International WAR letters Workshop WARLUX and NIOD, Amsterdam

Research Journal and reflection : 

1. in conclusion, what is your assessment of the war letters of the Luxembourg conscripts?

2. is there still a need for research on this topic?

3. Transkribus lite – pros and cons (be critical!)

4. Questions on workshop 

 a. What or how do researchers and historians see the use of the letters? What remains unclear?

 b. How do you define the “silence” in the letters? And how can we deal with it? 

5. would you be interested in another in-depth research seminar on this topic? (Y/N)