Doctoral Student David Gray Receives Grant to Study Deployed Soldiers’ Personal Digital Archives

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As an officer in the US Navy and a Certified Archivist, David Gray sees a need to collect and preserve digital content generated by military personnel during wartime. He’s researching the topic as a student in the San José Gateway PhD program, which he entered in August 2013.

From the Civil War to Vietnam, soldiers wrote letters home, and the letters were prized by historians seeking to document those events. But in today’s digital environment, Gray explains, soldiers’ communications are more likely to be in the form of emails, blogs, video or other media.

“Letters from soldiers used to be kept in trunks in attics,” Gray said. “Fifty years from now, when historians are looking for those letters, there won’t be any. It’s a documentary heritage problem: Where does that digital content go?”

Gray discovered there’s a research gap in this area, with military history collections comprised almost entirely of analog content such as photographs and letters. His proposal, titled Traces of War in Iraq and Afghanistan: Personal Archives of Deployed U.S. Marines, 2001-2011, aims to help fill that gap, and has already garnered him a Marine Corps Heritage Foundation grant for $1,600. The foundation awards grants to graduate students researching topics related to the U.S. Marine Corps.

“When they read my proposal, I think they got it right away and thought this was something that was needed and had value,” Gray said.

After completing some background research, Gray plans to conduct interviews with U.S. Marines. He hopes to interview millennials and describe their recordkeeping behaviors, such as what media they use, as well as the ephemeral items soldiers accumulate while deployed.

With a bachelor’s and four master’s degrees already under his belt, Gray said earning a doctorate has been a lifetime goal. The San José Gateway PhD Program allows him to work toward that goal while still serving as a captain in the Navy’s Medical Service Corps. Gray joined the Navy in 1988, and expects to retire in about three years.

After that, he hopes to spend a year completing his PhD. Gray said he knows he needs to stay flexible and open in looking for work in the information field, but he would like to work in an academic library and manage digital content.

Gray, who worked as an archivist for about seven years before joining the Navy, said he always knew he’d want to go back to archiving after he retired. He earned a master’s in library science in 2006.

“That’s like 100 years ago as far as technology,” Gray pointed out. “Things go stale really fast today. One of the great things about the Gateway PhD program is I’m able to immerse myself again in the field of library science. I’ve learned so much since I came back.”

Professional Affiliations

Society of American Archivists, Society of California Archivists, Special Libraries Association, American Library Association; Certified Archivist with the Academy of Certified Archivists