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World War II Draft Cards

        On September 16, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Selective Training and Service Act.  This Act required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft.[1]  A year prior, on September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler invaded Poland from the west, and two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany, thus beginning World War II.  The United States, however, did not join the war until December 7, 1941, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Nearly two weeks later, on December 20, 1941, Congress amended the draft law to now require all men from the ages of ages 18 through 64 to register with their local draft boards.[2]  The images provided are digitized copies of draft registration cards dating back from this period.  For the sake of the topic of digitized datasets, I will be discussing the effects that digitization has had on artifacts such as these.

        Draft cards often contain a man’s name, age, date and place of birth, address, telephone number, employer, and “name of person who will always know your address”.  Judging by the serial number, this particular draft card of William George Sfikas seems to either be from the first draft lottery of the war or the final draft lottery.  On most draft cards, there is a letter in front of the serial number; these letters were typically an S, T, U, N, or W.  These letters signify which order of draft registration the card was under - S would refer to the second registration, T: the third, U: fourth, N: fifth, and W: sixth.  If there is no letter, the card was either from the first or final draft.[3]  The structure of many of these cards range from multiple different varieties.  The name, serial number, and order number are always at the top of the card with the serial number on the top left corner, the name in the middle, and the order number at the top right.  Along with these pieces of information, the man’s signature also remains in the same location on every card: the bottom right.  However, the information in the center, while usually the same kind of information, seems to be in different locations on different cards depending on the man’s age and which draft lottery the card was from.

        When looking at the digitized version of these cards, it can sometimes be rather difficult to read the print (whether that be written or typed).  On many, if not all, fields of the cards, it looks as if the information is blurred - something that I am sure is not present on the physical copy.  The card above was one of James Barnes, but when looking at the digitization copy, you may have to strain your eyes to read a number of things.  Looking back at the first image, the same problem is apparent.  Depending on which card and which part of the card you are examining, this illegibility may be due to either pixelation or the lighting filters used when scanning the artifact.

        Knowing the changes and progression technology has made in recent years, I am certain we can find a solution to the problems created in this current dataset.  Perhaps a rescan of the cards using newer, better-developed equipment could help, especially in terms of legibility.  After a bit of research, I believe the best approach is equipment that provides a higher threshold.  Too much threshold, however, could lead to the same problem of the lack of legibility, so maybe equipment with the ability to manipulate the threshold.  In addition to this, the data may also benefit from a multi-channel which will allow the definition of lightness and color for each pixel.  For example, one channel may cause the image to appear too bright (like in the second image), another may result in an image that is too dark.  With a multi-channel layer, all or many channels can be used to create a digital copy with a close resemblance to the physical one.  Finally, adjusting the filters and tonal controls could help sharpen the view of the copy as well as adjust levels and curves the scan may have developed.[4]

[1] Vergun, David. “First Peacetime Draft Enacted Just before World War II.” U.S. Department of Defense, 7 Apr. 2020, www.defense.gov/News/Feature-Stories/story/Article/2140942/first-peacetime-draft-enacted-just-before-world-war-ii/#:~:text=On%20Sept.,to%20register%20for%20the%20draft.

[2] Glass, Andrew. “Congress Enacts First Peacetime Draft Law, Sept. 14, 1940.” POLITICO, 14 Sept. 2017, www.politico.com/story/2017/09/14/congress-enacts-first-peacetime-draft-law-sept-14-1940-242541.

[3] Morton Sunny Jane Morton and Cheryl Felix McClellan, Sunny Jane, and Cheryl Felix McClellan. “Using World War II Draft Registrations for Genealogy Research.” Family Tree Magazine, 7 Dec. 2020, www.familytreemagazine.com/records/military/using-wwii-draft-cards/.

[4] “Choosing and Using Digitization Technologies.” Masshist.org, 2011, www.masshist.org/pub/digicomm/digicomm_2011conf_puglia.pdf.