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World War I in Pictures: New Reference Aid

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This year we’re marking anniversaries of key events in two wars: the U.S. Civil War and the War of 1812  (about which, stay tuned!).  At the risk of seeming to be focused on conflict, we’re also looking ahead to the anniversary of what H.G. Wells dubbed “The War That Will End War.”  As it turned out, World War I didn’t earn that distinction, but it did spur the creation of a phenomenal amount of haunting art and detailed pictorial documentation.

Europe 1916
"Europe 1916." Drawing by Boardman Robinson.

Return of Washington, D.C., soldiers
Return of Washington, D.C., soldiers. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1919.

We anticipate that research interest will mount as the anniversary of the war  draws near.  In preparation, staff member Jonathan Eaker recently conducted an extensive survey of our holdings relating to World War I and summarized his findings in a collection overview, “World War I in Pictures: An Overview of Prints and Photographs Division Collections.”  The overview indicates coverage strengths, offers search tips, and provides samples from groups of images that document the war in an array of media.  Photographs, posters, postcards, fine art prints, and cartoons all offer perspectives on this cataclysmic event.

Ausstellung von Plakaten für die 8. Kriegsanleihe entworfen von Heeresangehörigen
Ausstellung von Plakaten für die 8. Kriegsanleihe entworfen von Heeresangehörigen. Poster by Paul Haase, 1918.

As one might expect, U.S. involvement in the war and home front activities are strengths of our World War I collections, but the overview also underlines how international our holdings on the subject are, enabling researchers to examine the war as seen from the point of view of the Central Powers, and particularly Germany, as well as that of the allied nations.

We hope the overview will encourage researchers to explore how the visual record adds to our understanding of World War I and how it was portrayed.

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