Expanding Student Understanding of World War I Soldiers’ Experiences with Poetry

Stacie Moats of the Library of Congress contributed to this article.

Example of "The Army's Poets" column, including poems titled "Hommes 40, Chevaux 8" and "To the Children of France"hevaux

Image 4 of The stars and stripes (Paris, France), October 11, 1918

In the May/June 2021 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article features poetry from The Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers’ Newspaper of World War I, 1918-1919 collection at the Library of Congress. The article suggests strategies both to engage students with the poems and to support research and discovery to deepen their understanding of World War I.

The article points out that examining news articles reveals what members of the American Expeditionary Force actually read about military battles and campaigns in the last year of the war. This newspaper, written by servicemen for servicemen, included news from the home front, sports coverage, cartoons, and poetry. Poetry was part of The Stars and Stripes from its first issue, and “The Army’s Poets” feature was inaugurated May 3, 1918. According to a review of the paper’s first year, published February 7, 1919, that feature proved to be the most widely read column in the paper.

Through their poetry, soldiers commented on life in the trenches, homesickness, patriotism, and the camaraderie essential for wartime success. Reading their work more than a century later can help students understand the interests and concerns of American soldiers during wartime, and offer insights into activities that occupied soldiers’ time abroad and how they responded to news from the home front.

The article suggests multiple research paths for student exploration and discovery. Students might start by entering “Army’s Poets” into the collection’s search box. To identify items for closer examination, they might scan the results and select visually interesting pages or intriguing headlines; they might use the facets in the left column to narrow results to a single month; or they might use the “Sort by” dropdown at the upper right to sort by date. Students might focus on a particular poem or analyze a single page of the issue in its entirety using the observe-reflect-question process. Students might seek connections across articles, illustrations, and poems on a particular page. Reading the poems or related articles might provide unexpected windows into the everyday struggles common to soldiers then that may be surprisingly funny or meaningful to students today.

The article suggests supporting students in developing questions for further research, considering geography, for example, or a timeline of major events of the war. Students might identify slang of the time and research to learn what it meant to the soldiers writing for Stars and Stripes. They might scan poems and articles and generate a list of people, in addition to soldiers, affected by the war and then research for details. The possibilities for research and discovery are limited only by time and curiosity.

If you check out this article in Social Education and try the activities with your students, please take a moment and let us know what they discovered.

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