• Home
  • Cherry Picked - KU experts can provide insight on 100th anniversary of World War I

KU experts can provide insight on 100th anniversary of World War I

Thursday, March 27, 2014

LAWRENCE – June 28, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that ignited World War I and went on to shape the 20th century. From World War I-era art to letters written in the trenches, the University of Kansas has resources that shed light on the war and its lingering influence. KU experts can speak to the lesser-studied Eastern Front, surveillance during the war, art and culture from 1914 to 1918, and the contributions that KU and Kansas made to the war effort. To showcase these resources and faculty experts, the university will host programs, conferences and other educational opportunities as part of the four-year World War I Centennial Commemoration.

The following KU faculty and staff are available to provide commentary on World War I and its legacy:

Stephen Goddard, senior curator for prints and drawings at the Spencer Museum of Art, has spent a decade acquiring art from the World War I era. Looking for art that went beyond wartime propaganda, Goddard has collected several thousand works for the museum. Prominent in the collection are the etchings of Henry de Groux, a Belgian-born artist whose work during the era vilified the act of war, but not its soldiers. In 2010, Goddard curated “Machine in a Void: World War I & the Graphic Arts,” which featured about 200 works. The museum is currently showing a portion of that collection in “Conversations XVIII: World War I."

Nathan Wood, associate professor of history, has studied modernity in Eastern Europe from the 1880s to the 1930s, examining how technology changed perception of space and time. He can speak to art, technology and culture during the wartime era. He also has researched the experiences of ordinary citizens along the Eastern Front, which was a much different war than the more commonly discussed Western Front. Currently Wood is working on a book that examines the attitudes in Poland toward bicycles, automobiles and airplanes from their introduction until World War II.

Erik Scott, assistant professor of history, is an expert on empire, migration and diaspora in 20th century Russia and Eurasia. He can speak about the Eastern Front in Russia and the Caucasus, the displacement of ethnic populations that resulted from the war, and the creation of nation-states that followed it.

“War World I shaped the course of the entire 20th century. It set up all the issues that came to the forefront in World War II and helped launch the revolution in Russia, which in the second half of the 20th century led to the Cold War,” Scott said.

Theodore Wilson is a professor of 20th century U.S. political, military and diplomatic history. In particular, Wilson has studied U.S. soldiers during the war, looking at who they were, how they were trained and how they experienced combat. World War I marked the country’s first full draft. He also has researched coalitions from the American perspective and how the U.S. involvement in the war differed from Britain and France’s experience. Wilson is the general editor of the University Press of Kansas series “Modern War Studies," which has published more than 300 original titles on military history, including numerous works on World War I.

Daniel Atkinson, assistant director for the Kansas African Studies Center, examines the influence the 19th century has on today’s African-American culture. In particular, Atkinson can speak to the transformation of jazz during the World War I era and the role of James Reese Europe, an early jazz bandleader and lieutenant with the Harlem Hellfighters. Europe directed a regimental band that traveled through France playing for British, French and American troops. The experience shaped artists who were part of the Harlem Renaissance and other great American jazz musicians.

Mike Reid, director of public affairs for KU Memorial Unions and director of the KU History Project, can talk about the influence the war had on KU. The war took the lives of 130 students and alumni, including the first American officer killed in the war, William Fitzsimons. In their honor, two of the campus’ most iconic structures, the Kansas Union and Memorial Stadium, were built. Reid also has information on basketball inventor and KU coach James Naismith’s involvement in the war. In his 50s, Naismith was sent to the front in an effort to provide recreational opportunities for the troops.

KU Libraries have a wealth of information and resources related to World War I. Curators and bibliographers oversee materials related to the war, the United States’ involvement and KU during the era.

Rich Ring, bibliographer for history, has guided the libraries’ acquisition of World War I materials for 35 years. The materials include personal narratives, memoirs, diaries and letter collections published since the beginning of the war and continuing today. Among the collection are more than 3,000 titles in English, French, German, Italian, Russian and other languages. About 400 of them were written by women involved in the war as doctors, nurses, canteen workers, ambulance drivers and other roles. Ring can speak about the beginning of the war, recent scholarly views on the conflict and the libraries’ personal accounts of the war. He also oversaw the Libraries’ website guide on World War I materials.

Sheryl Williams, curator of collections at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, works with and can speak about materials that form the Kansas Collection. Included in the collection are materials related to the American experience during the war, especially Kansas. The collection includes letters written by soldiers to family in Kansas, diaries, photos, personal papers, WWI posters and state documents related to wartime home front issues. University Archives, located in Spencer, also has a wealth of materials related to KU during the war.