The Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914–1918 features a panoramic group portrait of the 103rd Aero Squadron (Lafayette Escadrille), the first U.S. aviation pursuit squadron in combat in France during World War I.
The photograph was sent to the Ransom Center’s conservation lab because it was tightly rolled, making it brittle and fragile. Previous attempts to unroll the paper had left one corner almost detached. The only clue as to its contents was a handwritten inscription on the roll’s outermost edge. Learn more about how photo conservators Barbara Brown and Diana Diaz worked to safely unroll the photograph to preserve it and display it in the exhibition.
Image: Eugene O. Goldbeck. Panoramic portrait of the 103rd Aero Squadron (Lafayette Escadrille). ca. 1919.
Food was in high demand during the First World War, especially in Russia. The food shortages were so constant that they were ultimately one of the factors that helped to incite the revolutions of 1917. Although seemingly minor compared to the famine Eastern Europe would later experience under Stalin, food shortages were instrumental in harvesting a deep resentment toward the tsar and general war weariness.
For everyday citizens, getting food in cities was a full-time job. It required spending long hours in line only to be rewarded with slim rations—and sometimes nothing at all. It would make sense to assume that all the food was going to soldiers at the front. However, by 1915, only a year into the war, the Russian Army was also suffering from the food shortage.
The Russian economy simply wasn’t equipped both to fight a war and feed its citizens. Young men left the countryside in droves after being conscripted into the army, severely cutting the available labor force and slowing agricultural production. Inflation as a result of the war then made it impossible for the remaining farmers to make a profit on their goods. No one could afford to grow food, and few could afford to buy enough of it. Food then became a prominent subject in Russian propaganda.
The Harry Ransom Center is home to the diverse collection of Kuharet’s Russian World War I posters. A surprising number of these prints pertain to food: specifically food that has been personified as evil. Even the act of eating food is portrayed as unpleasant—something that would likely have been incomprehensible to the starving nation.
Staples such as onions and potatoes morph into crude caricatures of Franz Josef, Wilhelm, and his sons, insisting that the evil of the Germans could only have grown in the garden of the devil himself. Another poster titled “Wilhelm’s Menu” replaces the expected food on the menu with violent actions against Wilhelm: showing him drowning, beaten, and left broken and alone. Posters such as these served to create negative connotations between food and eating.
Food was also strangely tied to nationalism, specifically in a series of posters titled “European Cuisine.” In this set, countries involved in the war are all personified as food: Germany and Austro-Hungary are both portrayed as conniving sausages, while Russia is equated to a hearty bowl of kasha (the Russian equivalent of porridge). While the sausages try in vain to consume the other “countries,” the kasha spills forth to overtake them. This poster is on view in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition The World at War, 1914–1918. The Russian kasha is made up of figures of soldiers—the only human characters on the poster. Even in posters real Russian food was lacking.
Food and the experience of eating were both portrayed as dangerous, violent, and unpleasant in a futile effort to make the starving Russian population forget the normalcy associated with these actions.
The Ransom Center’s collection of World War I-era propaganda posters have been digitized as part of the digital collections.
Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.
In the spring of 1915, John McCrae, a young Canadian surgeon, conducted a burial service for a friend, killed by German artillery during the Second Battle of Ypres, in the First World War. Inspired by the friend’s death, McCrae composed a poem, which he discarded, believing it to be no good. An officer retrieved it and convinced McCrae to keep working on it. The poem was published in December of that year.
The poem, “In Flanders Fields,” is an important work in the literature surrounding the First World War. Written in 1915, it did not describe the horrors and brutality of the conflict in the way authors such as Erich Maria Remarque would after the war ended. Rather, “In Flanders Fields” invokes a Romantic vision of the Great War, with its images of soaring larks and blowing poppies. These poppies have become emblematic of those who died during the war.
In the Harry Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918, a 1918 propaganda poster by Frank Nicolet Lucien features a Canadian soldier mourning the dead amid a field of the iconic poppies. One of the poster’s aims is to coerce civilians into buying war bonds. It entreats the viewer, “If ye break faith—we shall not sleep,” a reference to the last stanza of McCrae’s poem.
In the poem, the line is delivered by dead soldiers who ask that the living continue the fight so that the sacrifices of the fallen will not be in vain.
The World at War, 1914-1918 is on view through August 3.
Image: Frank Nicolet Lucien “In Flanders Fields” poster, 1918.
World War I played a crucial part in the transformation of gender roles. As men left for the battlefields, women took on traditionally male occupations at home. Buoyed by this experience and a new sense of confidence, these women started demanding more rights and independence.
These shifting roles were mirrored by new fashions, such as the flapper attire, which was ushered in by the rebellion of the post-war Jazz Age. Style magazines like Vanity Fair captured these trends on its covers.
Gordon Conway, a Texas-born fashion designer and illustrator, was famous for her drawings of these sophisticated and independent “New Women.” Conway launched her career at Vogue and Vanity Fair, and she was so talented that she was soon working for other publications, as well as a host of different advertising clients. Throughout her career, she did costume design, magazine art, and poster art for film, cabaret, and theater, working in New York, London, and Paris. She was remarkable not only for her artistic talent, but also for her ability to influence women’s desires for more cultural, sexual, and legal freedoms.
A Conway cover illustration for Vanity Fair is currently on display in the Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918. The illustration features a stylish, svelte nurse with an Afghan hound. Although the illustration was rejected for publication, it was later used by the Red Cross as a recruitment poster.
The Ransom Center’s Conway collection includes original art; photographs of family, friends and productions; and diaries, costumes, personal effects, datebooks, and numerous scrapbooks.
The World at War, 1914-1918 runs through August 3, 2014.
Image: Gordon Conway “Red Cross Girl” illustration for Vanity Fair, 1918.
Back in November the exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath opened at its fourth and final venue, the Brooklyn Museum. This exhibition, which I curated with Anne Tucker and Will Michels in my former role in the photography department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, featured over 400 photographic objects dating from 1848 to 2012, including a number of photographs from the Harry Ransom Center’s collections. Our curatorial mission was neither to tell a history of war illustrated by photography nor to present a series on singular photographers. Instead, we hoped to bring together a selection of objects that highlighted the intersections between war and photography.
Photographs from the Ransom Center collections were included throughout the exhibition, enriching the thematic sections that explored daily routine, shell shock, and dissemination, as well as battlefield burial and death. The Gernsheim collection yielded a chilling 1871 print of communards in coffins, an image likely used to discourage further unrest in the streets of Paris, as well as Roger Fenton’s iconic and controversial 1855 photographThe Valley of the Shadow of Death from the Crimean War.
A Ransom Center fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research Fellowship Endowment enabled curator Anne Tucker to spend weeks going through box after box of the Ransom Center’s prints, lantern slides, and stereographs. While in the reading room, she could compare the croppings of multiple photographs of Captain Ike Fenton and the U.S. Marines during the Korean War by David Douglas Duncan and share her findings. She also surveyed the collection of prints made at the height of the civil war in El Salvador by 30 international photographers, including Donna DeCesare and Harry Mattison.
The New York Journal- American photo morgue provided one of my favorite photographs in the exhibition. It is a small print from 1918 of a carrier pigeon being released from a tank on the Western Front. The image itself references one of the means of communication (pigeon transport) that is often associated with World War I, but it is also important as a photographic object because it carries the marks and highlights of an editor’s pencil, readying the print for reproduction and the image for dissemination.
Please click on the thumbnails below to view larger images.
2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, a watershed event that claimed millions of lives and changed the course of the twentieth century. The Ransom Center’s exhibit The World at War, 1914–1918 will illuminate the lived experience of the world’s first global war, and will be supplemented with a trip led by exhibition curators and historians to its key monuments and battlefields throughout Great Britain, France, and Belgium, from June 14 through June 23, 2014. The trip is organized by the Texas Exes Flying Longhorns. Information regarding the trip can be found on the Texas Exes alumni travel website.
Sites in London include the Imperial War Museum, Westminster Abbey, the Douglas Haig Memorial, 10 Downing Street, and the Houses of Parliament. Participants will also travel to Oxford to meet with scholar Dr. Jon Stallworthy, the leading scholar on the works of English soldier-poet Wilfred Owen. The Ransom Center holds a collection of Owen’s letters. While in London, participants will stay in the Grosvenor House, a historic 5-star hotel that is frequented by celebrities and royalty.
From London, the group will visit towns such as Ypres, Somme, Verdun, and Rheims, home to key battlegrounds and memorials along the Western Front. The town of Ypres was the site of three major battles, as well as the first documented use of poison gas. Visitors can still view Ypres’ trenches, underground bunkers, and even a church where Adolf Hitler was treated after being wounded. Trip participants will also visit La Maison Forestière in Ors, a memorial to Wilfred Owen, and the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. France is also famed for its champagnes, and participants will enjoy a tasting, featuring classics like Veuve Cliquot and Tattinger.
The trip ends in Paris, home to attractions like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre-Dame. Participants will stay in the Intercontinental LeGrand Hotel, a luxury hotel with views of the Paris Opera House. There is an optional two-day extension of the trip here, which includes a Seine River cruise and a show at the Moulin Rouge.
Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.