WWI: 100 Years Later

By Dave DeLuca

Question: What do the Oregon State University schools of History, Philosophy, Religion, Drama, Writing, Literature, Film, Arts, and Communication all have in common?

Answer: They’re all observing the 100-year anniversary of the First World War through an ongoing program called Citizenship and Crisis: On the Centenary of World War I.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in June of 1914. You may remember from your Western Civ class, or from watching Jeopardy, that the murder triggered WWI. Just over a century later, under the leadership of History Professor Christopher McKnight Nichols, dozens of Oregon State faculty members will be observing the centenary throughout the 2014-‘15 academic year. Seminars, films, field trips, and town halls will examine the concept of citizenship, and how it changed dramatically and irreversibly when civilization spiraled into the Great War. Nichols is the author of Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age, and is using the events to discuss his belief that many contemporary social issues were actually born 100 years ago.


“World War I was the genesis of modern questions about civil liberties and the curtailment of free speech,” Nichols stated.

World War I took the lives of nine million combatants and seven million civilians. It redrew the borderlines of Europe and wrenched the United States from its preferred role of isolationism and neutrality. Many of the social issues hotly debated in the second half of the 20th century were first coined and discussed during the war. Personal rights began to erode for the greater good of the nation. The philosophy of neutrality was all but decimated by the war, as America learned that there could no longer be a separation between economic and political alliances. Black activists faced new challenges. The draft created conscientious objectors. And gender roles were thrown into flux as men shipped out while women joined the work force. All of these concepts can be seen in the art, politics, print, and history of the era. Professor Nichols and company will coordinate related events across campus, throughout Corvallis, and beyond.

On Dec. 3, a panel discussion of “Martial Masculinities and WWI” will take place on the fifth floor of the OSU Valley Library at 6 p.m. Archival materials will be on display and will help facilitate a discussion on how men were, and are, expected to behave in times of war.

The Portland Art Museum is currently presenting an exhibit entitled This is War! Graphic Arts from the Great War, 1914-1918. Philosophy Professor Joseph Orosco and Professor Nichols will be organizing a road trip in December to view the exhibit. Woodcuts, etchings, posters, and drawings which exemplify life overseas and at home during the war are on display. The exhibit itself is scheduled to run through Dec. 14.

Winter term events will include a viewing of the 1957 film Paths of Glory at the NW Film Center in Portland on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. OSU Film Studies Professor Jon Lewis will provide commentary. A discussion of “Literature and Art of the WWI Era” will be held in the Valley Library on Feb. 11. There will be a town hall discussion on citizenship during wartime also held in February. Attendees will discuss whether the United States is at war today, and how we respond to war as individuals and as a society.

“If current war doesn’t look like trench warfare, does that make it any less pertinent to us as human beings?” Professor Nichols asked poignantly.

In March, there will be a lecture by MIT Professor Christopher Capozzola. He is the author of Uncle Sam Wants YOU: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. The book examines how the role of the citizen changed due to the dramatic transformation of America during the war.

Spring 2015 events will include performances of the plays Strange Snow from March 5 to March 8 and Dolly West’s Kitchen on May 7 to 9, May 15 to 16, and May 17 at Withycombe. There will also be a viewing of the 1941 film Sergeant York in early April featuring commentary by Professor Courtney Campbell. Duke University Professor Adriane Lentz-Smith will discuss her book Freedom Struggles: African Americans and WWI in the first week of May. The topic will revolve around the unique set of problems faced by the 200,000 African Americans who fought in the war. OSU students will join the centenary celebration with a research conference in May. This multi-day event will feature discussions of undergraduate and graduate papers on topics surrounding “citizenship and crisis.” The final guest speaker of the academic year will be Cornell University Professor Elizabeth Anker, author or Fictions of Dignity. Anker will speak on May 18 and 19.

Dozens of other events are being considered by Nichols and his colleagues, who are open to suggestions. The centenary program will continue into the summer term and even beyond.

“There is so much interest and enthusiasm about this topic that it looks like we’ll be doing this easily for another academic year,” said Professor Nichols.

World War I, by the way, ended in 1919. Don’t be surprised if these passionate intellectuals find a way to keep teaching us right up until the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 2019.

For more information or to suggest future events, email Professor Nichols at Christopher.nichols@oregonstate.edu or go to http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/shpr/citizenship-and-crisis.

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