Jean Cannon

Exhibit curators Christina Jones (left) and Elizabeth Garver go over the final steps of setting up "The World At War, 1914-1918" on Monday morning. Jones and Garver have been preparing the exhibit - which will open today - for the past two years. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

For soldiers during World War I, diary entries, poetry, photos and drawings served as an escape from the horrific events around them. Today, these personal accounts allow insight into the reality of life on the front. 

The Harry Ransom Center’s exhibit “The World at War, 1914-1918” gives the public a chance to view these documents up close. 

Rather than showcasing common World War I memorabilia, such as weapons, “The World at War, 1914-1918” juxtaposes these personal documents with mass-produced propaganda and recruitment posters. 

“[The Ransom center is] not a military museum,” said Elizabeth Garver, a curator for “The World at War, 1914-1918.” “We are basically a literary repository, so that’s what we collect: people’s letters and their manuscripts to themselves. It’s really a personal view, and some of it is quite atrocious. We’ve got letters where [the soldiers] tell you about the front lines and the trenches and seeing people get killed.”

“The World at War, 1914-1918” covers the different people and countries involved in World War I. The museum is divided into sections, with each space showcasing a different area of involvement in the war. There is a display for each country involved, as well as various groups of people involved in the war efforts, such as women, children, African-Americans and spies. 

“When doing an exhibition like this in the gallery that’s broadly themed, you can pull from all of the collections,” said Jean Cannon, a curator for the exhibit. “We have some exhibitions that are maybe just one collection or one topic or one medium, but this is a little bit more challenging.”

By attending this exhibit, Cannon said students have the opportunity to learn about the lesser-known history of World War I through the Ransom center’s one-of-a-kind archives. 

“American audiences in general do not have the best understanding of this war,” Cannon said. “A lot of that is because America entered the war late. We entered in 1917, so, by that time, the French army was almost liquidated. The British and German armies were also exhausted.” 

James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic “I Want You” Uncle Sam poster that has been duplicated throughout history can also be found at the exhibit. 

“It just blows your mind to see the original because it’s something that we’re so familiar with,” Garver said.  

Cannon and Garver also took donations from the family members of World War I veterans to use in the exhibit.

Christina Jones loaned the Ransom center letters, pictures and awards from her father, Heinrich Lerche, who served in the German Military.
Lerche enlisted when he was 19 years old and fought on both the Eastern and Western front. Jones also noted that since her father worked for the German government as a legal clerk, he was required to join the Nazi regime in World War II. After the war finished, however, he did not participate in the party. 

“It’s important for people to know history and remember it and possibly learn from it,” Jones said. “Maybe at this point they’ll look at it and say, ‘We were enemies and now the Germans are one America’s best friends, one of our allies,’ and see how things change over the decades.” 

Jones’ favorite item she put on file with the Ransom center is Lerche’s letter to her son about his time during the war. 

“My son is his only grandson, and, when he was a little boy, he liked to look at the war picture, so I told my dad about it,” Jones said. “He wrote a letter back to [my son] in German about how horrible war was and how we should all be peaceful and never again have any bad wars like that.”

These personal stories, such as the one Jones shared, make “The World at War, 1914-1918” more than just a compilation of facts and dates. 

“It gives the historical perspective of the war, but it also gives the personal viewpoints of people who actually lived through these years,” Cannon said.

Co-curators Elizabeth Garver and Jean Cannon have curated a collection of World War I posters, photographs and letters that will be on display at the Harry Ransom Center’s upcoming World War I exhibit next February.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

As fall approaches, students and curators at the Harry Ransom Center are wrapping up work on an upcoming World
War I exhibition.

The exhibit is titled “The World at War, 1914-1918” and highlights the lives, loves and literature of those who lived during the “war to end war.” Drawing on the Harry Ransom Center’s extensive in-house collection, the exhibit brings together a collage of various genres of literature and photography to portray the war from the perspective of civilians and soldiers.

Plan II senior Elizabeth Barnes spent her summer as an undergraduate summer intern at the center preparing an audio tour and accompanying booklet for the World at
War exhibition.

She said her experience at the Ransom Center was enriching and eye-opening; The
internship allowed her to comb through archives of photography and literature, selecting and compiling pieces to create the Harry Ransom Center’s first audio-visual tour.

“The Harry Ransom Center hadn’t done an audio tour, so I had a lot of latitude to develop a new experience,” Barnes said.

The tour features voice work of actors from the London Stage,
Barnes said.

Jean Cannon, a literary collections research associate, said the center has a great collection of propaganda from the British, German and Russian governments during that
time period.

“I don’t think we show all the German propaganda, especially the music, because … it’s in German,” Barnes said. “But, it’s fascinating to see the connections between it and a lot of our own music today. Those are the kinds of things that you really only see behind the scenes working at the
Ransom Center.” 

There’s a certain
sobriety about working on an exhibit like this, Elizabeth Garver, a historian and research associate at the Harry Ransom
Center, said. 

“World War I was the first war that was industrialized and mechanized,” Garver said. “The romance and glory of hand-to-hand combat is gone, and what’s left is a lot of the sadness and horror.” 

Cannon said there are points of light, even humor, in the literature. Letters from soldier-poets could be grittily sarcastic, a tone they sought to keep while working with minimal space on postcards and censorship from military officials.

“The soldiers would circulate parody newspapers making fun of the goings-on and some of those can be terribly sarcastic and funny,” Cannon said.