With the 2004 presidential election just on the horizon, many people are questioning the war. In its fourth installment at Temple libraries since 1937, the George F. Tyler WWI Poster Exhibition provides a visual portrayal of Allied propaganda used to answer that same query the public made in 1913.
The exhibit is headed by Tom Whitehead and Carolann Harris of the Special Collections department in Paley Library. They revitalized the exhibition in honor of the 90th anniversary of WWI, which began in 1914, and the recently digitized of the posters online.
“It is interesting from a human perspective to see what people felt at that time when a war was going on,” Harris said. “We should see what they went through – maybe something from then speaks to us today. All in all, what happened then really sets the stage for what’s happening today.”
The collection is currently housed in the university’s libraries’ Special Collections and includes more than 1,500 World War I posters and 800 posters from World War II. Tyler was first introduced to Allied propaganda during the Great War when he volunteered for the Lafayette Flying Squadron in France and later became a major in the U.S. Field Artillery.
His collection of Allied propaganda posters was donated to the university in 1937. The posters attempted to address the war with stark clarity and recruit morale and monetary support. Each of the war posters serves as “examples of the art, design and printing techniques of the period,” specifically between 1913 and 1918.
Although “World War I Remembered” can be viewed in Paley Library through Sept. 30, the project is also being presented through an online exhibition through Digital Diamond, the libraries’ archival image catalog, for the first time in its run at Temple.
Each of the digital images are accompanied by primary source material and supplemental information that includes statistics of the men dispatched by the Allied forces, poetry, epistles and additional context. Also there is a section for feedback and comments from the students who observed the material either online or at Paley.
Some of the posters appeal to the human bond between mother and child in which a news report from Ireland describes “a mother with a three-month old child clasped tightly in her arms. Her face wears a half smile. Her baby’s head rests against her breast. No one has tried to separate them.”
Others challenge citizens to actively support the war. British propaganda was famous for depicting a representative for each of the different classes of British society. The images implied that men from all levels are “expected to do their duty and enlist.”
Tyler did not include posters from countries other than the United States and Britain, a fact noted in Dr. Jay Lockenour essay “The War on the Walls: Propaganda in the Great War,” where he writes, “the posters assembled here are not in that sense truly representative.”
Despite their absence, Harris wants the Temple community to remember what is important in the diaries and posters collected by Tyler.
“I think it is important that the soldiers be remembered at this point,” she said. “People are more familiar with World War II than World War I. As of today the war that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century is not getting enough emphasis in history, and now we are dealing with a war that is in the beginning of the 21st century. The exhibition gives the soldiers a chance to express how they felt in those trenches in 1914, feelings that might be unexpressed in our soldiers.”
Alexis K. Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.