Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures: 1913-1919 provides newspaper images, which help to document the increasing use of photography in newspapers as well as important events of the time, including World War I. Also included in this presentation are statistics relating to World War I, information on the Rotogravure process and a discussion of newspaper coverage during the war.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
- Events and Statistics
- The Lusitania Disaster
- Pictures as Propaganda
- The Rotogravure Process
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection, although they may not be all-encompassing.
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
Related Collections and Exhibits
These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.
- American Leaders Speak, 1918-1920
- Inventing Entertainment: The Edison Companies
- The Stars and Stripes
Recommended additional sources of information.
Specific guidance for searching this collection
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
During the World War I era (1914-18), leading U.S. newspapers took advantage of a new printing technique called rotogravure that produced richly detailed, high quality illustrations. This online collection, Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, includes Sunday rotogravure sections of the New York Times and the New York Tribune, as well as a portfolio of etchings published by the New York Times at the end of 1919, approximately a year after the armistice and six months after the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty. The latter portfolio, The War of the Nations: Portfolio in Rotogravure Etchings, contains 1,398 images with brief descriptive captions drawn from the “Mid-Week Pictorial” section of the Times.
Rotogravure sections in newspapers were immensely popular. The collages of photographs from the front lines captured the intensity of the fighting. Coverage of casualties and photographs of the destruction of total war helped influence how readers viewed world events and were important tools for promoting U.S. propaganda prior to entry into the conflict in 1917. Events of the war are detailed alongside portraits of noted personalities of the day, society news, and advertisements touting products, some of which are linked to the war.
Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures enhances the study of U.S. history during the World War I era. It is an illustrated history of the Great War and offers insights into the social history of the era on the home front through pictorials of high society, fashion, the arts, celebrations, parades, and memorials. The collection includes a detailed timeline of pivotal events of the Great War and a series of essays on events and statistics of the war; innovative technology; the Lusitania disaster; propaganda; and the rotogravure process. Additionally, the collection chronicles events stemming from the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the subsequent excursion of the American Expeditionary Force into Mexico prior to the U.S. entry into World War I.
The collection can be searched by keyword or be browsed by date and title. For browsing by date and title, it is useful to know that the New York Times collection begins in November 1913 and the New York Tribune begins in January 1916; the War of the Nations was published in December 1919.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 removed a dictator but soon degenerated into a civil war. Francisco Madero became president in 1911 but was overthrown by Victoriano Huerta in 1913. President Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize the new Mexican government, accusing Huerta of complicity in the murder of Madero. After several incidents, Wilson ordered U.S. Marines to occupy Vera Cruz. Shortly thereafter, Huerta was forced from office, and civil war again broke out, this time between the government of President Venustiano Carranza and populist leaders, including Francisco Pancho Villa.
What does the caption above suggest about U.S. attitudes toward Pancho Villa? Based on the caption and what you know about U.S.-Mexican relations of the period, can you predict which side the U.S. government supported in the Mexican civil war?
Examine the pages listed below. Using information from these pages and your own knowledge, outline reasons why the United States decided to send troops to Mexico. Do you think the list is comprehensive? Why or why not?
- New York Times, January 18, 1914 
- New York Times, January 25, 1914 .
- New York Times, May 7, 1916 .
- New York Times, April 2, 1916 .
- New York Times, April 23, 1916 .
With a partner, assume the roles of a U.S. citizen from a Southwestern state and a Mexican citizen from northern Mexico and debate the efficacy of using troops to enter Mexico to apprehend Villa. Consider German interests in the conflict between the United States and Villa in making your case.
The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was unable to track down Villa and was recalled in 1917 as the United States made preparations for sending troops to Europe. Do you think the failure of the AEF to apprehend Villa signaled a problem with military preparedness? Why or why not? What evidence would you need to answer this question definitively?
War in Europe
In 1914 the United States seemed preoccupied with affairs in the Americas, and isolationists urged the government to keep a hands-off policy in the brewing turmoil in Europe. Although the press covered the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and the ensuing mobilizations, the first war-related rotogravures in the collection are in the August 30, 1914, edition of the New York Times. Examine the photographs on the front page of this edition. What appeared to be the mood in Paris as French troops prepared to go to the front?
By September, rotogravures revealed to the American public the devastation of the war in Belgium. Less than three weeks after the outbreak of war, the Belgium fortress of Liege had fallen and Brussels was occupied by the Germans. Louvain, a university town between Liege and Brussels, was occupied and remained relatively at peace until a sniper shot a German soldier. Suspects were executed and by August 25 the city was set ablaze and sacked. Louvain was pillaged for six days. The city’s famous Gothic town hall and the church of St. Pierre were demolished during the mayhem. Over the next few months, readers were bombarded by pictures of destruction and dislocation of citizens.
Examine the photos listed below, considering how Americans of the time would have reacted to these photographs. Write a letter to the editor of the New York Times from the perspective of an interventionist or isolationist, describing the sentiments invoked by these photographs of the destruction of war.
- “War Post Card.” New York Times, September 13, 1914 .
- “Ruins of Louvain.” New York Times, September 20, 1914 .
- “Shattered Altar of Rheims Cathedral.” New York Times, October 18, 1914 .
- “Antwerp Refugees Camping in the Woods on Their Flight to Holland.” New York Times, November 1, 1914 .
- “The Ruins of Ypres—The Most Remarkable Photograph from an Aeroplane Yet Taken.” New York Times, September 26, 1915 .
The Allies, to help break the stalemate on the Western Front, sought to open new fronts; in April 1915, they landed a force along the Dardanelles on the Gallipoli peninsula, with the intent to force Turkey out of the war. Allied troops were unable to break through, and the campaign ended in failure after months of fighting and the slaughter of Allied troops. Examine the photo, captions, and map of the Dardanelles from the War of the Nations. Conduct a keyword search using the search term Gallipoli for additional photographs of the campaign.
- What was the strategic value of the Gallipoli Peninsula?
- Why did the Allies commit large numbers of troops to the campaign?
- What were the geographic obstacles to success of the Allied invasion?
- What factors account for the failure of the offensive?
In the early days of the war, when the United States was officially neutral, U.S. newspapers printed pictures of German U-boat crews awarded medals by the Kaiser for sinking British cruisers. Such flattering photographs of German U-boat activities were, however, soon replaced with shocking images of the sinking of the British liner Lusitania. Use the search word Lusitania to locate rotogravures printed in May 1915, shortly after the sinking of the liner on May 7. In August, a U-boat sank the Arabic, a British passenger vessel. Two Americans onboard were killed, and President Wilson threatened to break diplomatic relations with Germany. International outrage over the sinking of passenger liners led Germany to order an end to the “sink on sight” policy, resulting in a lessening of tensions.
- How did the torpedoing of the British ocean liner arouse American public opinion regarding the war?
- What factors may have accounted for the Wilson administration’s decision not to enter the war following the attack on the Lusitania?
In a bold attempt to break through German lines, the French set off a mine of 22,000 pounds of explosives on the Somme front in early 1917. The explosive created a vast mine crater but failed to break the stalemate. Later that year, British forces dug 19 tunnels under German lines and set off nearly 1 million pounds of explosives, killing some 20,000 German soldiers but still failing to break the stalemate.
In January 1917, the Kaiser abandoned pledges to refrain from attacking passenger liners and committed Germany to unrestricted submarine warfare beginning on February 1. In mid-January the British turned over to the United States a decoded message, the Zimmerman Telegram, urging Mexico to join with Germany if the United States entered the war and promising the return of lands taken during the Mexican-American War. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson delivered his war message to a joint session of Congress. War was declared on April 6, 1917.
U.S. entry into the war offered the Allies hope that fresh military forces could finally break through German lines in France and Belgium. On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed, allowing the president to draft men between the ages of 21 and 31 into the military. By September 1918, more men were needed, and the draft age was expanded to 18 to 45. Approximately 400,000 African Americans, both draftees and volunteers, served in the military during World War I.
Search the collection for information about campaigns and battles in which U.S. forces played a significant role; the following will be useful search terms—Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel, Belleau Wood, and Aisne.
- What evidence can you find in the collection to confirm or refute the argument that President Wilson refrained from going to war until after the presidential election of 1916?
- How did German policies in early 1917 shift American public opinion away from neutrality? Why would Germany risk U.S. entry into the war by resorting to unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917?
- How did American forces help turn the tide of battle, breaking the stalemate on the Western Front?
The Home Front
To help finance the war effort, the U.S. government issued a call for public support through Liberty Bond drives. Efforts were also expended to mobilize civilians to plant vegetable gardens and abstain from meat on certain days, all in an effort to do their part in the war. Society women joined in as well; one such group formed a gun club. Through such laws as the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, the government suppressed dissent against the war.
Examine the following pages for evidence of how civilians were encouraged to support the war effort. Look for evidence in the collection that other countries, particularly the Allies, sought similar sacrifices from their civilian population.
- New York Times, March 18, 1917 .
- New York Times, April 29, 1917 .
- New York Times, April 29, 1917 [8 ].
- New York Times, September 29, 1918 .
The nation rapidly transformed from a civilian to a war economy. Factories were converted to produce military equipment and munitions, and women went to work in factories to fill jobs left vacant by men going to war. According to the “Events and Statistics: Finances of the War” essay, 2,000,000 women worked in war industries. Search the collection to find a variety of ways in which women supported the war effort; the New York Times of July 29, 1917, has several examples to start your research.
The war did not stop women from continuing their long history of demonstrations for the right to vote. Among the many marches to bolster support for a woman suffrage amendment, the Congressional Union for Woman’s Suffrage marched to the White House to encourage President Wilson to endorse a suffrage amendment to the Constitution and organized “silent sentinels” to stand guard insisting that the president take action. Shortly after the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, some women joined pacifist movements expressing opposition to U.S. involvement; these included Representative Jeannette Rankin and social worker Jane Addams. Many other women, including suffragist leader Carrie Chapman Catt, rallied to show their support. At the same time, they argued that if the United States was defending democracy in Europe, the nation ought to include women in its own democratic processes. President Wilson finally endorsed a constitutional amendment allowing women to vote in 1918.
Russian Revolution of 1917
The war had gone badly for the Allies on the Eastern Front. Czar Nicholas II assumed command of the troops on the front in September 1915, leaving the German-born Czarina Alexandra in St. Petersburg directing internal policy. The czarina had come under the influence of the monk Rasputin, who placed his protégés in positions of power and manipulated government policy until his murder in 1916. Military desertions and street demonstrations at home severely weakened the nation and forced Nicholas II to abdicate in March 1917. The provisional government pledged to continue the war, which led to new demonstrations.
In July Alexander Kerensky took control of the government and promised the Allies that Russia would not make a separate peace with the Germans. The Bolshevik October Revolution brought Vladimir Lenin to power. Lenin’s vow to end the war and open negotiations with the Germans provoked the Allies and led to the detachment of a military excursion to oppose the newly established government and aid rebels who had begun a civil war to oust the Bolsheviks. In 1919 the Czar, Czarina, their four daughters, and son were executed by the Bolsheviks in Ekatrinburg, where they had been held captive.
Using names from the paragraphs above as search terms, locate pictures of key figures in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Use these pictures to make a portrait gallery of the Russian Revolutions of 1917; write a description for each picture that explains the person’s significance to the events of the period.
Examine the maps “Geography and Chronology of the World War: Europe, Africa, and the Near East,” “Geography and Chronology of the World War: Asia, Oceania, and the Far East,” and “Theatre Operations on the Russian Front.”
- Why were the Allies so committed to keeping Russia in the war?
- How would Russian withdrawal from the war have affected the longstanding
stalemate on the Western Front?
During World War I, many of the previous instruments of warfare were improved upon, and new weapons were created that caused massive destruction. The War of the Nations featured numerous “weapons of deadly effectiveness.” The Germans developed “Big Bertha,” a huge cannon, capable of hurling 1-ton projectiles used in battering the Belgian fortress of Liege and French towns and fortifications. The French answered with a monster cannon. The United States also introduced heavy artillery pieces, the largest used on the Western Front in the last days of the war.
The airplane became one of the most celebrated weapons of warfare. First used for reconnaissance, the airplane became involved in aerial dogfights and bombing missions as the war progressed. Zeppelins were also used in bombing missions. In September 1916, 12 Zeppelins raided London, killing 28 and injuring 99 people. Training did not keep up with the rapidly developing aerial technology, however, as illustrated by the photograph showing model airplanes being used for target practice.
The tank was first introduced by the British on the Western Front in an attempt to break the deadly stalemate. The Germans quickly produced tanks of their own, as did the French. The use of tanks in the war logically resulted in the development of tank traps.
Chemical warfare was the most horrific weapon employed during World War I. Poison gas was used by the Germans at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915 and on the Eastern Front against the Russians near Baronvitsky. It was later used by the Allies. Numerous pictures appeared in the press showing soldiers and civilians wearing gas masks.
Examine some of the pictures of the changing technology of war listed below.
- “Various War Weapons of Deadly Effectiveness.”War of the Nations .
- “French Soldiers ‘Lending a Hand’ to Move a Monster ‘400’.” New York Times, October 29, 1916 .
- “Great Guns.” New York Tribune, February 9, 1919 .
- “The New Air Terror.” New York Times, October 22, 1916 
- “Remarkable Photograph of the Great German Fleet of Thirty-one Taubes Arriving over the Outskirts of London on Saturday, July 1.” New York Times, July 29, 1917 .
- “Ruins of One of the Two Zeppelins Brought Down in the Little Village of Mangold, Essex County, England.” New York Times, October 15, 1916 .
- “The New British ‘Tank’ or Armored Car.” New York Times, October 22, 1916 .
- “French, British, and German Types of Battle Tanks.” War of the Nations .
- “Methods Used by Germans to Trap or Destroy Tanks.” War of the Nations .
- “The Insidious and Deadly Gas That Creeps Noiselessly Down Toward the Foe.” War of the Nations .
- “Grotesque Masks the Only Protection Against Gas.” War of the Nations .
- “Schoolchildren of Rheims Don Their Gas Masks Before Going Home for the Day.” New York Times, January 6, 1918 .
Read the essay on “The Increasing Power of Destruction: Military Technology in World War I.” Use information from the essay and the photographs you examined, as well as your own ideas, to answer the following questions:
- What new methods of warfare prompted the British writer H. G. Wells to fear for humanity?
- What methods were used in attempts to break the stalemate along the Western Front?
- How did the war promote the development of new technology?
- What restrictions, if any, should be placed on using weapons of mass destruction during wars?
- How did the firepower of super cannons and aerial bombings affect civilians?
- What measures should be taken during war to protect non-combatants?
- Why do some historians consider World War I one of the most horrific conflicts in human history?
Chronological Thinking: Creating Timelines
Develop five pictorial timelines, one showing major events for each year of the Great War (1914-1918). Refer to the Timeline in the collection’s Feature Section or the chronology of the war in The War of the Nations as a guide. On a monthly timeline of a given year, record battles or the start of major campaigns during that year. Combine the timelines for a visual overview of the war. The timelines should include battles on the Eastern and Western fronts, Southern Europe and the Dardanelles, and campaigns in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East as well as major naval battles.
Use the timeline as a database and construct a map depicting the global nature of the war. The War of the Nations contains several maps that you could use as models. For example, see the map entitled “Geography and Chronology of the World War: Europe, Africa and the Near East.” To keep the maps readable, you may want to make a separate map for each year of the war. Use your timelines and maps to answer the following questions:
- In what sectors did the most intense fighting occur in each year of the war?
- What can be inferred about the stalemate on the Western Front during the course of the war? What measures did each side take to break the stalemate?
- What conclusions can be drawn from the entrance of Italy to the war in 1915? Did campaigns in this sector further the interests of the Allies during subsequent years?
- What can be inferred from the decision to attack the Turks at Gallipoli?
Although a major event such as a war, hotly contested election, or major economic recession may overshadow other events in writing the history of a year or period, other aspects of life do not stand still. Pick a category of historical events in which you are interested, such as the history of a group (e.g., women or African Americans), history of the arts, economic history, history of fashion, or technological history. Use the Newspaper Pictorials collection to find at least one event or development in your chosen area for each year depicted in your timeline of World War I. How does knowing about these events and developments enhance your understanding of the history of the era of the Great War?
Chronological Thinking: Putting Events in Temporal Order
To understand a historical account, the reader must be able to place events in the order in which they occurred. Doing so requires careful reading, paying attention to verb tenses, time-related words (e.g., previously, later) and descriptions of cause and effect relationships (a cause necessarily occurs before the effect). Of course, the reader’s existing knowledge of the historical events being discussed is also a useful tool.
In a special mid-week pictorial “War Extra” on December 31, 1914, the New York Times published a one-page article on “The War Situation: Up to and Including December 27, 1914.” Read this article carefully; while many events are mentioned, few dates are given. List at least eight events that are mentioned in the article. Use your knowledge of World War I and information in the article to place the events in the order in which occurred. After you have the events arranged in the order in which you think they occurred, try to confirm your work using other sources.
Historical Comprehension: Analyzing Photographs and Captions
Like other kinds of primary sources, photographs must be carefully analyzed. Although we may think of a photograph as an unbiased record of what occurred at the time and place pictured, the photographer does have a point of view that can influence many aspects of the finished photograph. In analyzing a photograph, think about the creator’s point of view: What was his/her purpose? Was the picture posed or “candid”? What is shown in the photo? What is not shown? Why did the photographer select the vantage point from which the photo is taken? Does perspective or framing influence the viewer’s response to the photo?
The Teachers Page includes a list of several tools for analyzing photographs. Look at several of these tools and pick two to use in analyzing the following photographs from the Newspaper Pictorials collection:
- “The Smoke and Rush and Roar of Battle on the Famous Hindenburg Line.” War of the Nations, December 31, 1919 .
- “Resting at Noon in Patch of Woodland So Peaceful that War Seems Far Away.” War of the Nations, December 31, 1919 .
- “Scarred and Battered Trees and Roads of France.” War of the Nations, December 31, 1919 .
- “Deliberately Laying Waste Abandoned Country When Compelled to Flee.” War of the Nations, December 31, 1919 .
Which of the two tools you used was more helpful in analyzing historic photographs? Explain your answer, using your analyses of the photographs listed above to illustrate your reasoning.
Photo captions or titles also require analysis. When a photographer mounts an exhibit of his/her work or puts together a book of images, the captions come from the photographs’ creator and thus help the viewer better understand his/her purpose. However, when photographs are used to illustrate a book or newspaper, the captions are written by an editor. The editor can shape the reader’s response to the photograph through a carefully written caption.
Examine the photograph below. Note that the caption has been omitted. Use one of the analysis tools you used before and your knowledge of World War I to analyze the photo. Try to decide who the people in the photo are and what they are doing.
Now find the caption given this photograph by the editors of the New York Tribune. What information does the caption add? What reaction do you think the editors hoped to elicit from readers through the language used in the caption? Write an alternative caption that you think would elicit a different reaction from the reader. For example, you might want to write a caption that would be used if the photograph were included in a world history, U.S. history, or German history text today.
Examine the photograph on the top of page 5 of the same issue of the New York Tribune. How does this caption reflect the times in which the photograph was taken? How might a similar photo be captioned today?
Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Identifying Propaganda Techniques
According to the Newspaper Pictorials’ special feature on propaganda:
U.S. newspaper coverage of World War I (1914-1918) provides a unique perspective on wartime propaganda. The scope of articles and images clearly exhibits America’s evolution from firm isolationism in 1914 to staunch interventionism by 1918. Once American soldiers joined the war, public opinion at home changed. And newspapers helped change it. . . .
The essay goes on to describe several ways in which coverage of the war in Europe changed as the United States grew closer to intervention and uses headlines to illustrate three propaganda techniques used by the newspapers: “the insistence of patriotic duty; the criticism of pacifism; and the fault, inferiority, and heartlessness of the Germans.”
Read the entire essay on how coverage of the war in Europe changed as the United States grew closer to intervention and then entered the war. Then look for evidence in the collection that the papers were doing the following:
- Encouraging Americans to take up their patriotic duty, whether in the military or on the home front. Look for the use of symbols of the United States and the other Allies, as well as pictures that present Allied forces in a heroic light.
- Presenting Germans as inferior, heartless, and responsible for the war. Look for photographs of the devastation of the war and consider how the captions or other text portray the Germans.
How might your findings be relevant in today’s world? Do you think the news media should engage in propaganda? Why or why not? Do you think the news media today do engage in propaganda? Find evidence to support your answer.
Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Considering Multiple Perspectives on the Peace of Versailles
Different people experience and view events differently. Nowhere could this be clearer than in war—a victory for one group of people is a defeat for another. At the end of World War I, Americans celebrated the Armistice, but Germans would soon be protesting the peace treaty that followed.
The engraving shown below originally appeared in a French newspaper. It shows a delegation to the Versailles conference listening to a speech by French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. Look carefully at the painting. What can you discern from the expressions on the delegates’ faces and their body language? What country do you think this delegation represents? (Go to the collection to see if your answer is correct.) From your knowledge of the peace negotiations, how accurately do you think this drawing reflects the mood of the delegation it purports to represent? Explain your answer.
Near the end of the War of the Nations is a collage of U.S. newspaper headlines announcing the signing of the peace treaty. Examine these headlines. Use what you know about the Germans’ attitudes toward the peace treaty to write several headlines that might have appeared in German newspapers to mark this event.
You can examine multiple perspectives on other historic events, including D-Day, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, by comparing headlines from around the world at the website of the Newseum.
Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision Making: Identifying Persistent Issues in U.S. History
Many of the issues that people face—individually and as societies—are conflicts between two positive values, such as liberty and security, or free press and fair trial. These conflicts are persistent and recurring—they are played out in different forms across time and place. By looking at how conflicts were resolved in other times and places, we can clarify our thinking about how they might be resolved today. People who want to persuade others of a particular position on an issue may use words and images from an earlier time to support their position.
On July 16, 1916, pages 5 and 6 of the New York Tribune’s pictorial section included several cartoons that had originally been published several decades earlier. The editors of the Tribune believed that these cartoons addressed issues that were again important in 1916. Examine these cartoons and answer the following questions:
- Who drew these cartoons? When were they first published?
- What issues do the cartoons address? What values were in conflict? What position on these issues is the cartoonist taking?
- What position regarding the war in Europe was the Tribune taking by reprinting these cartoons?
- Why would the editors of the Tribune choose to use cartoons that were several decades old rather than print cartoons by contemporary artists to express similar views?
- Do you think a newspaper editor today would republish a cartoon published several decades earlier? Why or why not?
Historical Research Capabilities: Asking Historical Questions
The historian’s work begins with questions. Often, these inquiry questions spring from encounters with intriguing historical sources. The questions may relate directly to the document: What is this document? What does it show/say? Who created this document? Why did that person create the document? When was the document made? How is the document being used? The document may also stimulate probing questions about its subject matter: What event, issue, or decision is depicted or represented in the document? Who was involved in this event, issue, or decision? Why did this event happen? Why was this decision made? Was the issue resolved? What impact did the event, issue, or decision have?
Below are listed several very different historic documents from the Newspaper Pictorials collection. Choose one of the sources and develop a list of historical questions based on the document but requiring additional research to answer. Select one question and conduct further research in order to answer the question; you may use other primary sources (e.g., materials from the American Memory collection), secondary sources (e.g., a textbook or historical essay), and expert opinion (e.g., your history teacher, a history professor at a local college, or a museum curator).
- “The Bulldog of the British Navy After the North Sea Battle of May 31.” New York Tribune, July 11, 1916 .
- “Historic Documents Which Marked the Beginning of Our War with Germany.” War of the Nations, December 31, 1919 .
- “The ‘Dogs of War’ in Active Service in Battle Zone.” War of the Nations, December 31, 1919 .
- “The Far-Flung Battle Line of the United States.” War of the Nations, December 31, 1919 .
- “Geography and Chronology of the Great War: North and South America.” War of the Nations, December 31, 1919 .
Historical Research Capabilities: Explaining Total War
Historians have called World War I the first “total war.” Total war is an international war in which nations organize all their resources to support the war effort, seeking to destroy the enemy’s ability to engage in war. While soldiers are obviously engaged in warfare, the civilian population is also expected to make sacrifices and contribute to the war cause, and the nation’s economy is redirected to support the war effort. Because civilians and the economic infrastructure contribute to the war effort in total war, they also become targets. Appeals to a sense of national identity are used to develop the willingness of a nation’s people to contribute to a total war effort.
Use the Newspaper Pictorials collection to explain how World War I represents the concept of total war. Don’t forget that the Essays accompanying the collection, especially “Events and Statistics,” may be useful in constructing your explanation. Display your work on a poster with photographs, other visuals, and text that define total war and show how World War I is an example of the concept.
Arts & Humanities
Illustrating Themes in Literature About World War I
Many novels were written about World War I, including Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire (1916), John Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers (1921), Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms (1929). The war also spawned poetry, including Siegfried Sassoon’s antiwar poetry and Wilfred Owen’s realistic descriptions of trench warfare. Two noted poems about the war were “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae and Alan Seeger’s “Rendezvous.”
Read a novel or poem about World War I. Identify the author’s theme, the main idea he/she is attempting to convey. Search the Newspaper Pictorials collection for rotogravures to illustrate scenes from the novel or poem. Select illustrations that also support the author’s theme. Use the photographs you have selected to design a book cover that reflects experiences described in passages from the novel or poem.
A Tribute to Shakespeare
In 1916, the New York Times issued a ten-part commemorative series in honor of the Shakespeare Tercentary, 1616-1916. The series began on February 20, 1916; the last issue in the series ran on April 23. The series featured numerous scholarly articles about Shakespeare and his work; for example, the April 2 issue presented an article by University of Minnesota professor Dr. Richard Burton entitled “And Not Properly Presented, Even Today.” In the March 5 issue, early feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman began an article with the following words
In so large a picture of life as opens to the reader of Shakespeare we may look with confidence for the facts, even as we should look for them in studying the vast original.
Indeed, as the artist sees more than an ordinary observer, and, by virtue of his art, makes the ordinary observer see what he would not otherwise have noticed, we find the characteristics of humanity more plainly to be studied through the great dramatist than as they push and tumble confusedly before us in living persons.
Think about this quotation as you examine the New York Times tribute to William Shakespeare on the 300th anniversary of his death:
- What was Charlotte Gilman Perkins saying in the two paragraphs quoted above? Paraphrase the quotation; that is, restate it in your own words.
- Does the idea expressed by Perkins help explain the enduring appeal of Shakespeare’s plays? Why or why not? What other explanations for this appeal do you find in the Times’ stories about Shakespeare?
- In the introduction to the series, how did the editors of the New York Times describe Shakespeare? What was their purpose in producing the ten-part series? How did the paper’s weekly feature promote the celebration of the tercentenary?
- Look closely at the statues of Shakespeare shown on page 2 of the February 20 issue. How are the depictions similar? How are they different? Do you think they reflect the cultures of the nations where they are found? Why or why not?
- If you were an editor of the New York Times, which article(s) would you reprint to mark the quadricentenary (400th anniversary) of Shakespeare’s death in 2016? Justify your selection.
Newspaper Design and the Pictorial Section
In the early 1900s, photographs were relatively new to the pages of newspapers. Most newspapers did not integrate news and photos as papers today do; instead, as with the pictorial sections featured in Newspaper Pictorials, photographs appeared in separate sections with relatively little text.
Examine the pictorial sections of the New York Times and the New York Tribune, paying particular attention to the design of the front pages. Consider the following elements:
- How the editors draw attention to the most important photo on a page.
- The shapes and sizes of the photos.
- Frames and other decorative elements.
- Caption placement and appearance.
Based on your analysis, develop a list of “design guidelines” that reflect what you found in the page layouts you examined. Use your design guidelines to create the first page for a special pictorial “scrapbook” of human interest stories about World War I. Consider including photographs that evoke different emotions. Some examples are:
- “British Guardsman Giving a Wounded German Prisoner Water from His Own Canteen.” New York Times, October 6, 1918 .
- “School Children of Rheims Don Their Gas Masks.” New York Times, January 6, 1918 .
- “Members of a French Family, Who Have Remained in Verdun Practically Throughout the Siege, Living in the Cellar of Their Home.” New York Times, June 11, 1916 .
- “A German Commandeers a Burro and Goes Sightseeing in a Belgian Village.” New York Times, November 15, 1914 .
- “Mother Rushes from the Curb to Greet Her “Devil Dog” Son.” New York Times, August 17, 1919 .
Write a paragraph explaining how your design embodies the principles you developed.
Depicting War and Its Effects in Art
The Great War and its effects were not only depicted in photographs but in paintings by leading artists of the time as well as by young artists who served in the military during the war. Select several paintings depicting scenes of war and the effects of war by leading artists such as John Singer Sargent (Gassed and A Street in Arras), Paul Nash (Void and The Menin Road), John Nash (Over the Top), Otto Dix (Assault Under Gas), or C. R. W. Nevinson (Paths of Glory and The Harvest of Battle). These paintings and many more are available at Art of the First World War.
- How did artists portray the war? Did artists on opposing sides depict the war similarly or differently?
- What messages did artists convey in their paintings and watercolors?
- Search the collection for rotogravures that represent scenes similar to those illustrated in paintings and watercolors by World War I artists. Compare several paintings to rotogravures in the collection. To what extent did artists convey an authentic portrait of the war and its consequences? How do you, as a viewer, respond differently to the paintings and photographs? Why or why not?
View the painting The Consoler by English artist Harold Copping.
- What emotion did the artist invoke in this painting?
- How does Copping’s painting contrast with those by such artists as Sargent, Nash, or Dix?
Countries on both sides of the war used posters to engage their citizens in the effort. Recruiting posters sought enlistees for the military, while other posters urged citizens to contribute by buying war bonds, contributing to relief organizations, or conserving food.
Examine the following pages from The War of the Nations:
- U.S. and British recruiting posters.
- Posters promoting the sale of Liberty Bonds.
- More posters promoting the sale of Liberty Bonds.
Answer the following questions about the posters:
- How do the posters invoke a spirit of patriotism? What words and techniques are used to motivate action?
- What symbols do the artists use? Are the symbols used in the recruiting posters similar to or different from the symbols used in the Liberty bond posters? Why do you think that is true?
- How do the British and U.S. recruiting posters use different appeals to reach people in their countries?
- Which of the posters do you believe had the greatest appeal? Why?
Research World War I graphic arts and compile a portfolio representing posters from both Allied and Central Powers during the Great War. Write an introduction to the portfolio that compares and contrasts posters from different countries and for different purposes.
Sculpture and Its Use as Propaganda and Memorial
Sculpture is three-dimensional art, in which forms are created through modeling, molding, carving, casting, or construction. Like other art forms, sculpture can express ideas and can thus be used as propaganda (i.e., disseminated to advance an idea or doctrine at the expense of an opposing idea or doctrine). Sculpture is commonly used in memorials, objects or sites built to honor people or events.
Examine Chiattone’s sculpture “The Agony of Belgium” and answer the questions that follow:
- How does the sculpture illustrate the destructive nature of the war on Belgians?
- What emotions does the sculpture invoke?
- Does the sculpture convey a message? If so, what is the message?
- Would you consider this sculpture as pro-Allied propaganda? As a memorial? Explain your answers.
The collection contains photographs of a number of sculptures that served as memorials or parts of memorials. Examine the memorials shown on the pages below:
- "The Bishop Porter Memorial Pulpit at St. John the Divine." New York Tribune, October 1, 1916 .
- “Bronze Figure Representative of ‘The Spirit of Life.’” New York Times, July 4, 1915 .
- “Fountain in Memory of Jack Phillips, of the Titanic, and Other Heroic Wireless Operators Who Stood by Their Keys to the End.” New York Times, February 8, 1914 .
- “Monument Erected by the Germans on the Battlefield of Champagne in Honor of Their Own and the French Dead.” New York Times, June 10, 1917 .
Choose an event in World War I (you can use the Timeline provided with the collection to identify an important event). Search the collection for photographs and news about the event. Then use what you have learned from studying the memorials listed above to design a sculpture to serve as a memorial honoring the event.
The Art of the Photographic Portrait
A portrait is a painted or photographic likeness of a person. While many portraits show only the person’s face, some portraits show part or all of the person’s body. A good portrait captures the person’s appearance and conveys something about his/her character. Lighting, the person’s pose and where his/her gaze is directed, clothing, props, and backgrounds are some of the ways in which a photographer can convey character.
The Newspaper Pictorial collection includes many photographic portraits, as well as reproductions of painted portraits. Several pages of portraits of women can be found in the December 7, 1913, and December 14, 1913, editions of the New York Times. Photographic portraits of political and military leaders during the war can be found in pages 3-89 of The War of the Nations, beginning with a portrait of President Woodrow Wilson. Examine several photographic portraits. Notice the lighting in the photographs. Consider how the subjects are posed, where they are looking, which features are most dominant, and the expressions on their faces. Study their clothing, as well as the backgrounds and any other objects shown in the pictures. Then answer the following questions.
- What, if anything, can you determine from examining the facial expressions in the portraits you studied?
- What do you notice about the lighting in the photographs? How does the lighting influence your response to the pictures?
- What do you notice about the ways in which the subjects are posed? What do you think the photographers were trying to suggest about the character of their subjects when they photographed them in profile (facing the side)? Facing the camera but looking away from it? Facing the camera and looking into it?
- Are there any objects or details in the background that suggest something about the subject’s character? How does a subject’s manner of dress influence the way in which you view the portrait and the subject?
- Which portrait is your favorite? Why? Write a caption for that portrait explaining why you think it is an excellent example of the art of portraiture.
Even during wartime, commerce—the buying and selling of products—continues. Advertising is one tool used to attract interest in goods. The pictorial sections of the New York Times and the New York Tribune contained ads on the last two or three pages of each edition. Examining the ads can provide information about what appealed to Americans in the era of the First World War and can also provide evidence of the war’s impact.
Look at several ads from the two newspapers. Some possible ads for your consideration are listed below:
- Silk Association of America’s ad. New York Times, April 22,1917 .
- The Franklin Simon and Company advertisement for women’s and girls’ apparel. New York Times, October 6, 1918 .
- The ad for O’Sullivan’s Safety Cushion Heels. New York Times, September 16, 1917 .
- The ad for the “Ever Warm Safety Suit.” New York Times, July 7, 1918 .
- The ad for Lucky Strike Cigarettes. New York Tribune, November 3, 1918 .
- The ad for the Hardman grand piano. New York Tribune, April 27, 1919 .
As you analyze the ads, look for common advertising techniques, such as humor, testimonials from famous personalities, appeals to patriotism, facts and figures, suggesting that the product is of high quality or useful to ordinary people, associating the product with positive ideas, and appealing to hidden fears of consumers. Consider the following questions as you analyze the ads:
- What techniques were used to promote the products? Find ads in a current newspaper that use similar techniques. How are the ads similar to and different from the historic ads?
- Which of the ads used the war to promote products? Do you think this is an effective approach? Why or why not?
- Which ad do you find most convincing? Least convincing? Explain your choices.
- Some of the ads give prices for the products being advertised. How might you determine whether these prices reflect wartime inflation (higher prices)? How effective are the ads?