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Picture This

World War I Posters and Visual Culture

Pearl James

Publication Year: 2010

The First World War was waged through the participation not just of soldiers but of men, women, and children on the home front. Mass-produced, full-color, large-format war posters were both a sign and an instrument of this historic shift in warfare. War posters celebrated, in both their form and content, the modernity of the conflict. They also reached an enormous international audience through their prominent display and continual reproduction in pamphlets and magazines in every combatant nation, uniting diverse populations as viewers of the same image and bringing them closer, in an imaginary and powerful way, to the war.
Most war posters were aimed particularly at civilian populations. Posters nationalized, mobilized, and modernized those populations, thereby influencing how they viewed themselves and their activities. The home-front life—factory work, agricultural work, domestic work, the consumption and conservation of goods, as well as various forms of leisure—became, through the viewing of posters, emblematic of national identity and of each citizen’s place within the collective effort to win the war.
Essays by Jay Winter, Jeffrey T. Schnapp, Jennifer D. Keene, and others reveal the centrality of visual media, particularly the poster, within the specific national contexts of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States during World War I. Ultimately, posters were not merely representations of popular understanding of the war, but instruments influencing the reach, meaning, and memory of the war in subtle and pervasive ways.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Studies in War, Society, & the Military

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

This project is proof that scholarship and teaching play equally important and mutually beneficial roles in the production of scholarly knowledge. I became interested in war posters many years ago when I was teaching a Yale College seminar on masculinity and war. My class visited the Yale British Art Center, ...

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Introduction: Reading World War I Posters

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pp. 1-36

The First World War (1914–18) was the fi rst fully modern war: it was waged by industrialized nations with arsenals that included machine guns, long-range artillery, submarines, airplanes, tanks, and mass-produced industrial goods. It was publicized in daily newspapers and documented with the ...

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1. Imaginings of War: Posters and the Shadow of the Lost Generation

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pp. 37-58

Let me open this set of reflections on images of war with the assumption that what people see affects them more than what they read. In wartime, images overwhelm words. This simple fact dominated the most powerful and widely disseminated propaganda campaign to date, elements ...

Part 1. War Poster Campaigns and Images, Comparative Readings

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2. Barbaric Anti-Modernism: Representations of the “Hun” in Britain, North America, Australia, and Beyond

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pp. 61-78

The use of the word Hun as a derogatory term for “German” can be traced back to a speech given by Kaiser Wilhelm II at Bremerhaven in July 1900. During the Boxer Rebellion, Chinese nationalists murdered the German envoy to Peking and several German missionaries, prompting

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3. Chivalrous Knights versus Iron Warriors: Representations of the Battle of Matériel and Slaughter in Britain and Germany, 1914–1940

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pp. 79-110

The First World War marked a turning point in the history of military conflict. The Great War of 1914–18 was not only the bloodiest but also the first industrialized mass war the world had seen. In the military service of Britain and Germany alone, three million men died; many of them ...

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4. Regression versus Progression: Fundamental Differences in German and American Posters of the First World War

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pp. 111-141

In his classic Posters of the First World War, Maurice Rickards focuses on the universality of First World War poster language: on the similarities—thematic, visual, and linguistic— that pervade the war propaganda poster production of ...

Part 2. Envisioning the Nation and Imagining National Aesthetics

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5. Young Blood: Parisian Schoolgirls’ Transformation of France’s Great War Poster Aesthetic

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pp. 145-171

In May 1918 poster hangers plastered bakery and store windows, post offices, trams, metro stations, and innumerable walls throughout Paris and the provinces with yet another series of wartime illustrated propaganda posters. The series of sixteen small-scale posters urged ...

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6. Race and Empire in French Posters of the Great War

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pp. 172-206

The French colonial empire and its inhabitants played an important role in the Great War, a role often portrayed in official propaganda posters. The colonies provided labor and natural resources essential to waging modern industrialized warfare, and from the first ...

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7. Images of Racial Pride: African American Propaganda Posters in the First World War

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pp. 207-240

During World War I governmental agencies in the United States produced thousands of posters that targeted both the entire country and specific segments of the population, including the African American community. These posters encouraged black citizens to ...

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8. Segodniashnii Lubok: Art, War, and National Identity

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pp. 241-269

Soon after the outbreak of war in 1914, Russia’s imperial government organized an exhibition of patriotic posters called “War and Publishing,” which was held in Petrograd in 1914. Many publishers were represented in ...

Part 3. Figuring the Body in the Context of War

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9. Images of Femininity in American World War I Posters

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pp. 273-311

How did the First World War affect women’s struggle for equal rights? Historian Susan Grayzel identifies this as a “historical conundrum”: “On the one hand, women in many participant nations . . . gained basic voting rights in its immediate aftermath that they had ...

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10. Humanitarians and He-Men: Recruitment Posters and the Masculine Ideal

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pp. 312-339

With a standing army eighteen times smaller than that of the Germans, Britain’s most immediate task at the outbreak of the First World War was to build up its military. The nonpartisan Parliamentary Recruiting Committee (PRC) was quickly formed ...

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11. Iconography of Injury: Encountering the Wounded Soldier’s Body in American Poster Art and Photography of World War I

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pp. 340-368

World War I produced injury on a previously unimaginable scale. Along the Western Front—the vast network of entrenchments and redoubts that snaked its way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Swiss border—the sight, smell, feel, and taste of opened ...

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pp. 369-375

Political posters serve as a bridge between the new public sphere constituted by mass communications and the streets and squares that are the theaters of modern mass politics. They were (and in many developing countries they remain) among the visual ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 377-381


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pp. 383-386


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pp. 387-398

E-ISBN-13: 9780803226951
E-ISBN-10: 0803226950

Illustrations: 54 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Studies in War, Society, & the Military