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Artistic Expressions and the Great War, A Hundred Years On


Edited By Sally Debra Charnow

The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. The war took millions of lives, led to the fall of four empires, established new nations, and negatively affected others. During and after the war, individuals and communities struggled to find expression for their wartime encounters and communal as well as individual mourning. Throughout this time of enormous upheaval, many artists redefined their role in society, among them writers, performers, painters, and composers. Some sought to renew or re-establish their place in the postwar climate, while others longed for an irretrievable past, and still others tried to break with the past entirely.

This volume offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the study of modern war, exploring the ways that artists contributed to wartime culture – both representing and shaping it – as well as the ways in which wartime culture influenced artistic expressions. Artists’ places within and against reconstruction efforts illuminate the struggles of the day. The essays included represent a transnational perspective and seek to examine how artists dealt with the experience of conflict and mourning and their role in (re-)establishing creative practices in the changing climate of the interwar years.

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Introduction (Sally Debra Charnow)




The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. When the fighting came to an end in Europe on 11 November 1918, nearly 75 million military and civilian lives had been lost or transformed beyond recognition, and millions more had been profoundly damaged by four years of global war. Four empires had collapsed – the Ottoman, Hapsburg, German, and Russian – and in the wake of postwar political turmoil new nations emerged and fought to be recognized. Due to the war’s international scope and profound consequences, the Great War has become ‘a paradigm case for thinking about what is the very essence of history’, as Annette Becker and Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau argue. It represents, ‘the weight of the dead on the living’.1

Historians have been studying the war’s origins, impact, and after-effects since the guns fell silent in 1918. Dominant accounts of the war – the first modern total war – have largely focused on failed leadership and imperial ambitions, diplomatic blunders, soldiers, battles, and military strategies. These studies have detailed a ‘beautifully simple build-up to 1914’ and reveal ‘the lie of the “war to end all wars” ’. Standard narratives outline the war of attrition on the Western Front and the invasion and occupation of large parts of Eastern Europe. European colonial powers used their colonies to recruit or coerce labour and supply material. The imperial peripheries were also sites of intense combat themselves. New technologies such...

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