Female employees of the German munitions factory WASAG in their work clothes, 1916. The one on the right seems to have been “conscripted” (zwangsverpflichtet), though it is unclear on what basis. She was also apparently highly skilled insofar as she was a production manager (Produktionsleiterin) of some kind. Source: Haus der Geschichte Wittenberg, “Arbeiterinnen der WASAG Reinsdorf,” https://st.museum-digital.de/index.php?t=objekt&oges=69193

World War I poster advertising savings stamps for the war effort. Source: Library of Congress PPOC, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002712000/

I find this 1917 poster interesting because it seems to target urban, working-class immigrants. Besides the dress of the people waiting in line to lend Uncle Sam some money, there is the American flag held by the child, whose enthusiasm attracts the attention of the adults around her.

Children, whether immigrants themselves or native born, seem to have played a special role in immigrant families, mediating in different ways the adults’ encounter with the culture and institutions of the new country. Certainly the authorities saw such potential in these children.1


  1. See Simone Lässig, “The History of Knowledge and the Expansion of the Historical Research Agenda,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 59 (Fall 2016): 29–32, https://www.ghi-dc.org/fileadmin/user_upload/GHI_Washington/Publications/Bulletin59/29.pdf. ↩︎

War, Gender, and Nation in 19th-Century Europe: A Preliminary Sketch

If military service had become a rite of passage for young men in much of Europe well before the mutual slaughter began in the summer of 1914, neither its ubiquity nor its meaning to those it embraced were foregone conclusions.[1] To be sure, the fundamental challenge offered by the declaration of the levée en masse in revolutionary France in 1793 represented an important first step, as did monarchical Prussia’s turn in 1813 to the near-general conscription of those men considered young and fit enough to join the fight. Indeed, Prussia’s response to the Napoleonic challenge intertwined military service, citizenship, and manhood in the gendered construction of a nation at war that bore a striking resemblance to those ideals manifest in the mobilizations of 1914.[2] Nonetheless, near-universal manhood conscription took many more decades to predominate on the continent, (never mind the United Kingdom, which did not resort to it until 1916).[3]

Read more

At Portal Militärgeschichte, Markus Pöhlmann reports that a joint German-Russian digitization project has made available a substantial number of World War One–era German military documents at the Russian defense ministry’s central archive. There is also a digitized collection of the German secret services from 1912 to 1945.

Additionally, the multi-volume Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918 (The World War), published by the Reichsarchiv in excruciating detail, is now available digitally thanks to the Upper Austrian State Library in Linz. As Pöhlmann points out, this work continues to be essential for operational history because it was written on the basis of documents that were largely destroyed in World War Two.

Finally, the Austrian-Hungarian counterpart has been digitized in Linz too: Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914-1918 (Austria-Hungary’s Last War).

Stereoptic Views of the Great War

WWICuirassierBerlin

WorldWarIGermanDead

(click images to enlarge)

These stereoptic cards offer a tale of war reduced to two basic elements: soldiers on parade at home followed by the unburied corpses of soldiers on the battlefield. How should we read this story? At first glance, it seems to be about the gap between dreams and reality in war: the transformation of men from objects of admiration in society to a meal for rats, bugs, worms, and microbes in a foreign wasteland. In other words, the pictures seem to tell a story about the utter senselessness of the First World War. But does that interpretation do justice to the lives of these men? Does it tell us why they wore the uniform and sacrificed their lives? Does it tell us about their experience of war? And what about the politicians and generals who sent millions to their deaths? Can we write them off as insane or incompetent fools? Or should we take them seriously and try to fathom their mental universe? Finally, what lasting effects did this violence and loss have on the societies that fought this war? These are some of the questions that inform my interest in military history.

This blog post originally appeared on my old history blog, Clio and Me, on this date.

Source of Images: Wikimedia Commons. World War I: Cuirassiers in Berlin (top) and World War I: German Dead.