Research Librarian Clare Willis’s WWI Project

Scenes of German soldiers enlisting and leaving for Paris.  These pictures come from The First World War: A photographic history edited by Laurence Stallings.  This 1933 book is part of our library's collection.  I hope to share many more pictures this year.

Scenes of German soldiers enlisting and leaving for Paris. These pictures come from The First World War: A photographic history edited by Laurence Stallings. This 1933 book is part of our library’s collection. I hope to share many more pictures this year.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the year that the Great War/World War I/the War to End All Wars started.  To mark that anniversary, I am spending this entire year reading about nothing but World War I.  I’m alternating fiction and non-fiction.  Let me take a minute to try and explain why I’m doing this.  First, I have always been interested in the war.  I remember asking my European History teacher in high school to explain again and again why the war started.  I never got it.  I’m a person who likes to get things, so this has always bothered me.  That’s the first reason: a desire to understand something that I don’t understand.  What I’ve discovered so far is that nobody really understands the war.  The consensus seems to be that it didn’t have to happen.  This brings me to my second reason for undertaking this project.

Second, I like bummer books.  I’m a generally cheerful person, but I read the most depressing books possible.  A year of reading about young, idealistic people dying for no reason sounded like a great way to pass the time.

Third, I’ve been interested in undertaking some kind of reading challenge.  My father has read and continues to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction (or novel, as they used to call it).  He’s piecing his way through the National Book Award now.  Like father, like daughter, I am trying to read within one theme too.  I’ve gotten some of the suggested books from him, and I’ve suggested a few for him too.  It’s something fun I can share with my dad.

I think those are the basic reasons.  I would like to share some of the things I discover and find interesting in this blog.  I plan to start in earnest on June 28th.  Anyone?  Anyone?  The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo, the event that triggered the start of the war.  More about that later.

In the meantime, here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far.  Incidentally, one of these came from our collection here in the library.  I will also share more about the books in our collection as I work through this year.  Without further ado:

One of Ours by Willa Cather

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

We Did Not Fight: 1914-1918 experiences of war resisters edited by Julian Bell (this came from our collection)

Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos

The First World War by John Keegan (currently reading)

Please feel free to leave a comment with your suggestion for a favorite WWI book.  You can play along at home.  And, unlike WWI, we really will be done by Christmas.

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2 Responses to Research Librarian Clare Willis’s WWI Project

  1. Ms Willis:

    I stumbled across your blog today looking for information on the Kent Law Bulletin from back in WWI time. More on that below.

    Here are a couple of suggestions for your list:
    Modris Eksteins, “Rites of Spring” – a cultural history
    Richard Powers, “Three Farmers on their way to a Dance” – novel
    Adam Hochschild, “War to End all Wars”

    Reading an article by Richard Rubin in the NY Times of 8/24 on exploring WWI from a personal perspective started me thinking about my own connection to WWI, my great uncle, Edward J Limes, who died on the first day of the Second Battle of the Marne. Knowing little about him, I searched and unearthed a site with newspaper facsimiles from his hometown, Lima, OH, with of the story of his death. According to the obituary, he was graduated from Kent College of Law in 1916, and was an instructor there at the outbreak of the war teaching “Public Spelling.” The article also says, crediting an article from the Bulletin, that he was the founding editor-in-chief of the Bulletin. He enlisted at Fort Sheridan in 1917, was commissioned as a Lieutenant and shipped “over there” in January 1918. In May he wrote a letter to a friend that appeared in the Lima paper, describing his assignment as Town Major of a French town just behind the third line of trenches, responsible for the good order of the garrisoned American troops. He sounded quite chipper and upbeat, enjoying living in a chateau while trying to conserve the energy of the Americans spoiling to get to the front lines. This bright and charming officer, Kent alum, fell all too soon on the morning of the opening offensive. Thus I would like to find more about his pre-war career and examples of his writing if there are any archives of this earliest version of the Kent Bulletin. I bring it to your attention in that it might be interesting to share this information of a direct connection from Kent College with the war “over there.”

    Yours truly,
    David Poundstone

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