Monthly presentations provide insight into WWI

great-war

With an ocean separating the United States from the epicenter of the deadly battles of World War I, the country did not experience the same devastation as those in Europe.

But World War I had a major impact on the future of the U.S. and had an impact on cities just like Marietta. Thanks to a grant from Walmart’s Community Giving program, Marietta College will be hosting a World War I colloquium called “Exploring the Great War,” during the 2014-15 academic year.

It begins with Dr. Matt Young, McCoy Associate Professor of History, on Monday, Sept. 22. Young will present “Marietta in the Great War” from 7-8 p.m. in Thomas 124. Each presentation is free and open to the public.

“I’ll be looking at the war’s impact on Marietta,” Young says. “In many ways, Marietta stands for ‘Everytown USA,’ because it experienced all the larger social and economic trends of the period.”

Young says Americans today have largely forgotten WWI and don’t appreciate the impact it had the people fighting and their families.

“Sixty thousand young men died in six months fighting in the trenches, approximately the same death toll as the nine-year long Vietnam War,” he says. “Many Mariettans fought and died in the war, or succumbed to the global influenza epidemic in 1918 that took even more lives than the war did. Marietta College students volunteered to drive ambulances on the Western Front. And of course, Marietta stands out because it was the hometown of Charles Gates Dawes (Class of 1884), a diplomat who helped to stabilize the German economy after the Versailles Peace Treaty demanded reparations payments that the country could not afford to make. For his efforts, Dawes won the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize.”

Dr. Nicole Livengood, Associate Professor of English, is organizing the program, which features seven speakers and runs from September until April.

“The Liberal Arts fosters inquiry, curiosity, and the ability to examine a subject from multiple perspectives. ‘Exploring the Great War’ has been arranged in this spirit, as Marietta faculty and staff will help participants understand World War I through several different points of view: history, chemistry, music, literature, psychology, and political science,” Livengood says. “This series honors those who served in World War I, and also highlights the importance of its impact on World War II and, especially, the 21st century. Among the many hopes that I have for it is that it will help bring Marietta College and the Mid-Ohio Valley Community together, and I am grateful for the speakers who have volunteered their time in service to the College and community.”

Young says he is excited that Marietta College faculty and staff are able to bring this important discussion to the community.

“The war changed the world profoundly, and a good argument can be made that it was an even bigger ‘game changer’ than World War II,” he says. “As an example, consider how WWI redefined politics: empires that rested for centuries on the authority of the ‘divine right’ of the Kaiser or czar, were swept away, often violently, and replaced with a multitude of factions that claimed to speak with the voice of the people. It ushered in destructive new ideologies, like fascism and communism, that would dominate much of the 20th century.”

Dr. Katy McDaniel, McCoy Associate Professor of History, says WWI is the “catastrophic event that set the stage for almost everything that occurred in the 20th century and through to today.” She points to World War II, air-strikes and tanks, mass genocide, the Cold War, nuclear weapons, Middle East conflicts, communication technologies, ultra-nationalism, gender parity and women’s rights, existentialism and post-modernism, and united international peace organizations, as examples.

“Because the U.S. entered the war late and did not really experience the war as the catastrophe that Europeans did, and because it’s a complex event that defies the heroes-and-villains way of explaining history, Americans know relatively little about this conflict,” McDaniel says. “But this was really ‘The War,’ as westerners at the time called it, which served as a crucible for the modern age.  By understanding the Great War, we understand much more about the world in which we now live.  

McDaniel will present “The Same Old Moon: The Gender Divide and the Western Front in World War I” on Monday, Oct. 27. She says she has always been interested in historical eras in which tremendous intellectual and cultural changes take place.

“This was especially true for the war years (1914-18) and in the particular area of gender relations,” McDaniel says. “Instead of only looking at the way men and women individually experienced the war, I’m going to explore in this talk the way that male-female relationships were affected by the unbridgeable distance between what men experienced in the trenches and women’s experiences on the home-front and in other kinds of war work.”

McDaniel notes that while the women often believed they were at least “under the same old moon” as the soldiers they loved, men typically did not share the same sentimental idea.

“Looking through poetry, memoirs, and war letters, we can see the sharpened distinction between what women and men of the ‘lost generation’ experienced and come to understand the way this shaped gender relations in the modern era,” she says.  

The fall semester wraps with Dr. Mark Sibicky, McCoy Professor of Psychology, on Nov. 17. Sibicky will cover “Intelligence Testing in WWI: Keeping America Safe from ‘The Menace of the Morons.’ ”

There are four presentations planned for the spring semester, beginning with Dr. Douglas Anderson, Director of Legacy Library, on Jan. 26. He will speak about “The Music of World War I.”

On Feb. 23, Dr. Jim Jeitler, Associate Professor of Chemistry, will cover “Chemists go to War: Where Skill and Courage Count.” Dr. Mark Schaefer, Associate Professor of Political Science, will present “Woodrow Wilson and the Origins of Neo-Conservatism in American Foreign Policy,” on March 23.

The final presentation of the series is on April 27 and will be given by Provost Karyn Sproles. She will talk about “Portraits of Pacifists: British Conscientious Objectors to the Great War.”

“Dr. Livengood has assembled an exciting interdisciplinary lecture series to commemorate the centenary of WWI,” Sproles says. “Taking advantage of the depth of talent in the Marietta College faculty, the series showcases many facets of a complicated time in world history.”