"100 Jahre erster Weltkrieg". A Virtual exhibition on Great War

The German National Library has recently inaugurated a new exhibition and this time you can visit it from your home. The web portal 100 Jahre erster Weltkrieg gathers together a wide range of materials and sources and arranges them in chronological and thematic order. The curators introduce this virtual exhibition retracing the long history of the collections related to WWI. Already in 1914 it was clear that the Great War was a decisive and incomparable event of the human history. The rising mass media intensified the content and the forms of production and distribution of information and penetrated the everyday life of the whole society.
This both written and visual production immediately drew the attention of many librarians of the time, who tried to gather as much material as they could, but also of single citizens. Private and public war-collections arose everywhere, most of them claiming to be complete and assembling all kind of materials: books, newspapers, placards, letters, pictures, medals, drawings, postcards, musical pieces, etc.

The results of the war collection launched by the former union of German Libraries in Leipzig in October 1914 was amazing according to the report written in 1921: 35.000 books and brochures, 1.300 war maps and more than 600 war newspapers from the trenches, but also from the prison camps or the hospitals, and then again 15.000 posters and many other stuff were collected. Today the old alphabetical catalogue contains a list of about 40.000 cards, which were recently reconverted into the database of the German National Library, so that the items are now searchable in the web. All posters and thousands other – mainly graphical – items were however not included in this alphabetical catalogue and are currently object of a new large project on the WWI Collection, which aims to digitalized also these printed materials and make them available online.

It is on this background that the virtual presentation 100 Jahre erster Weltkrieg was conceived, in order to make visible part of this collection. The website enables the visitors to discover in particular the “media history” of the Great War, and this is the particularity of this exhibition. Besides two units related to the war collections and their history – Krieg Ausstellen and Krieg Sammeln – special attention is directed to the media, i.e. newspaper, literature, posters and postcards. A wide range of digitalized material concerning the regulation and control of the everyday life, both on the front line and of the civil society, can be consulted. A specific section is then devoted to all aspects of the propaganda. Each unit offers a short historical and thematic introduction, as well as a gallery of images in high definition. This is an interesting exhibition, moreover at your fingertips here.

The poets and the world war: "Voice of dead sentry" by Clemente Rebora

Born in Milan in 1885, Clemente Rebora is ascribable to the group of most prominent Italian poets of the pre-war period. It is well know his contribution to “La Voce”, a very influent literary review of the first part of the 20th century. With the editions of “La Voce” he published Frammenti lirici (“Lyrical fragments”, 1913) an enigmatic book in which the reader can detect a huge innovation in the concentration of language and words, still to be seen as pedestal of a long season of the Italian poetry. Rebora took part in the First World War in the areas of Asiago and Gorizia as infantry official and his already fragile nervous system was definitely damaged by the typical shell shock trauma. Due to space limit we avoid now to consider the second part of his life, or at least what it’s usually framed liked this, after the war experience and the spiritual crisis and the subsequent entry in the congregation of Rosminians. Before leaving you to the poem we selected, we just wanted to add that Clemente Rebora is probably the author of the most bloody and dreadful poems in the corpus of the Italian “war poets”. This Voice of dead sentry we present today is a clear example of this assumption and our suggestion is to go further with Viatico (“Viaticum”), an upsetting short poem with no equals, at least in the Italian literature of the First World War.


There's a gutted body
with ripples of face, emerging
on the stench of the torn air.
The earth is fraud.
I'm mad, but I don't cry:
a matter of those who can and of the mud.
But man, if you can come back,
don't tell the war
to those who're not aware,
don't tell this, where man
and life still get on well together.
But clutch the woman
one night, after a whirlpool of kisses,
if you can come back;
whisper to her that nothing on earth
will redeem what’s lost
of us, the decayed men of here.
Squeeze her heart so to strangle her:
and whether she loves you, is for you
to understand later in life, or never.


C'è un corpo in poltiglia
Con crespe di faccia, affiorante
Sul lezzo dell'aria sbranata.
Frode la terra.
Forsennato non piango:
Affar di chi può, e del fango.
Però se ritorni
Tu uomo, di guerra
A chi ignora non dire;
Non dire la cosa, ove l'uomo
E la vita s'intendono ancora.
Ma afferra la donna
Una notte, dopo un gorgo di baci,
Se tornare potrai;
Sòffiale che nulla del mondo
Redimerà ciò ch'è perso
Di noi, i putrefatti di qui;
Stringile il cuore a strozzarla:
E se t'ama, lo capirai nella vita
Più tardi, o giammai. 

"The First World War in Colour”, a book by TASCHEN edited by Peter Walther

Our imagery of the First World War is shaped by faded, maybe damaged black and white pictures. This is somehow relevant for our minds. If we shift to cinema, the situation is a little bit different (although not that different). The Great War continued to inspire many directors after the advent of colour film, but the cult movies on this conflict remain probably the black and white ones. For these reasons it’s always significant to give evidence to new books that stand out from the usual. And a new book opportunity comes from this The First World War in Colour, that TASCHEN just released. The editor Peter Walther is particularly interested in early colour photography techniques and in what it’s commonly called autochrome technology (see this Wikipedia link for detailed explanation about this pioneering technique). Of course only a very small group of photographers was familiar with this printing process and an ever smaller group applied this to frame the catastrophe of the First World War.

One of most interesting thing of this book is given from the simple fact that all the pictures here included needed long exposure time and this gives the strange, unnatural and sometimes shocking sensation of long pondered images​, so different from the urgent and immediate sensation we can find out in the black and white photos of the time.​ The archives that made this book possible are from Europe, USA and Australia. The book is essentially divided into five chapters, one for each year of war, with a remarkable appendix about photographer biographies, credits and further readings. Some names of these pioneers? Paul Castelnau, Fernand Cuville, Jules Gervais-Courtellemont, Léon Gimpel, Hans Hildenbrand, Frank Hurley, Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud and Charles C. Zoller. Here you can find a preview with some images taken from the book.

Finally, there's probably no more suitable post to give evidence to the link featuring some rare World War 1 photos that The Open University shared with World War One Bridges to commemorate 100 years since the start of the war.

(In Italy TASCHEN is distributed by Logos Edizioni that we to thank for the prompt cooperation.)