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Centers of Excellence

The Great War (1914-18): Experiences, Representations, Effects

Project coordinator: Marcus KELLER

Total costs of the project: $30.000
Embassy of France support: $8.700

Summary of the Project

Our center of excellence, French@Illinois, is launching a project that takes the one hundredth anniversary of the onset of World War I to focus consideration of the social and cultural impact of war as a major historical and contemporary issue. We seek to draw diverse constituencies both on and off campus into a collective reflection on such questions as: What are the different national memories of the war? How are WW I and the project of European unification related? In what sense was WW I a world event? What are the lasting political and cultural legacies of this Ur-catastrophe of the twentieth century? France’s experience of la Grande guerre will be the focal point of this interdisciplinary, multifaceted initiative that will engage undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, veterans and the general public.

Our program for fall 2014 includes: (1) a film series including J’accuse (Gance, 1919), La Grande illusion (Renoir, 1937), Joyeux Noël (Carion, 2005); an exhibit in the Krannert Art Museum of French WW I posters and photographs from the university’s unique collections and a public lecture by Ségolène Le Men, professeur d’histoire de l’art, Université de Paris-X Nanterre and ITEM, a specialist on visual culture, including illustration, caricature and posters, who will highlight the significance of our collection in French propagandistic production during that period; (3) a high-profile public lecture by Timothy Snyder, Bird White Housum Professor of History, Yale University, author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010), providing a transnational re-interpretation of WW I’s aftermath; (4) a production of the 1963 musical Oh! What A Lovely War, a satirical comment on the conduct of WW I, at the university’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts; (5) and a one community-one book reading of Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), with discussion groups involving the public libraries and the university’s lifelong learning center. In addition, a new general education history course for undergraduates will be offered next fall: “War in History, Art and Literature: WW I.” Team-taught by faculty from across the disciplines, it will incorporate into its syllabus many of the events listed above.

We request funding for (a) the core events that directly engage French materials, that is, the exhibit of posters and photographs and the film series; (b) the production of a poster detailing the program of events; and (c) the creation of a web site for the project and the French WW I posters.