This lesson explores how posters produced during the First World War illustrated the Western Front in Europe. Particularly how such images accompanied solicitations for war bonds, factory labor, military service, and even gifts for soldiers along the frontlines.
The First World War, which lasted from 1914-1918, was a conflict both global and industrial in scale; re-shaping the world as it was known in a profound, violent, fashion. Due to the rapid advances in military, and civilian, technology at the time, the opposing alliances found themselves locked in a war of attrition; sustained through the systems of trenches each belligerent fortified along what is known as the Western Front.
The Western Front was opened by Germany's advance through Luxembourg, Belgium, and northeastern France, until the Allied Forces (Great Britain, France - also known as the Entente) managed to stall the German army. Each side began digging fortifications that ran from the North Sea to the Alps along the French-Switzerland frontier, which brought about a strategic deadlock for both Germany and the Allies. While the war continued along the Eastern Front (between Germany and Russia), as well as Africa and the Middle East (primarily between Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire), it is the Western Front that set the stage for some of the war's largest, and most disastrous, battles for the opposing allainces; memorialized through photographs, paintings, postcards, and posters, which attempted to express the bleak, ravaged, countryside of Europe as it was torn asunder by trenches, artillery, machine gun nests and more.
Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI, Over There! Posters From World War I, running from July 26 2014 - June 14 2015, features fifty wartime posters from the United States and Europe—including select examples from Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. This exhibition is the first time since 1938 that many of these works will be on view.
This lesson will present analyses of particular posters that attempt to visualize the Western Front of the war. Whether for the purposes of attracting military recruits, factory workers, wealthy investors, or even individuals with books to donate, a common thread runs through each example in their visualizations - in stylistically grpahic and urgent fashion - of the world "over there."
Learning Goals: By exploring this lesson, students will...
- Learn how posters were deployed as a form of mass-media to persuade populations towards various pro-war efforts initiated by countries.
- Understand how the Western Front, the land "over there " for Americans in the early 20th century, was visualized in abstract ways to illustrate slogans intended to persuade viewers.
- Gain a foundation of the political and geographical history of World War I - as it was fought in Europe - and its immediate aftermath, via the lesson's related resources.
This discovery will require students to...
- Engage in critical visual and textual analysis of the posters presented.
- Relate historical information to geographical information/history, via the related resources.
- Connect the events of World War I, and its immediate aftermath, with relevant current events.
Using this Resource:
- English/language arts teachers and their students will be interested in studying the persuasive language used on the posters and its implications with influencing audiences towards pro-war causes.
-History/Social Studies teachers and their students will be interested in learning how these mass-produced images were utilized by governments, and their military administrations, to draw recruits for armies, have civilians conserve resources and lend money towards war efforts, as well as develop affection towards allied countries on one hand and animosity towards enemy countries on the other.
-Visual Arts teachers and their students will be interested in the aesthetic and compositional elements deployed by early 20th century artists (and illustrators) in order to produce compelling images with a bold, immediate, effect for viewers. Moreover teachers and students will be interested in discovering the nuanced sociological ideas/norms communicated in such images that appear unambiguous and direct at first glance.
For an interactive timeline, supplementary classroom activities, and other material, refer to the links and downloadable PDFs under Related Resources at the bottom of this page. The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web source -- or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries -- to look for other objects that will provide further insights into World War I posters.