Exhibit honors WWI centennial
Kathryn Marshall | Sunday, March 30, 2014
The South Bend Center for History’s current exhibit “World War I: The War to End All Wars” honors the 100th anniversary of World War I, which begins in June with the anniversary of the assassination Archduke Franz Ferdinand, David Stefancic, history professor at Saint Mary’s, said.
Stefancic and his fellow history professor, William Svelmoe contributed material to the exhibit.
“We submitted [information] for the topics that [the Center] gave us … and then they took what we did and edited it, so the words aren’t necessarily all ours but the basic theme is there,” Stefancic said.
Together the professors wrote the general copy for the exhibit, which was used by the Center for History to make the information accessible to the general public, Stefancic said. Stefancic covered the European side of the war while Svelmoe covered the United States side of the war, Svelmoe said.
Svelmoe said when putting together material for the Center, he tried to focus on the U.S. vision of the war and the actual reality of the war.
“What you see in World War I is that a lot of the sons of the elites were desperate to get into war, any war,” Svelmoe said, “And so they dashed off, the kids who were going to the Ivy League colleges, dashed off to join the French army, the British army because the U.S. of course was very late getting into World War I. … The president of Princeton had to come out and beg men to stop running off.
“Their grandparents had fought in the Civil War, and by then enough years had passed that the brutality of the war had been overwhelmed with the glory, the manliness [of war].”
However, new technology challenged the glamorous view of the war, Svelmoe said.
“There’s no glorious charges and man-to-man combat, it’s just sitting in these trenches cold, hungry, wet, huge rats, being pounded by guns that are miles away … the reality of it was brutal,” Svelmoe said.
Stefancic said he believes technology largely impacted World War I. New advances such as airplanes being used as weapons instead of observation tools and the presence of rapid fire artillery and machine guns contributed to the brutality of the war as each side tried to get a technological advantage, he said.
“The result was people became secondary to the technology. … Millions of lives were lost which is why [the war] got the nickname ‘The War to End All Wars’ or ‘The Great War,’” Stefancic said.
When writing for the exhibit, Stefancic said he focused on technology as well as European alliances, the difference between the Western and Eastern front and what led up to the war. A previous visit to the World War I museum in Kansas City inspired idea contributions, he said.
“I gave suggestions from what I saw [at the museum] including having a horse with a gas mask. Nobody thinks of the horses and there were a lot of dogs on the battlefield, and they needed to be protected as well the human beings,” Stefancic said.
Svelmoe said this is the first time he has helped put together such an extensive exhibit.
“It was fun just to see how these things are put together,” Svelmoe said, “Being involved on the ground floor and then seeing the final product was really cool.”
Svelmoe said he was impressed by the staggering amount of work that goes into exhibits, from small things such as figuring out how to fill sand bags without heavy sand to having people search for artifacts from other museums and the community.
The exhibit will be available through Dec. 31 and ath the Center for History in downtown South Bend. More information is available by calling (574) 235-9665 or visiting centerforhistory.org