Perspectives on World War I and World War II

Chair: Laura Brandon, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa 



Olga Topol, Birkbeck College, University of London

Patriots, insurgents, saints. Re-ordering conflicted memories in the Warsaw Rising Museum.

The paper explores the Warsaw Rising Museum’s representation of the conflict which the museum is dedicated to commemorate. The struggle to create the museum has lasted for over 25 years. This was a direct result of conflicting memories around the event which resulted in an ambivalent reception of the tragic event in Polish society, and manifested in the efforts of the USSR-influenced political history and politicians who were unable to deal with the subject. The study of the exhibiting culture of the institution discusses and reveals interconnections between the dynamism and generational changes in cultural memory and spatial and visual strategies of the institution.

The analysis concentrates on how the institutionalised narration of the uprising re-presents the past and chooses to contextualise the conflict through careful investment in particular sources of meanings and importance embedded in the memory of the event. The history is reclaimed and rediscovered by the means of excreting the control over the uprising’s discourse and saturating it with aspects which inform Polish national identity. The investigation focuses on the connection between the issues of religion as an identity marker of the Polish insurgent and patriot and tries to interpret how such a demarcation influences the exhibition’s reception and interconnects with the dominant national narration of the conflict in order to ask: How does the contextualisation of religion as a prevailing element of communal identity reflect on the broader trans-national remembrance of the uprising? What does the ethno-religiously underpinned mediation of war’s memory mean for the reconciliation discourse?

The paper traces how the axis of significance created through certain omissions and representations brings one back to the concept of territorial memory. Whereas some contemporary trends within the memory studies discipline lead us to conceptualisation of memory issues through the perspective of trans-national, the representation of war within the institution deals with violent past accommodating the need for localised social memory. The paper concludes with how the model of a ‘memorial’ museum corresponds with the institution’s territorially rooted mediation of the conflict’s memory.


Janion, Maria (1998). Placz generala (General’s Weeping), Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Sic!

Ukielski, Pawel. ‘Warsaw Uprising in the Poles’ Consciousness. Warsaw Rising Museum as a Place of Remembrance’, In European Network of Remembrance and Solidarity Reading Room, source:

Zychlinska, Monika (2009). ‘The Warsaw Rising Museum as a Vehicle of Polish Collective ‘(Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego jako wehikul pamieci zbiorowej) In Kultura i Spoleczenstwo  3.2009 143-158



Barton C. Hacker and Margaret Vining, Curators of Armed Forces History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Witnessing the First Great Industrial War: American War Artists on the Western Front, 1918

When the United States entered the First World War, the US War Department commissioned eight professional illustrators as army captains and assigned them to record pictorially the experience of the American Expeditionary Force. They produced hundreds of drawings, sketches, watercolors, and other field works intended to provide the basis for academic paintings after the war. Few such paintings ever materialized because the War Department canceled the program the day after the Armistice (Cornebise 1991; Krass 2006; Hacker 2010). But all was not lost. The War Department transferred the vast bulk of the field work of the official artists to the Smithsonian Institution, which exhibited a sampling briefly during the early 1920s and again in the 1960s (Vining and Hacker 2008). The work has otherwise remained in storage. In the process of cataloguing the collection, we have become particularly interested in how these artists responded to the evidence of technology and industry they witnessed in what historians have often called the first industrial war. Accordingly, we have undertaken a systematic content analysis of the artwork to identify the frequency and nature of depictions of military technology in particular, and of all related manufacturing, logistics, medical, and other technologies (Hacker 2008). Comparing and contrasting these approaches with more conventional depictions of camp life, soldierly activities, combat, and warscapes allows us to reach some conclusions about contemporary impressions of the impact of technological innovation on the conduct of war.


Cornebise, Alfred Emile (1991). Art from the Trenches: America’s Uniformed Artists. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

Hacker, Barton C. (2008). “Illustrating War Machinery: Technology Depicted in the Smithsonian Collection of First World War Official Art.” Conference paper, Artefacts XIV: Technology and Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington (DC).

Hacker, Barton C. (2010). “Picturing War: American War Artists, 1917–1919. Conference paper, “Unarmed on the Battlefield: Non-Combatants and the Experience of Combat in Modern War,” University of Glamorgan (Wales).

Krass, Peter (2006). Portrait of War: The U.S. Army’s First Combat Artists and the Doughboys’ Experience in WWI. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Vining, Margaret, and Barton C. Hacker (2008). “Displaying the Great War in America: The World War I Exhibition of the United States National Museum in Washington, DC, 1918 and Beyond.” In The Universal Heritage of Arms and Military History: Challenges and Choices in a Changing World, ed. Claudia Reichl-Ham, 27-38. Vienna: Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, 2008.



Peter Harrington, Brown University

America’s Forgotten Soldier Art: The World War Two Camp Art Programs

Armored cars, flame throwers, an obstacle course, and other more peaceful pursuits depicted in paintings and murals representing life in an army at war. It was another time when thousands of raw recruits were pouring into training camps around America following the declaration of war in December 1941. Among them, young artists just out of art school, innocent of war but eager to play their part alongside seasoned veterans of the WPA mural schemes. Almost spontaneously art programs sprung up at the bases to service a need – to keep the soldiers occupied during their off-duty hours by offering art classes. Another challenge was to improve the physical appearance of the drab day rooms and wooden barrack blocks so hastily erected to house the men. As one officer wrote in 1944, ‘Art in the Army largely resulted from the need for embellishing the bare walls of the thousands of recreation buildings under construction in 1940 whose interiors were nothing more than mere shelters from the weather’. Yet out of this mundane effort came a vast corpus of solder art. Its effect on the recruits cannot be measured but images of training, equipment, and warfare must have reverberated with many. The psychological impact not to mention the morale boost no doubt instilled a spirit of camaraderie and pride.

As early as 1941, a group of soldier-artists at Fort Custer, Michigan, had begun to turn out posters and paintings, leading one reviewer to comment, ‘The men were encouraged to transcribe Army life in a documentary fashion, which they did in a straightforward manner, simply and unaffectedly’. Similarly at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, a studio was set-up where murals, posters, and other images were turned-out to brighten the dismal base buildings. Donations came in from individuals as well as organizations including the Museum of Modern Art in New York which held a sale of art the proceeds of which enabled the artists to buy supplies and exhibit their works. ‘Guns and brushes’, was how one art critic termed these piecemeal art projects evident at over 50 camps which became the genesis for the combat art programs. Many of America’s future war artists found their calling in these projects, initiating public art and creating a unique body of work. Mostly destroyed when the camp buildings were demolished after the war, their work lives on in photographs and contemporary publications.


Magriel, T/Sgt. Paul (1943). Art and the Soldier. Biloxi: Special Service Division.

As Soldiers see it, by the Fort Custer Illustrators. (1943) New York: American Artists Group

Crane, Aimée (1944). Art in the Armed Forces. New York: Hyperion.

Interior Design and Soldier Art. (1943). Washington, D.C.: Special Service Division.

Lincoln Kirstein (1944), The Art of the Engineer. Unpublished typescript.

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