The Great War Opening Event kicks off semester-long centennial initiative

By Annabeth Carlson

Exactly 100 years ago in the late summer of 1914, World War I had just begun. Countries either banded together or were against each other, creating innovations in industry, warfare, propaganda and entertainment, all while a deadly, tragic conflict consumed them all. Now in 2014, all of these occurrences will be remembered and learned about at the University, beginning with The Great War Opening Event this week.

The Great War Opening Event, which will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Krannert Art Museum and Kinkhead Pavilion on Thursday, will kick off a semester-long initiative filled with art, music, films, lectures and more — all in honor of the centennial of World War I.

Michelle Salerno, the event’s programming assistant and Ph.D candidate in the Department of Theatre, said that the opening event is a fun way to commemorate the start of the war. 

She said the evening’s program includes remarks from Barbara Wilson, the dean of LAS, and Edward Feser, dean of FAA, who both supported the initiative. It will also feature a poetry reading, song performance and the exhibit “La Grande Guerre: French Posters and Photographs from World War I.”

“I see it as our semester is building with each event and our conversation is growing, and I am excited for the beginning event so these conversations can start,” Salerno said.

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    Salerno worked with Marcus Keller and Michael Rothberg to coordinate the event. Keller is an associate professor and head of the Department of French and Italian, and Michael Rothberg is a professor and head of the Department of English and Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies.

    “The opening event will be very exciting because this work has now come to fruition,” Keller said.

    Keller explained that the opening event is just the beginning of great semester events, such as the exhibit “First Global Conflict: Contemporary Views of the Great War, 1914-1919,” a film series with movies such as “What Price Glory?” (1952) and “Joyeux Noel” (2005) and a performance by the St. Louis Symphony. He said he plans to attend as many as possible. A core course aligned with the initiative is even offered for undergraduate students, titled HIST 258: World War I and the Making of the Global Twentieth Century. More events can be found on the website —

    Alexander Jesse, junior in LAS, said he is interested in attending some of The Great War events.

    “My grandfather is from Greece and has always talked about (World War I),” Jesse said. “He’s a big history guy; it rubbed off on me.”

    Salerno said she is especially looking forward to the “Oh, What a Lovely War!” performance in November by the Illinois Theatre.

    “I am writing my dissertation right now and it’s on American theatre performance during the first world war, so it is a really nice pairing,” she said.

    The Great War initiative was born when a group of faculty including Rothberg and Keller met in the fall of 2013, wanting to do something to commemorate the centennial. After brainstorming, Keller said they decided they did not want anything too academic, with the usual conferences and specialists. He said they wanted to create something that appealed to students, which is why they included the art and film series. 

    “We have performance coming together with scholarship, (all) coming together with history,” Salerno said. “People are approaching the same idea from all these different angles and disciplines.”

    Keller also said the wide range of events can help students learn how significant the war is outside the United States.

    “(It is) a way of approaching the war from multiple viewpoints including international viewpoints because it was a world war, not just a French or German event,” Keller said.

    In the end, the initiative is an attempt to capture the essence and impact of World War I. It is a unique opportunity for students that will only be available until December.

    “I didn’t really learn about the first world war as an undergrad. It wasn’t until grad school that I learned anything about it, so I think this is a great opportunity to reflect and think about it,” Salerno said. 

    Annabeth can be reached at [email protected].