Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Imagining the German Soldier: Engenderment in WWI Visual and Narrative Culture
Abstract: For decades, 'martial masculinity' dominated our military, social, and cultural analyses of the German soldier of the Great War. In particular scholars focused on how either the brutalization of German men in the trenches provided the provided the foundation for the fascist masculinity that pervaded German society in the Third Reich (Theweleit) or the public memory and commemoration of this war in Germany paved the road to Nazism (Mosse). Recently, however, scholars have been digging deeper into the myriad ways that German men - both soldiers and civilians?experienced this war in order to highlight the multiple - even competing - masculinities which were forged during the conflict. Looking beyond the origins of proto-fascist masculinity often highlighted in these studies of the 'front generation', the papers on this panel examine how depictions of particular sub-sets of the German combatant - religious communities, prisoner communities, and deceased communities - were crafted and deployed for immediate war-time social and cultural needs. Jason Crouthamel looks at how Gentile and Jewish soldiers forged comradeship through a shared masculine ideal constructed in the trenches; Brian Feltman looks how the German military carefully framed the grieving culture during the war to buttress loyalty and support for the nation at war; finally, Heather Perry looks at how American media framed discussions of German prisoners on the homefront to calm the fears of a nation newly plunged into war. Karen Petrone's expertise in the gendered nature of Russian WWI visual culture and memory allows her to bring another perspective to the panel's analysis through her commentary on the papers. Finally, Jim Diehl's early seminal scholarship on the roles of military veterans in post-war German culture, society, and politics make him an ideal panel chair, moderator, and touchstone for the presenters' new directions.
Heather Perry, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Participant's Paper Title: Shooting Captives and Framing Men: Depicting the Enemy in WWI America
Participant's Paper Abstract: On June 8, 1917 18 German men arrived in Hot Springs, NC where they were interned as "enemy aliens" of the United States. By late summer, nearly 2200 others joined them in America's only civilian WWI internment camp. Mostly sailors from merchant and passenger vessels seized in April 1917, these Germans were not considered as threatening or dangerous as soldiers and therefore the US government did not assigned them to the military-run POW camps in Ft. Douglas or Ft. Oglethorpe. Instead, they were packed off to western North Carolina where they were held prisoner in the Mountain Park Hotel Resort and Spa. Despite their remote captivity in the Appalachians, however, Americans across the nation spent the war alternately suspicious, afraid, and even envious of these captive aliens in their midst.
This paper examines how local, regional, and national newspapers portrayed captive Germans to readers on America's WWI homefront -particularly the men held at Hot Springs. I argue that unlike more dangerous elements hidden away in POW camps, the civilians in Hot Springs were intentionally depicted as non-threatening, even friendly, captives. Papers in North Carolina attempted to calm local fears about the proximity of so many enemy aliens through stories about inept foreigners unable to adapt to their new environment, or awkward urban men out of place in the rugged and rural area. Other articles highlighted the musical and artistic skills of men portraying them as entertaining, teaching, or serving their captors in other ways. At times these stories were contrasted with descriptions of the more rugged, able, or clever American who guarded him- or accompanied by images depicting the prisoners in domestic, household settings. In contrast to depictions of dangerous enemy aliens at large, the captive alien was purposefully portrayed as harmless in order to mitigate fear at home.
Brian Feltman, Georgia Southern University
Participant's Paper Title: Illustrating Battlefield Sacrifice: The Visual Culture of Commemoration in WWI Germany
Participant's Paper Abstract: By the end of 1915, more than 628,000 German soldiers had perished on the battlefields of the First World War. As families across Germany received death notices from the front and began mourning loved ones, German authorities attempted, as Erika Kuhlman has argued, to "manage soldiers' deaths and control survivors' responses to death" (Kuhlman, 2012: p. 4). The military recognized the need to provide mourners with a tangible symbol of their sacrifice. The connection between soldierly virtue, sacrificial death, and manhood was well established in early twentieth-century Germany. Military officials and artists attempted to utilize the influence of that connection to portray the nation's fallen soldiers as martyrs, not victims, who had died in the service of a higher purpose.

My proposed paper would examine the design, production, and distribution of the official commemorative prints (Gedenkblätter) commissioned by the German war ministries and given to the families of fallen soldiers beginning in January 1915. It would place particular emphasis on authorities' attempts to present the commemorative prints as the official, and unchallenged, visual memorial to the fallen. Prints by noted artists such as Emil Doepler, Robert v. Haug, and Fritz Erler drew upon both the German tradition of Heldentod, or a "heroic death, and biblical images of sacrificial death to encourage Germans to emulate the sacrifices of the fallen. Military authorities sought to ensure that the dead were remembered as examples of masculine and soldierly virtue. This paper will demonstrate that directing the mourning process included controlling the visual culture of commemoration by ensuring that grieving families remembered their fallen loved ones as heroes whose manly sacrifices were to be honored through continued service to the fatherland.
Karen Petrone, University of Kentucky
Jason Crouthamel, Grand Valley State University
Participant's Paper Title: Masculinity and Comradeship between Jewish and Gentile Soldiers in the First World War
Participant's Paper Abstract: This paper concentrates on wartime letters and diaries by German Jewish and non-Jewish soldiers to reconstruct how they experienced and perceived the ideal of comradeship, the backbone of martial masculinity in Germany during the age of total war. The central argument of this paper is that German-Jewish soldiers' optimism about integration was rooted in their belief in inclusive comradeship and a complex symbiosis between how they perceived themselves and how they believed they were perceived by their comrades. Christian soldiers' letters about their Jewish comrades reveal different layers of sentiments ranging from anti-Semitic prejudices to philo-semitic revelations. When some Gentile soldiers expressed admiration for the 'comradeship' shown by Jewish fellow soldiers, it suggested a path towards acceptance and assimilation. German-Jewish front soldiers put their faith in 'good comrades' who could persuade ignorant, anti-Semitic soldiers to overcome their prejudices.
The impact of the war on conceptions of 'masculinity' and 'femininity' highlights the degree to which Jewish experiences converged and diverged with mainstream culture. On the one hand, German Jewish frontline soldiers saw 'comradeship' as a universal masculine ideal. Just as gentile and Jewish men shared the traumatic experience of the trenches, they also shared ideals of manliness and comradeship that were fundamental to national identity. Despite a widespread 'crisis in masculinity' in the face of industrialized violence, the image of the 'good comrade,' who provided friendship and love for their fellow front fighters, gave many men, including minorities who might have been considered social outsiders, the opportunity to assimilate into a male cultural ideal. This suggests that the essentialist, racialized notion of comradeship and the 'front community' later sanctified by the Nazis did not necessarily reflect the more inclusive notions of comradeship and masculinity embraced by not only German Jewish frontline fighters, but even some non-Jewish soldiers in 1914-1918.

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