Nov. 11, 2018 commemorated 100 years since the end of World War I. Generally referred to as the first “total war,” WWI blurred the boundaries between front and home front, forever changing the face of modern warfare. By its end, the “Great War” was one of the deadliest armed conflicts in history, with the toll of civilian and military casualties reaching 40 million. In its aftermath, the rise of social and political movements in many countries supported suffrage and political activism by minority groups, but also caused a radicalization of nationalist movements. This led to totalitarian regimes in several countries, as well as changes in political configurations on the world stage. Today, representations, reactions and responses to WWI are found in art, film, literature and theatre throughout the 20th century and all over the world.

University of Toledo brought scholars from various disciplines and institutions to discuss and critically examine cultural representations and memories of WWI.

Linda Marie Rouillard, Professor of French and Chair, Department of World Languages and Cultures, College of Arts and Letters, spoke on “Crossing the Line.”

War is essentially about challenging accepted and recognizable boundaries, about crossing lines. In World War I, at the geo-political level, Europe saw numerous frontiers affronted. There is, however, another level of boundary-crossing that sometimes happens in war, involving sexuality and gender identity. In literature, pop-culture, and in fact, some individuals face war or escape war by cross-dressing, essentially blurring and breaching the line between the sexes: Achilles’ mother dressed her young son in women’s clothing, hoping to protect him from battle. Toledo’s own Jamie Farr played a television character who unsuccessfully tried to be removed from the Korean War front by dressing as a woman. We know of historical women who cross-dressed in order to fight during the American Civil War, or find their husbands; and historical men and women who cross-dressed to fight the battle against sexual stereotypes and the battle for sexual equality.

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