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.
Richard Oliver, a military historian, spoke on “Henry County in the Great War.”
A remarkable feature of the Treaty of Versailles was the provision it made for deciding the border between Germany and Denmark. In 1864, the territory of Sleswig (in Danish, Southern Jutland) had been taken by German invasion. The Treaty ordered a plebiscite and, on 10 February 1920, Southern Jutland voted overwhelmingly to be reintegrated with Denmark. Denmark’s cultural community played an interesting role in the run-up to this long anticipated reunion. In 1914, a commission was established to arrange “The Artists’ Gift to Southern Jutland,” a collection of contemporary Danish art to be dispersed amongst Southern Jutland’s cultural institutions, if and when. While the goal was achieved (in the end, more than 400 works were handed over), the project was not without controversy. Speaking for the commission, painter Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937) argued that the tragedy of Southern Jutland was that it had been deprived of its mother-culture for fifty years; at a time when socialist movements had cast such language in serious doubt, however, Slott-Møller’s campaign created a fissure in Danish cultural life from which her reputation, and those of many of her compatriots, never recovered. While The Artists’ Gift indicates the political role that the arts played in twentieth-century Denmark, it also represents the tenuous and contested place of national memory in Danish cultural life.
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