The Library of Congress’ collection titled “Newspaper Pictorials: World War One Rotogravures, 1914 to 1919” is a robust archive of three different primary sources from the war years. The three sources, which are the New York Times, The New York Tribune, and a special collection titled “War of the Nations: Portfolio in Rotogravure Etchings” provide thousands of rotogravure images from pre-war times, the front, and the homefront. “The War of the Nations” is especially interesting. It was published in 1919 after the New York Times collected rotogravure pages from their publication from 1914-1919. Therefore, this collection tracks the evolution of wart-ime coverage from American isolationism to the very end of the war. The term rotagravure refers to the specific process of printing: a metal cylinder is etched with a photographic image and is mass printed onto a variety of paper types. This method of printing was popularized by the 20th century, and, as the “About” page for the collection explains, it allowed for newspapers to spread high quality images of the war as well as the inevitable propaganda that followed.
The website itself has several different access points: one can limit image results based on type of publication, year and month, or issue within a specific publication. For instance, to find newspaper coverage of the end of the war, one can limit the results to November 1918 and find an image titled “5,000 Reasons for Unconditional Surrender” paired with an image of unarmed German soldiers from November 10th, the day before the armistice. This thoughtful organization allows for efficient research and exploration. Similarly, by organizing the collection by primary source, the Library of Congress allows us to explore these specific publications chronology, thus tracking the evolution of the American attitudes towards war.
These American newspapers, by nature of being American and newspapers, portray the homefront in notable ways, too. While browsing the collection, one of the things that struck me the most was the sheer amount of ads and pages that highlight goings-ons at the homefront completely unrelated to the war. Perhaps this is remarkable and unremarkable for the same reason: “wow, newspapers can talk about other things than war” and “well, of course, newspapers talk about other things than war.” For instance, on April 1, 1917, just days before America declared war on Germany, the Tribune published a front page fashion spread titled, “Peace Terms of the New Kind – From Paris.” It outlines new trends from Paris and features dozens of models on the first and second page of the issue. But, just pages later, the same issue shows images of Americans testing new tanks and churches hanging the American flag.
Another important section in this website is a brief collection of essays and articles. These essays provide background and context to some of the rotogravures. One essay in particular, “Pictures as Propaganda,” is an excellent secondary source when paired with the collection of images. This article specifically tracks the timeline of the newspaper headlines and images and compares it with the shifting American attitudes during the war. The article itself cites several rotogravure images for individuals to return to and see the propaganda from the primary source. In essence, this article is a reflective, supplemental piece for the images, the real propaganda itself.
It is worth not only reading these articles, but browsing the archived collections themselves. In a short scroll, I found an image form the collection “War of the Nations” titled “American Soldiers Doing Their Part at the Front” with the caption “Icy winds and snow covered ground have no terrors for these hardy young Americans, who are serving a one-pounder and watching the effect of their shots” (Image 175). The only drawback to the War of the Nations collection is that it was published in its entirety as a collection in 1919, so there is no original date on the individual rotogravures themselves. Nonetheless, the images of propaganda themselves are enough to warrant investigation, even without specific dates.
We have talked at length in class about the ways individual men and women serve as propaganda themselves, or trophies for their families. This collection certainly augments that. The pervasive propaganda is obvious in ads for razors, fashion spreads, and super phallic Navy blimps, all meant to inspire patriotism in readers. Just as Paul’s and Nellie’s families are guilty of using their children as props, the American media is, too. This archive provides real insight into the American conscience of the time; it is time-travel of sorts: we see real-time coverage and can track the evolving patriotic attitudes through these newspapers. But, as always, we must acknowledge that reading about and viewing images from the war cannot and will not ever serve as a complete and communicable history.