The Great War in Open Access

In the past year, the Open Access movement has cracked the lid on some of the world’s largest digital collections. Freeing users to greater utilize collections under the public domain and creative commons, Open Access has taken the digital humanities by storm. Giving a public unrestricted access to better reflect on our histories through the glow of digital interfaces, pooling Open Access collections with content focusing on World War I is a first step toward the creation of projects and learning materials circling the centennial.

When navigating the many gigabytes of digitized content within Open Access collections, zeroing in on materials relating directly to the World War I can be tough at first. To get started familiarizing yourself with Open Access collections and begin brainstorming your next centennial project, take your time browsing through the following resources.

Flickr Commons Resources:

Imperial War Museum

George Eastman House

Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Archives

U.S. National Archives

Library of Congress

For a more in depth aggregate of Open Access initiatives by institutions, scope out:

OpenGLAM Resources


Behind Closed Doors: Agency and Action in Early 20th Century Picture Postcards


Couples caught in romantic embrace is nothing new to grace the visuals of early twentieth century picture postcards. Women commonly appearing as focal points – often delivering kind words, from holiday cheer to distant longing in an air of passivity. In this German example, we see a combination and deviation of these two common motifs to instead create an image steeped in queer agency alongside a short poem reading:

Lass mich zu Dir!

Habe ich dein Herz errungen,

Lasse mich auch ein.

Möcht’bei dir im Herzen wohnen

Und im Kämmerlein

Let me come to you!

I have won your heart,

now let me in.

I want to live in your heart,

alone with you.


Painting a picture of a couple in a moment of togetherness, this poem appears alongside the image of an embrace between a maid and woman in uniform. While same sex coupling rarely makes its way to the front pages of early twentieth century print media, the forces within this piece working together are something more interesting than just an image presumably created for heterosexual male consumption. Firstly, the presence of female agency sets this piece apart. Unlike the majority of poetic picture postcards of the period which frame women in scenes of inaction and passivity – a notable example being the faraway wartime spouse or lover; this image clearly represents women seeking sexual agency. Within the text of the attached poem, the translated verse supports agency in the courtship of the two women shown; one having believed proven her love to the other in hope of romantic companionship.

The visually loaded images shown in many early twentieth century postcards often suggest more than what appears at face value. Whether heralding the return to a traditional rural lifestyle or sexualizing a international conflict, single or paired figures before picturesque environments and backdrops leave the modern viewer much to read into. Visually, the image of a woman dressed as a maid leaning into the embrace of a woman dressed in mens uniform could be read as more than a deviation from professional and sexual gender normativity – but as a representation of the domestic ideals of traditional womanhood having their hearts “won” by a sexually liberated and independent feminist figure.

While analysis of early twentieth century print media lay much in the eye of the viewer, taking apart the core visual elements of such examples can aid us in the understanding of how gender was perceived and represented in popular media in the time of it’s creation.

Note: In my description and short analysis, I chose to use the term queer to encompass the non-heternormative elements present.

Special thanks to Ethan and Tumblr users senthessa and grimbl for German translation.

Image Source:  mementomori-stock.deviantart. Last Modified July 20th, 2010.



Going Over Top: Verdun by M2H and Blackmill Games


Of the many digital First World War centennial projects released in recent months, video games aren’t a medium that immediately comes to mind those of us bent on cutting edge forms of historical representation and interactivity – but as we move forward, definitely should be. For decades, video games have worked to simulate environments and experiences for users – creating powerful platforms to interact with historical worlds on deep and individualized scales – games focusing on historical environments being nothing new for popular titles like the Civilization or Call of Duty franchises. But Verdun, a game recently developed by M2H and Blackmill, is redefining how we represent the First World War in modern media by guiding the user trench-riddled combat environments of the western front. Forming teams of four between French and German forces, users band together to capture target points and defeat their opposing team – Verdun gives the user a limited yet informative scope into individual and group dynamics with keen attention to environmental factors. Playable through multiple operating systems [Windows, OS X, Linux], Verdun’s aim is stated as follows: “Inspired by the ferocious battle of Verdun that took place in 1916, M2H and Blackmill are proud to present Verdun, a unique online first person shooter set during the First World War. ” continuing “Verdun contains levels that are based on historical locations around the Verdun area such as the Argonne forest, the western front and beyond.”. Undergoing continual development in coming months, Verdun should be considered among the innovative digital World War I centennial projects that will come to shape how we interact with our histories in 2014. Indicating a growing presence of highly interactive user environments, expanding to produce unique tools for users and project developers alike.

Sources: Verdun Game,, accessed January 11th, 2013.

Image Source: Verdun Game, Screenshots,, accessed January 11th, 2013.

Brothers in Arms: War, Whimsey, and Curiosity in the Wartime Postcard

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words – and sometimes it can evoke just as many questions. In the case of this largely unmarked picture postcard depicting a group of eight men in the midst of the First World War acquired from a collector of military memorabilia at the The Antiques Garage in New York City, we see a more refreshing depiction of the Front – including a jovial man seated in a baby carriage displaying a large bottle of unknown contents, a man to his right suggestively biting his finger, and two men to the left holding hands and looking forward in the midst of conflict. Despite functioning primarily as a whimsical depiction of a military camaraderie, this previously undigitized piece of unknown origin may evoke both questions and tickled expressions in modern viewers.

Biographical Abstract: Portrait of Siegfried J. Thannhauser


     Primarily recognized through his leading work in the field of medicine, groundbreaking scientific research and the authorship of countless academic papers, Siegfried J. Thannhauser led a life of intrigue and accomplishment in the midst of international turmoil. During the cataclysmic years of the First World War, Siegfried Thannhauser journaled his experience as a Major in the Army Medical Corps by compiling two albums of photography ranging from 1915 to the closure of the conflict in 1918. Caught between two transformative conflicts of the twentieth century, Thannhauser’s narrative was impacted by struggles of national, regional and cultural identity surrounding his Jewish Bavarian heritage prior to and following the collapse of German Empire and perseverance in the face of persecution after the rise of the Nazi Party. Transcending major hostilities of his time in Europe, Siegfried Thannhauser became an esteemed researcher at Tufts University in Boston with honorary doctorates from Heidelberg, Munich, and Dusseldorf University.[69] Today, we can recognize the narrative of Siegfried Thannhauser as the life of a man with steadfast commitment to his field and the bravery to overcome adversity in the midst of twentieth century conflict.

Before taking the time to interpret Thannhauser’s two albums of wartime field photography, it is essential to understand the perspective of the man behind the camera. Siegfried Thannhauser was born in 1885 to an upper middle class Jewish Bavarian family who had found success manufacturing ceramic steins in Munich, Germany. Throughout his early life, Thannhauser made strong connections to what he recognized as his regional and cultural identities, the leading biography on Thannhauser’s life, Physician and Scientist in Turbulent Times by Alan F. Hofmann and Nepomuk Zöllner recounting, “He considered himself a Bavarian first and a German second. His Jewishness was a cultural heirloom, and his Bar Mitzvah was a time of celebration for the Jewish families of Munich, who, after three generations had integrated themselves into Munich society.” [Hofmann/Zöllner, Pg 21]. Following an interdisciplinary education which placed an emphasis on the arts and music while preparing him for university, Thannhauser chose to pursue a career in medicine at the Ludwig-Maximilian-University School of Medicine in Munich.

By 1914 the Thannhauser family was faced a difference of opinion regarding unified German involvement in the First World War alongside Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. Finding little personal obligation to the conflict as self identified Bavarians, Thannhauser’s daughter, Gretchen Thannhauser Munson recollects her father’s thoughts on the matter, writing, “My father at first did not want to participate in it – not because he had any liking for the French, but he, as most Bavarians, hated the Prussians, and my father, at first, thought this was strictly a Prussian war.” [Hofmann/Zöllner, Pg 40]. After the decision to temporarily close the doors of the family business rather than transfer its efforts to the suggested production of German artillery, Siegfried Thannhauser enlisted as a Major in theArmy Medical Corps in 1915, stationed in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace – a highly contested territory between Germany and France following the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. [41]  During his military service Thannhauser was awarded an Iron Cross and Bavarian Distinguished Conduct Medal after his rescue of wounded soldiers on between trenches under enemy fire. As the war ended in 1918, Siegfried Thannhauser returned to Munich and promptly wed his Catholic wartime fiance, Franzisca. Despite both partners’ families making their hesitance about the union clear – Thannhauser’s father who originally took issue with his son marrying a woman of a lower social rank – Siegfried and Franzisca enjoyed a long and supportive marriage. [39]

In the decade following the First World War, Siegfried Thannhauser became a professor and researcher at the University of Freiburg; Thannhauser’s colleague recounts his area of specialization, writing “He did fundamental work of protein metabolism, nucleic acids, uric acids, uric acid metabolism, cholesterol and phospholipids, and much more.” [Hofmann/Zöllner, Pg 29]. Following the seizure of the German government by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1933, Joseph Goebbels passed the “Judenplakat” bill passed that same year, which forced countless accomplished figures in academia to leave their professional positions based upon their Jewish heritage [Heidegger, Pg 68]. Purged from the University of Freiburg in 1934, Thannhauser fled his beloved Bavaria to the United States with his three young daughters with the aid of his wife.

Following his departure from Germany, Siegfried Thannhauser settled in New England, securing a professorship at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts.  For the next three decades, Thannhauser completed defining research on the subject of metabolic functions and lipids, never returning to Germany despite standing requests for guest lectures. [55] In his later years, Thannhauser remained active in his field while enjoying his time at an estate in on Lake Winnapisake which his extended family maintains to this day. Following his passing in 1962, Siegfried Thannhauser was laid to rest in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, willing he and his wife’s remarkable collection of German Medieval woodcarvings to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Busch-Reisinger Museum of Germanic Art at Harvard University [55]. Following a lifetime of accomplishment recognized by houses of higher education in both Europe and the United States, Munich’s Uhlenhuthstrasse was renamed Thannhauserstrasse in 1997 emphasizing his impact in both his native Germany and the United States. [64]

Beginning in 1915 only one year after the commencement of the First World War, Siegfried Thannhauser began documenting his enlistment in two albums of wartime field photography. Titled Drei Ähren: 1915 and Kriegserinnerungen, a German word translating to “war memories”, each album contains from twenty to thirty images, organized and even captioned by Thannhauser himself. Housed in a remote closet of Thannhauser’s lakeside Wolfeboro estate, dedicated family members to this day play a primary role in maintaining the memories of their late relative. Nearly a hundred years after their compilation in the years following the First World War, the two albums remain in outstanding condition, maintained by Thannhauser’s family.

Granted access to these materials by Thannhauser’s relatives, the ability to share these pieces with the general public through the use of digital technologies suggests the following question: What does the heightened availability of these photographs give contemporary learners? More than approximately fifty unseen photographs from a conflict which shaped the progression of the twentieth century, Thannhauser’s albums of field photographs portray the narrative and perspective of an individual in the midst of a war in which the story of individuals are often lost in perspective to the millions of casualties claimed by the First World War. Offering twenty-first century viewers the chance to interpret this collection of autobiographic photographs, we can utilize this wartime account of an accomplished medical researcher in both European and American theaters to better understand personal experiences, perspective, and identity in the midst of the First World War.

Special thanks to Hampshire College alumnus Bera Dunau, and the Dunau, Munson, Beyer, and Thannhauser families.

Suggested Reading:

  1. Primary Source of Information, Cited as Page Numbers if not Otherwise Noted: Alan F. Hofmann, Nepomik Zöllner, Siegfried Thannhauser [1885-1962] : Physician and Scientist in Turbulent Times (, 1940) 
  2. Howard M. Sachar, Dreamland: Europeans and Jews in the Aftermath of the Great War. (Vintage Books, New York, 2003)
  3. Family Free of Siegfried Joseph Thannhauser”. Last Accessed October 21st, 2012. (
  4. Martin Heidegger, Karsten Harries, Hermann Heidegger,The Self-Assertion of the German University: Address, Delivered on the Solemn Assumption of the Rectorate of the University Freiburg the Rectorate 1933/34: Facts and Thoughts (The Review of MetaphysicsVol. 38, No.(Mar., 1985), pp. 467-502, Philosophy Education Society Inc.) Stable URL: Pg 68.

Drei Ähren,1915 : Wartime Photography of Siegfried J. Thannhauser


     One of two wartime albums compiled by Siegfried Thannhauser during his service in the First World War, Drei Ähren: 1915 provides us with an unseen photographic account of Alsace during one of the most conflicted periods in the region’s history in over twenty unique photographs. Largely autobiographic, this collection focuses on individual perspective in a conflict that impacted the lives of millions. This digital presentation of Drei Ähren: 1915 aims to preserve portions of the album in their original layout as intended by its creator while widening the audience and encouraging the interpretation of this photographic account of wartime Alsace.

By 1914, Alsace was an epicenter of regional conflict between French and German territorial ambitions. Traditionally a French territory, the region of Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by the recently unified German Empire following the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Members of opposing alliances, France to the Triple Entente and Germany to the Central Powers, the First World War was an opportunity for both powers to either reclaim or maintain control over this region after 1914. Stationed in the Alsatian town of Drei Ähren settled within the Vosges Mountains in 1915, Thannhauser witnessed and documented a defining moment in the region’s history and the culmination of a major dispute between his own Germany Empire its Allied opposition in the early years of the First World War.

We can infer from the presentation and contents of the album that Siegfried Thannhauser had a very clear idea of the display he intended for his work. Organized one photograph to a page, each piece recounting his service in Drei Ähren is accompanied by a caption; impecable cursive written in silver ink on black matte cardboard by Thannhauser himself. The original layout of Drei Ähren: 1915 provides insight into both Thannhauser’s perception of wartime Alsace and acts as a guide to his immediate surroundings for contemporary viewers. Spanning the movement of Germany military and field hospital personel over the course of a year, Thannhauser’s subjects range from Alsatian landscapes to Thannhauser seen standing in a trench. The album and photographs within remain in astounding condition as both a prized piece of family history by Thannhauser’s descendants and an incredible photographic narrative of one man’s experience in wartime Alsace to twenty-first century learners.

When aiming to best replicate Drei Ähren: 1915, the task of maintaining the original intended progression of the album with the resources available was pertinent. After time with the original album, digital versions of photographs were kept in the order in which they were found with special attention to the delicately labeled captions – two factors which illustrate Thannhauser’s intended presentation of the content throughout. Focusing on preserving Thannhauser’s authorial voice, captions were translated as best possible, bringing words images to best recreate Thannhauser’s authorial voice, creating short descriptions such as “Im Schutzgraben” or, “In the Trench”. Creating the option to view each piece as it originally appeared on the page or viewing the photograph in detail, learners may experience the original layout of Drei Ähren: 1915 and view each photograph of wartime Alsace at a closer range. By best recreating the originally intended layout of the album, this project aims to maintain the individual narrative present in this powerful photographic representation of Alsace in the midst of the First World War.

A near hundred years following Thannhauser’s creation of this comprehensive compilation of photographs, Drei Ähren: 1915 gives twenty-first century viewers the opportunity to interpret this visual representation wartime Alsace though the perspective of Siegfried Thannhauser. Thannhauser’s photography gives us insight into his own experience of the First World War, providing an individual’s representation a conflict defined by the decisions of nations. Through the the widened availability of this exemplary album, we gain the ability to interact with otherwise inaccessible primary sources and facilitate a more thorough understanding of individual narrative within the context of the First World War.



Kriegserinnerungen: War Memories of Siegfried J. Thannhauser


     A German word translating to “War Memories”, Kriegserinnerungen is the title of Thannhauser’s photographic account of his service in the First World War after 1915. Following his time in Alsace, shown in Drei Ähren: 1915, Kriegserinnerungen is a departure from the previous album in terms of content and construction; creating a personal narrative of medicine in wartime through the use of field photography. Seen only by friends and family of Siegfried Thannhauser, each photograph featured within this selection is now, for the first time, widely available to the general public; encouraging the accessibility and interpretation of these visual representations of life of German servicemen during the First World War

When describing the contents of Kriegserinnerungen, it is important to distinguish the context of the pieces and how their representation within the original album. Following Thannhauser’s time in Alsace, he continued his service to the German army among valued medical personnel. While Thannhauser’s previous album, Drei Ähren: 1915, focuses on a single location, this collection of images spans a number of unknown locations in Western Europe – spanning from rural foxholes to scenes of urban environments devastated by war. Compiled between the chronological end of Thannhauser’s album retelling his time Alsace in 1915 and his departure from service in 1918, the majority of photographs in Kriegserinnerungen were presumably compiled between the 1916 and the end of the war in 1918. In comparison to the photography in Drei Ähren: 1915, it is evident that Thannhauser made use of another camera in his subsequent album – creating white bordered photographs, smaller in size than those in the previous album. Containing approximately thirty unique photographs, organized three to a page without the captions present in Drei Ähren: 1915. While Kriegserinnerungen shows a distinct shift in presentation from Thannhauser’s previous album, the content indicates a similar contrast.

Continuing Thannhauser’s photographic narrative of the First World War through the lens of medicine and conflict, Kreigserinnerungen presents contemporary audiences with clear visual illustrations of the physical effects of war on landscapes and the human body. As military engagement reached from the trenches into civilian zones, many European towns between Germany and France were redrawn by artillery fire. The wide range of structural damage caused by urban combat during the First World War is clear within the photographs of Kreigserinnerungen. Thannhauser’s experience as a physician shaped his perspective as a nonprofessional field photographer during the First World War – often focusing on medical personnel and recovering patients as subjects. Presenting a striking collection of wartime photographs to the viewer which emphasize the innate destructive impact of war, Kreigserinnerungen displays closer attention to effect of conflict on both landscape and the human body.

To contemporary learners, the widened availability of Siegfried Thannhauser’s field photography encourages interpretation of this visual narrative of the First World War. Available for the first time since since its creation, Siegfried Thannhauser’s Kreigserinnerungen provides perspective into the world of medicine and visuals of physical destruction brought about by the First World War.