Thursday, August 27, 2015

Death of Empires: A Multidisciplinary Humanities Conference on World War I at Daemen College: September 18-19, 2015


World War I and the Death of Empires Conference

The historical and literary legacy of World War I is the focus of the Death of Empires Conference scheduled for September 18-19, 2015, at Daemen College (4380 Main Street, Amherst, NY).

The Death of Empires Conference is presented by the Departments of English; History & Political Science; and Visual & Performing Arts at Daemen College. The conference will bring together humanities scholars, humanities educators, and the general public to share research findings and explore the impact of the Great War on the home front and the battlefront, as well as the war's place in public memory. Members of the general public and students are invited to attend the academic sessions along with the related performances and exhibits, which examine the meaning and legacy of World War I through a variety of academic disciplines and media. All events are free and open to the public.

Dog made of foil from cigarette packets in France during World War I
by Private William Farrar. Farrar served in the West Yorkshire Regiment of 
the British army and was killed in fighting in 1916.
(Collection of Dr. Robert Waterhouse)

Planned to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the war, the conference features humanities-based academic and artistic presentations that consider the pivotal role of World I in bringing about the death of empires and the creation of a new world order. Sometimes described as the first "modern war," World War I erased distinctions between "war front" and "home front," amplified ethnic tensions, and signaled the limits of imperial power in ways that continue to resonate today. 

Trench warfare. (Photo courtesy of Zenon Harasym)

The Death of Empires Conference includes five components:  I. Research Presentations by American and international scholars organized into panel sessions; II. "The Collapse of Empires: The View from Warsaw (Poland) During World War I," conference keynote address by Dr. Robert Blobaum; III. "The Rose that Grows in No Man's Land," a theatrical reading of women's wartime writing by Buffalo's Red Thread Theatre Company; IV. "Little Empires: Toy Soldiers during the Great War, 1914-1918," an exhibit of military-themed toys; and V. Nikifor Exhibit: artworks by "primitive" artist Nikifor Krynicki (1895-1968) from the Lemko region of Poland. (Keep reading for more details about each part of the conference.)

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"Changes to Europe After World War I," from "40 Maps that Explain World War I"

I. RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS BY AMERICAN AND INTERNATIONAL SCHOLARS Saturday, September 19. Papers are organized into four panel sessions (8:15-10:00am, 10:15-12:00, 2:30-4:00pm, and 4:15-5:45pm) in RIC 120 (Research and Information Commons.)

Session 1: The Great War and Historical Memory (8:15-10:00, RIC 120)
  • Keeping the Lost Empire Alive in Nazi Germany (Willeke Sandler, Loyola University)
  • Gun Smoke in Lettow’s Jungle: German East Africa Between the Wars (Thomas Pennington, New York University)
  • Remembering an Ottoman War: The Great War and the ‘Other’ in Modern Turkey (Pheroze Unwalla, York University) 
    • Chair & Comment by Penny Messinger (Daemen College)
Session 2: The War at Home: British and American Women’s World War I Fiction (10:15-12:00, RIC 120) 
  • Larsen’s Brian Redfield: The African American War Veteran in Passing (Jennifer Haytock, College at Brockport, SUNY) 
  • ‘Food is a Weapon’: From Farming to Fighting in Willa Cather’s One of Ours (Stacy Hubbard, University at Buffalo, SUNY) 
  • ‘Not intimate enough a contact’: Sensory Experience in The Return of the Soldier (Hannah Fogerty, University at Buffalo, SUNY) 
  • ‘This Is Not Fanciful’: Gertrude Stein’s Ambulance Work in the Great War (Christopher Leslie, New York University)  
    •  Chair & Comment by Charlie Wesley (Daemen College)
Session 3: Untold Stories of an Empire in Peril: Belgium and Its Colony during World War I (2:30-4:00, RIC 120)
  • Untold Stories: Invading Homes. Billeting in Belgium’s Etappengebiet (1914-1918). A Story of Living in Harmony? (Sebastiaan Vanderbogaerde, Ghent University)
  • ‘We did not go to war for Congo, but for Belgium’. Congolese Soldiers and Carriers facing the First World War (Enika Ngongo, Université Saint-Louis-Bruxelles)
  • Untold stories: Cohabitating with the Allies. Canadian troops on the Ypres Salient (1915-1918) (Nathalie Tousignant, Université Saint-Louis-Bruxelles) 
    • Chair & Comment by Andrew Kier Wise (Daemen College)
Session 4: The Birth of a New World Order (4:15-5:45, RIC 120)
  • Gender and Nation or Nation and Gender? Wincenta Tarnawska as a Case Study from the Periphery of World War I (Tomasz Pudłocki, Jagiellonian University)
  • From Buffalo to Moscow: Anna and Boris Reinstein and the Socialist Response to the First World War (Penny Messinger and Andrew Kier Wise, Daemen College)
  • A Document to End all Freedom of Movement: World War I and the Birth of the Modern Passport System (Yaron Jean, University of Haifa) 
    • Chair & Comment by Hamish Dalley (Daemen College)

"European Powers Carve Up Africa," from "40 Maps that Explain World War I"

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II.  DR. ROBERT BLOBAUM, "THE COLLAPSE OF EMPIRES:  THE VIEW FROM WARSAW (POLAND) DURING WORLD WAR I," conference keynote address. Saturday, September 19, 1:00-2:15pm (Social Room, Wick Center)
  • Dr Robert Blobaum, a noted historian with expertise in the history of Poland and Eastern Europe, will deliver the keynote address for the conference, "The Collapse of Empires: The View from Warsaw (Poland) during World War I," based on research for his forthcoming book manuscript. Dr. Blobaum is Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of History at West Virginia University.

Keynote speaker Dr. Robert Blobaum

In his lecture, Dr. Blobaum will discuss the collapse of first Russian and then German imperial power in 1915 and 1918 respectively from the perspective of the Warsaw street. He will also address the existential catastrophe that confronted Warsaw's resident population as a consequence of the war between the empires that had dominated Poland since the partitions. In the process Professor Blobaum will highlight other important themes, including the continuity of local Polish and Jewish elites in the war's political transitions, the role of women on the Warsaw home front, and how the Great War has figured in memory and memorialization of the war in the Polish capital.

Robert Blobaum is the Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of Modern European History at West Virginia University. He has published several books and dozens of articles on the history of Poland in the twentieth century, including Rewolucja: Russian Poland, 1904-1907 (Cornell University Press, 1995), winner of the Oskar Halecki Prize for the best book on Polish history published in that year. His current book project explores everyday life in Warsaw during the First World War.

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III. "THE ROSE THAT GROWS IN NO MAN'S LAND," a theatrical reading of women's wartime writing by Buffalo's Red Thread Theatre Company. Saturday, September 19, 7:30-8:30pm (Alumni Lounge, Wick Center)

JOSEPHINE HOGAN, LAURA MIKOLAJCZYK and JESSICA WEGRZYN present a staged reading of letters and diary entries by women during World War One.

L-R: Jessica Wegrzyn, Laura Mikolajczyk, and Josephine  Hogan

Nurses, workers, mothers, wives and sweethearts documented The Great War on the home front, in the hospitals of France, and in ships at sea. These letters and diaries provide a commentary both on "the war to end all wars" and on the ways in which the roles and rights of women became transformed between 1914 and 1918.
"....People pooh poohed us and said things like: 'Oh, you'll never be used, you know. The Red Cross will never be used.'"
- Gladys Pole, VAD
"At midnight, the first shell came over us with a shriek....We got a motor ambulance and packed in 20 men. We told them to go as far as the bridge and send it back for us. It never came."
- Sarah MacNaughton, nurse and novelist, 1914

(Nettie) Eurice Trax served with the Army Nurse Corps, part of the the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) presence in France. She described her wartime experiences in a letter to her mother: 

Excerpt from undated letter from (Nettie) Eurice Trax to her mother. Trax's wartime correspondence is included in the WWI Veteran's History Project of the U.S. Library of Congress.
Nettie Eurice Trax (whose letter is quoted above) was a nurse with the Army Nurse Corps and worked at the US Army Base Hospital 18. (Group photo of hospital staff from the Nettie Eurith Trax Collection, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center of the U.S. Library of Congress)

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IV. "Little Empires: Toy Soldiers during the Great War, 1914-1918," an exhibit of antique military-themed toys, on display in the Research and Information Commons (RIC), from September 8 to September 30.  

This collection of toy soldiers made in Germany, Britain, France and the USA during World War I explores ways in which toy manufacturers represented the war to children on the home front.  The exhibit features toys from the private collection of Dr. Robert Waterhouse.

Prussian officer (manufactured by Heyde of Dresden), collection of Dr. Robert Waterhouse

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V. The Nikifor Exhibit: Paintings by "primitive" artist Nikifor Krynicki (1895-1968)

Conference attendees are invited to visit the exhibit of 50 artworks by Nikifor (also known as Epifaniy Drovnyak, Epifaniusz Drowniak, or Nikifor Krynicki), from the spa town of Krynica in the Lemko region of southeastern Poland. This exhibit has been arranged in conjunction with the conference. The exhibition of 50 watercolors will open on September 10 and continue until October 2 (Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00) at the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Gallery, Haberman Gacioch Arts Center at Daemen College. Conference attendees are invited to visit the exhibit on September 18, from 3:00-5:00pm. The exhibit will also open for viewing on Saturday, September 19. 

Nikifor Krynicki was a self-taught artist whose works are regarded as some of the finest examples of naïve (primitive) art of the twentieth century. Nikifor was greatly affected by World War I, which reshaped the political map in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire where he was born. Professor Jacek Frączak (Missouri State University) organized the exhibition, which includes artworks from his family's private collection and the Alfons Karny Museum of Sculpture in Białystok, Poland. This exhibit at Daemen is the first time this collection has been exhibited in the United States; after leaving Daemen, the collection will travel to the Polish Museum of America in Chicago.

Nikifor Krynicki's Nikifor on a Walk 
(undated) watercolor. Image courtesy of Jacek Frączak

Nikifor Krynicki, Two-part Painting: Scenes in a Church (undated watercolor)
Image courtesy of Jacek Frączak

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** The conference and exhibition organizers gratefully acknowledge the financial support that has made our events possible. Financial sponsorship for the conference and the Nikifor exhibit has been provided by Collegiate Village, with additional support by the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo. We also deeply appreciate the support and assistance provided by Ms. Pat Smith of the Office of Institutional Advancement.

The research presentations and Dr. Blobaum's keynote address are presented by the Department of English and the Department of History & Political Science. The Nikifor exhibition is presented by Daemen's Polish Studies Program and the Department of Visual and Performing Arts. The Red Thread Theatre reading and the "Little Empires" toy exhibit are presented by the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

The conference organizing committee includes Dr. Andrew Wise and Dr. Penny Messinger from Daemen's History & Political Science Department; Dr. Hamish Dalley and Dr. Nancy Marck from the English Department; Dr. Robert Waterhouse of the Visual and Performing Arts Department; and Dr. Tomasz Pudlocki of of Jagiellonian University (Kracow, Poland), who is joining the History & Political Science Department for the Fall 2015 semester as a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence.

** For more information about the conference or any of the events, please write to **

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