Home Before The Leaves Fall

28th Division parading down Chestnut Street, photograph, circa 1917,  Philadelphia War Photograph Committee collection [V03] The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

28th Division parading down Chestnut Street, photograph, circa 1917, Philadelphia War Photograph Committee collection [V03] The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

“Home Before the Leaves Fall: The Great War 1914-1918,” a collaborative commemoration of World War I by heritage and educational institutions through the City of Philadelphia, kicked off at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on June 26.   Peter John Williams, author of a pictorial history, Philadelphia The War Years delivered a talk that highlighted Philadelphia’s importance as the third largest city in the United States at the start of World War I and as a manufacturing powerhouse known as the “workshop of the world.”  Nearly 60, 000 Philadelphia men and 2,000 Philadelphia women served in World War I and thousands more worked in factories and shipyards supporting the war effort.  A large naval yard, munitions manufacturing, and an aviation training facility transformed Philadelphia during the years of the Great War into fully mobilized war time economy more commonly associated with the World War II home front.

Local Author  Peter John Williams speaking at the launch of Home Before the Leaves Fall at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Local Author Peter John Williams speaking at the launch of Home Before the Leaves Fall at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Home Before the Leaves Fall takes its name from the Kaiser’s promise to German soldiers in August of 1914 that “You will be home before the leaves fall from the trees.”  While the United States’ involvement in World War I was relatively brief, Home Before The Leaves Fall contains a wealth of digital resources for students, scholars, and the public that highlight the contributions of soldiers and civilians a hundred years ago to the war effort.  The multi-institutional project is accessed through a central portal www.wwionline.org.  Short research articles by local scholars focus on a range of topics from artists’ roles in World War I to the central role of chemists in manufacturing new munitions.  A helpful resources section highlights local archival holdings pertaining to World War I. These collections include the well-known to the recently digitized, such as the  Perkasie World War I Tobacco Fund Book which contains biographies and images of each Perkasie World War I soldier.  Additional materials will be added over the next four years and more archival partners are sought.

Two crowd-sourced projects are actively seeking public participation.  The Fallen of The Great War, a joint project of The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Villanova University Special Collections Department, and Heritage reports seeks to create a genealogical database of Philadelphia-area war dead.  Researchers may volunteer to document individuals.   Mail Call offers dramatic readings of materials from the War including letters as well as fiction, poetry, plays, and news.  The public is welcome to volunteer to read in future episodes.

Women's Land Army participating in a parade, photograph, circa 1917, Philadelphia War Photograph Committee collection [V03] The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Women’s Land Army participating in a parade, photograph, circa 1917, Philadelphia War Photograph Committee collection [V03] The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Home Before the Leaves Fall is only one of many digital projects occurring in conjunction with the centennial.  Often these massive projects rely on crowdsourced labor making them ideal for integration into classrooms or as a low-barrier entry to centennial commemorations by local history and heritage organizations.   The World War I Memorial Inventory Project, “a project to make the war’s centennial by assembling an online inventory of World War I memorials and monuments in the United States” is the brainchild of Washington D.C. Art historian Mark Levitch.  The simple format for documenting a memorial would make an ideal digital history project for a history course or local historical society.  The UK-based Operation War Diary, a project of the National Archives, the Imperial War Museum, and Zoonivese involves the public in transcribing and tagging content in diaries from World War I.  Closer to home, Peter John Williams has created a website companion to Philadelphia The War Years for which he seeks stories about Philadelphia Medal of Honor recipients as well as recollections of Philadelphia-area World War I veterans or stories of life in Philadelphia during the war years.

  “Mopping Up, Argonne, October 1918”, illustration, George Matthews Harding, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

“Mopping Up, Argonne, October 1918”, illustration, George Matthews Harding, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

In addition to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s small exhibit Home Before the Leaves Fall, which will be available digitally, Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts will mount an exhibition World War I and American Art in November of 2016.

Several institutions of Higher Education will offer conferences on World War I in the next year, including Legacy of World War I at Chestnut Hill College and The Myth of The  Great War at the University of Pennsylvania.

Associate Professor of History, Rosemont College

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