The University of Tulsa’s Department of Special Collections recently acquired over one hundred and thirty World War posters to add to our existing collection of propaganda and ephemera from this era. As part of the acquisition and cataloguing process, each poster has been photographed and included in the Special Collections and University Archives database. Interested parties can search the images and find information about their artist and publication via our digital collection.
World War I posters offer a fascinating glimpse into the concerns and attitudes of the day. Like any primary source, the World War posters serve multiple functions. As art pieces, these prints make use of bold graphics, saturated colors, and evocative symbols of patriotism and the home front. As propaganda, these posters employ strong language that encourages the viewer to support the war effort through personal and financial sacrifice as well as a sense of patriotic duty.
Some of the posters deal with the practical aspects of war like manpower and service to country through visual and textual messages that encourage men to enlist in the armed forces and women to become nurses or join the Red Cross. The movement of women from the home into the workplace that began in WWI helped pave the way for post-war suffrage and liberation efforts. Other posters illustrate the worries over food shortages in Europe (especially Belgium) and the ‘Near East’. These posters are especially effective due to their deployment of sentimental imagery and text that tells of the starving millions and their dependence on American generosity. Many of the posters rely on patriotic and nationalistic imagery, regardless of country. It is interesting to note how many of the American posters contain references to the Revolutionary War while many of the British examples emphasize Britain’s naval power.
“Do your bit!” is the overarching theme and it is explicitly stated in many of these pieces. The idea of collective, patriotic action and other issues related to life on the home front and front lines will be explored throughout the University of Tulsa’s and the Special Collections and University Archives’ World War I related programming.