Picturing the Eastern Front: Postcards and Watercolors from the Gustav Klemp World War I German Graphic Materials Collection

One hundred years ago, Gustav Klemp, a trained artist from Podgorz-Thorn in what was then West Prussia, served as a medic in the German Army on the Eastern Front in World War I. Today, selections from the postcards and artwork he sent home to his wife and family during the war are on display outside of Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) in Fenwick Library.

The journey that the collection took to get to Mason reflects the complex 20th century history of the former German Empire and Eastern Europe. After Germany and Austria-Hungary’s defeat in the First World War, Poland became an independent nation for the first time since the 18th century. The victorious Allied Powers gave most of West Prussia to the new country, and the Klemps and other ethnic Germans in the province were given the choice to become Polish citizens or emigrate elsewhere. Klemp and his family chose to leave for the United States, and they initially went to Iowa before settling in Wisconsin. Their hometown of Podgorz-Thorn is now Torun, Poland. Gustav Klemp’s grandson, Richard Passig, resides in the DC area, and he donated his grandfather’s extensive collection of postcards and original watercolors and sketches to SC&A in autumn 2014, one hundred years after the outbreak and early months of the war in which his grandfather served.

Watercolor by Gustav Klemp of a grenade exploding, March 1916

Watercolor by Gustav Klemp of a grenade exploding (March 1916). Gustav Klemp World War I German graphic materials collection, Box 1, Page 22. George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives. Copyright not held by George Mason University Libraries. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives.

Klemp’s postcards and artwork provide an intimate portrait of what life was like for ordinary men on the front lines of World War I. Klemp himself was not a soldier (he was in his early 30s during the war, and was older than the ideal age to fight), but he lived alongside and experienced many of the same hardships as the men he tended to as a medic. Several of the postcards that Klemp sent home show soldiers and medical staff in the downtime between the German Army’s offensives against the Russian Empire in modern-day Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. Klemp himself is featured in many of the photos, playing cards, celebrating Christmas in bunkers, and sitting and smoking with his comrades.

Gustav Klemp (bottom left) celebrating Christmas 1915 with his comrades.

Gustav Klemp (bottom left) celebrating Christmas 1915 with fellow staff and soldiers (December 1915). Gustav Klemp World War I German graphic materials collection, Box 1, Page 6. George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives. Copyright not held by George Mason University Libraries. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives.

The collection is remarkable for the human face that it provides for an army that was the enemy of the Allied Powers, including the United States beginning in April 1917. In the spirit of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and the French film Joyeux Noel, both of which illustrate the common experiences of soldiers and staff on both sides of the First World War, SC&A is proud to present Picturing the Eastern Front: Postcards and Watercolors from the Gustav Klemp World War I German Graphic Materials Collection, on exhibit until April 2015.

The Booknotes Oral History Program

Some of the 801 volumes that are part of the Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection, George Mason University Libraries, Special Collections & Archives.

Some of the 801 volumes that are part of the Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection, George Mason University Libraries, Special Collections & Archives.

One of the many unique collections housed here at University Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives department is the Booknotes collection. Booknotes was a popular television program on C-SPAN hosted by the network’s creator, Brian Lamb, which ran from April 1989 through December 2004. The weekly hour-long program featured intense and educational one-on-one interviews with non-fiction authors. Notable guests included Hillary Clinton, David McCullough, and David Crosby, as well as former presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. A grant from the C-SPAN Education Foundation has allowed SC&A to preserve Lamb’s personal copies of the 801 books that were covered on the program along with notes, correspondence with authors, and reviews.

To add to this collection the “Booknotes Oral History Project” began in the spring of 2014. The project interviews authors who appeared on and others who were involved with the Booknotes television program.  To date we have completed 25 interviews. Through these interviews we investigate the impact of Brian Lamb, C-SPAN, and Booknotes on then-contemporary political thought, the reading public, and the individuals involved.

Author Douglas Brinkley. Courtesy of Rice University.

Author Douglas Brinkley. Courtesy of Rice University

Our most recent interview took place on December 11, 2014 with author Dr. Douglas Brinkley. Dr. Brinkley is a leading historian in American, corporate, presidential, and conservation history who is a professor at Rice University, a fellow at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy, the history commentator for CBS News, and a contributing editor to the magazines Vanity Fair and American Heritage. Because of his prominence we were enthusiastic to secure Dr. Brinkley’s interview.

Author Douglas Brinkley appearing on the Booknotes program, April 18, 1993. Courtesy of the C-SPAN Booknotes website.

Author Douglas Brinkley appearing on the Booknotes program, April 18, 1993. Courtesy of the C-SPAN Booknotes website

Despite suffering from a chest cold, Dr. Brinkley spoke for nearly an hour about his experience on the program and how his Booknotes appearance, and subsequent friendship with Brian Lamb, ignited the career of the newly-emerging scholar. Dr. Brinkley appeared on Booknotes on April 18, 1993 to discuss his book ­­­­­­The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey. The early exposure of Booknotes was a huge launching pad for his career. This helps to show not only how the program could affect an individual author’s career, but it also shows the ways in which Brian Lamb and C-SPAN were tastemakers, influencing which authors became significant voices in American thought.


[Excerpt from Booknotes Oral History Project Interview with Dr. Douglas Brinkley, December 11, 2014, Booknotes Oral History Collection #R0143. Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.]

 

Dr. Brinkley also discussed how important he thinks the Booknotes collection and oral history project are.


[Excerpt from Booknotes Oral History Project Interview with Dr. Douglas Brinkley, December 11, 2014, Booknotes Oral History Collection #R0143. Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.]

The complete Booknotes collection is available for viewing in the SC&A Reading Room, Floor 2, Wing C of Fenwick Library.

You can view the entire interview here.

Gilbert & Sullivan Come to Mason Libraries

George Mason University has announced the intention of benefactor David Stone to bequeath his massive collection on Gilbert and Sullivan to the University Libraries’ Special Collection & Archives.  In a Mason News story by Corey Jenkins Schaut at http://newsdesk.gmu.edu/2014/10/gilbert-sullivan-collection-make-home-mason/, the collection is described as “a treasure trove of Gilbert and Sullivan memorabilia, from original manuscripts to production materials to letters and personal effects of the two men and their partner, Richard D’Oyly Carte.”  The University plans to feature selected Gilbert and Sullivan treasures in occasional exhibitions stating this December.  The University Libraries is honored to be the future home of this collection with its inestimable research value for Mason faculty and students as well as scholars world-wide. The collection complements existing strengths in performing arts collections such as the Arena Stage Archives and Federal Theatre Project Collections.

IMG_1784_small

Annabelle and David Stone with a original poster of The Mikado

For example, the University Libraries’ Federal Theatre Project Collection includes materials on the “Swing Mikado,” a version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, put to “swing” music and staged with an all-Black cast.  Visit the FTP Collection finding aid for more information at http://sca.gmu.edu/finding_aids/ftp.html.

Swing Mikado

Costume design for Swing Mikado, Federal Theatre Project Collection, C0002.

Happy Halloween!

Special Collections and Archives would like to wish everyone a happy Halloween!

Here’s a photograph featuring Mason students in their Halloween costumes from 1990:

Halloween disguise

George Mason University photograph collection, Collection #R0120, box 90, folder 2, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.