Cases in Special Collections are filled with documents related to the history surrounding the Treaty of Versailles. photo by Gabe Powell

McFarlin exhibit explores history of Versailles

Special Collections displays documents, writing and photos relating to World War I and the peace treaty that ended it.

The sounds of gunfire and mortar shells streaking through the air famously ceased at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. Germany surrendered to the Allied powers on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, begging the question: what happens next? The world had just endured the biggest conflict up to that point in history, involving 32 countries and the death of 20 million civilians and soldiers. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, officially ending the Great War.

Upon entering the Special Collections room on the fifth floor of McFarlin Library, you will see a display case devoted to the League of Nations, an international committee created in the aftermath of World War I, with the sole purpose of preventing another global war. The display case contains photographs taken around the time the treaty was signed, as well as a copy of the treaty itself.

The rest of the displays in the room exhibited work from notable authors of that era such as Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and Rebecca West.

Robert Graves is known for his 1927 biography of T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of the Arabs.” It tells the fantastic tale of how Lawrence, in coordination with the British government, banded together the tribes of Saudi Arabia in opposition to the Ottoman Empire in the Eastern front of WWI. Film buffs will recognize this story as the plot of the classic film “Lawrence of Arabia,” which won seven Oscars in 1963.

Sassoon wrote many poems describing the harrowing nature of trench warfare, causing his fellow Brits to label him as unpatriotic. He did, however, receive a Military Cross for risking his life to save his brothers-in-arms in May 1916 after a failed raid on German trenches. His portrayal of the horrors of war, contempt for bloodthirsty generals and disregard for apathetic politicians set him apart from many of his contemporaries who wrote proudly about military camaraderie and honor.

Rebecca West was a suffragist who weaved topics of class and gender inequality into her wartime novels. One of her earliest novels, “The Return of a Soldier,” tells the story of a soldier who returned home and forgot the past 15 years of his life along with memories of the war. She makes a critique of the early 20th century English class system and the way women were considered inferior to men, making her novel socially relevant even today.

The exhibit offers a rare opportunity to examine original manuscripts, photos and letters from the early 20th century to students who are interested. Not all items on display are available for use, however, and students must ask permission from the Librarian of Special Collections. The exhibit is open from eight to five on weekdays.

Post Author: Gabe Powell