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NYPL explores the American home front in new exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I
I Want You for U.S. Army. James Montgomery Flagg. New York: Leslie-Judge Co., 1917. The New York Public Library, Rare Book Division.

NEW YORK, NY.- The “war to end all wars” may have been fought on foreign soil, but a fierce battle raged in the United States as well, as the nation’s citizens and leaders vigorously debated the country’s relationship with the conflict.

The New York Public Library’s new free exhibition, Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind, explores this home front debate and examines the manner in which public relations, propaganda, and mass media — including the relatively new technologies of motion pictures and recorded sound — were used to influence and shape Americans’ opinions about the war.

The exhibition opens in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on July 28 — exactly 100 years after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, sparking the Great War and heated discussions within the United States.

"The controversy over the United States' involvement in World War I occasioned a period of marked social and political unrest as the country wrestled with questions over its role in the world and the very notion of Americanism itself," said Michael Inman, curator of the exhibition and NYPL's Curator of Rare Books. “Interestingly, many of the social and political issues that so animated the period — including freedom of speech and the press, xenophobia and the role of immigrants in American society, and domestic espionage, among others — continue to resonate loudly in our present world.”

The exhibition highlights individuals and organizations, along with key events, that helped to shape public opinion about the war in the U.S., including the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, the rise of the preparedness movement, the formation of the Committee on Public Information, and the enacting of the Espionage Act of 1917.

Materials from across the Library’s vast research collections highlight the myriad opinions, tactics, and media venues used to psychologically sway the American public. Items featured in the exhibition will include:

• propaganda posters, including the iconic Uncle Sam I Want You for U.S. Army recruitment advertisement

• sheet music for popular songs such as George M. Cohan’s patriotic number, “Over There”

• invasion and preparedness literature, including Hudson Maxim’s influential 1915 novel Defenseless America, which depicted the invasion and conquest of a weak, pacifist United States

• excerpts from propaganda movies of the period, including Winsor McCay’s landmark 1918 animated film, The Sinking of the Lusitania

• original sound recordings of wartime songs and speeches

• pamphlets, magazines, photographs from the home front and overseas, and much more.

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