World War I had a profound impact on culture, society, and government in the United States, but many Americans neither realize it nor “think of it as their war,” says Wright State history professor Paul Lockhart.
Lockhart and other Wright State faculty members hope to change that perception—and explore the significance the Great War had on Dayton—with A Long, Long Way: Echoes of the Great War, a major project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.
Beginning in the fall of 2014, the project presents music, poetry, exhibits, and film to inspire understanding of the war. It involves faculty, staff, and students from around the College of Liberal Arts and others in the Miami Valley.
Lockhart hopes the project will “show as well as tell why World War I should matter to citizens of the world, to citizens of the United States, and to citizens of Dayton.”
While many universities are organizing academic conferences to mark the start of WWI this year, Wright State is taking a different approach with A Long, Long Way: Echoes of the Great War.
In an effort to appeal to a broad audience, A Long, Long Way is focused on the intersection of the Great War and the arts. It kicks off in October with a concert of popular music from WWI. Wright State’s annual Holidays in the Heartland concert in November will salute veterans and Armistice Day, while a concert next April will highlight poetry and classical music from the period. CELIA will also collaborate with the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance on two performances of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, with guest conductor Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops. Lockhart, who is Paul’s brother, will also spend a week in March serving as a CELIA’s Distinguished Visiting Artist, working with Wright State music students.
The project is organized under the umbrella of Wright State’s Ohio Center of Excellence in Collaborative Education, Leadership, and Innovation in the Arts (CELIA) and three faculty members: Lockhart, Ph.D., professor of history; Christopher Oldstone-Moore, Ph.D., senior lecturer in history; and Barry Milligan, Ph.D., professor of English. The faculty members spent the 2014 Spring Semester developing A Long, Long Way while serving as CELIA Fellows.
Great Turning Point in History
“No two-year period in American history is so transformative,” Paul Lockhart said. “America is a fundamentally different place in 1919 from what it had been in 1917.”
The period marked America’s first venture as a world power, and the first time the United States fought a foreign enemy on foreign soil, Lockhart said. The war effort at home was massive, far exceeding anything the country had ever attempted. The government began telling citizens what and how much to consume and manufacturers what to make and charge. The government also launched major propaganda campaigns to demonize the enemy.
“The government as this juggernaut that involves itself in industry and consumption and people’s private lives really is a product of World War I,” Lockhart said.
The years immediately following the war were tumultuous and transformative: Prohibition, women’s suffrage, the Great Migration, the Great Depression. Oldstone-Moore describes this period as the end of innocence and the beginning of modern society dominated by technology.
WWI also had a profound effect on culture and art, both in the United States and around the world. “There’s a huge cultural reaction by artists, as there was from intellectuals, to war and their common assumptions about civilizations,” Lockhart said.
During the war, about 35,000 songs were copyrighted in the U.S. alone, though only a small number were ever published or sung, Oldstone-Moore says. Publishers encouraged the public to submit poetry that could be turned into song.
“There’s this tremendous desire to express ideas and feelings through song and a tremendous desire of the American public to get to be a part of it,” Oldstone-Moore said.
The War and Art
Oldstone-Moore says one informative and powerful way to learn what World War I was like is to listen to the songs people sang about the conflict. During this period, people regularly sang together and many knew how to play an instrument.
A Long, Long Way begins in October with While Your Hearts Are Yearning, a concert of popular music from WWI featuring Wright State vocal students coached by music faculty Ginger Minneman and Kim Warrick. Highlighting music sung from the warfront and home front, the concert will represent the different dimensions of the war experience, ranging from patriotic hope, fearful sadness, sardonic bitterness, and sober relief.
Singing was “one of the primary ways in which people expressed themselves,” Oldstone-Moore said. “And I don’t think we can really understand World War I and what World War I was like if we cannot sing and listen to the songs.”
A Long, Long Way will feature several other concerts, including its most ambitious piece, a full staging of War Requiem, with Wright State Choirs, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, and the Kettering Children’s Chorus. Though Britten wrote the requiem in the early 1960s, he set the traditional Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead with poems about war by the English poet Wilfred Owen, who was killed during World War I.
“It’s the sentiment that is very much a product of that generation, of feeling loss and betrayal and the end of everything that was once good and light in the world,” Lockhart said.
The project will continue over the next several years with a documentary film on the United States during the war. The film, which Lockhart will write, will examine the war through Dayton, which the historian says is a “great representative of middle America in 1917, 1918.”
He is also working with Dayton History and Wright State’s Special Collections and Archives to organize an exhibit, Dayton in the Great War, opening at Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park in 2016.
Breaking Down Silos
A Long, Long Way shows CELIA’s full potential to organize large-scale projects involving faculty from different disciplines as well as community organizations. A unit of the College of Liberal Arts, CELIA serves as a conduit for collaborative endeavors in the arts, humanities, and social sciences on campus and in the community.
The CELIA Fellows program is designed to encourage collaboration among faculty, while breaking down silos in which they may find themselves within their departments or disciplines. The center “provides a safe atmosphere where faculty to get together, brainstorm in a think-tank environment, and come up with some really unique, interesting, groundbreaking, and significant things,” said Hank Dahlman, D.M.A., music professor and the center’s director.
Dahlman says the fellowship program’s artistic and academic potential can be seen in a project conducted last year by Crystal Lake, Ph.D., assistant professor of English Language and Literatures. Centered on the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Lake’s fellowship included organizing a successful national symposium on the Wright State campus and hosting a regency ball.
“Some might disagree with me, but I think it’s often a better thing when you look at things from a multidisciplinary way or very broad standpoint,” Dahlman said. “‘How can we work together and pull something off?’”
That effort can be seen in A Long, Long Way’s productions. Each event involves faculty members from different departments—including history, music, and English—working together to create an artistic presentation. Oldstone-Moore, a historian, organized a concert. Lockhart (history), Dennis Loranger (English and music), and Dahlman (music) are overseeing the Holidays in the Heartland concert. Milligan (English) and Loranger are producing the Poetry and Music Concert, featuring classical music inspired by the conflict.
Although collaboration is a focal point of many CELIA efforts, so too is providing an educational opportunities for Wright State students. For instance, the World War I productions will feature student performers, and students will get to spend a week learning alongside Keith Lockhart during his residency.
“In 25 years at Wright State, this is the most fun I’ve had,” Paul Lockhart said. “And part of that is getting as many people in this together—not just faculty, but students as well—and having them contribute to something that they can see the end result is really a kick for me.”