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Images of War in Burling Library

Students and staff discuss images of Russia during World War I. Photo by Jun Taek Lee
Students and staff discuss images of Russia during World War I. Photo by Jun Taek Lee

This Wednesday, Nov. 5, Burling Library hosted a roundtable event to explore the imagery of Russia during World War I. The event was chosen in light of the Center for the Humanities’ theme for the year, “A Century of War: 1914 and Beyond.”
The event, co-sponsored by the Russian Department, Center for the Humanities and the Faulconer Gallery, gathered students and scholars from the Grinnell community to discuss images of war pertinent to Russia during World War I.
Professor Kelly Herold, Russian, kicked off the night with her analysis of the canonical Russian literary work, “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy. Herold pointed out that the roundtable event was directly connected to the War and Peace Project, exhibited in the Burling Library basement, which served as a visual aid for her discussion. The War and Peace Project is an exhibition of collages created from the actual pages of a “War and Peace” manuscript.
According to Herold, Tolstoy’s influence was crucial to the formation of public opinion in Russia during the war. Tolstoy’s words were not only pertinent to World War I, but also were revived and reframed by many during World War II.
“The image he created of the Russian war and the Russian soldiers remains a part of Russian literary culture and Russian visual culture,” Herold said. “There’s no narrator who’s different from Tolstoy, although it seems like there might be. But as you read on and on and on, Tolstoy suddenly appears and he’s speaking to you, the reader.”
Professor Edward Cohn, History, soon took the spotlight to discuss Russia’s role in World War I through an age of revolution.
“Even though Russia was one of the military powers in World War I, and even though that war played a role in shaping the Russian Revolution, World War I is also the forgotten war for Russia in several ways,” Cohn said. “I think World War I would have been more or less invisible, but I think it’s less prominent than in other European countries who were involved in World War I.”
After a historical analysis of Russia during and after World War I, Kristin Romberg, an Assistant Professor of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led a discussion of representations of war in Russian art of the 20th century.
Romberg began her discussion with Kazimir Malevich, an icon in the art world due to his notable pioneering work on geometric abstract art and the avant-garde Suprematist movement. As she moved through her presentation, Romberg helped the roundtable members see how Russian art of the 20th century was directly influenced by the war.
Despite its heavy topic, Wednesday night’s roundtable discussion offered a chance to examine Russia through an interdisciplinary lens.

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