Faculty forum to decode pre-WWI images of Germany

September 18, 2014

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. —The University of Wisconsin-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education will host its first faculty forum of the fall semester, “Foreshadowing 1914: Pre-war images of Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States,” on Thursday, Oct. 2, from 5-6:30 p.m. in 136 Doudna Hall, UW-Platteville. The event is free and open to the public.

Dr. Madelon Köhler-Busch, assistant professor of German at UW-Platteville, will be presenting and Dr. Adam Stanley, associate professor of history at UW-Platteville, will be responding.

Köhler-Busch’s presentation will chronicle and decode pre-WWI images of Germany used in the United States, France and Great Britain. She will discuss how the images of Germany changed as first France and Great Britain, and later, the United States, made the decision to enter the war and how the images changed public opinion about Germany, the German people and the war.

For example, an emblem of Germany used in the media in 1873 was a female soldier dressed in flowing robes, vigilantly but benignly overseeing an area of land overlooking the Rhine River. In contrast, an emblem of Germany used in the media in 1914 – when the United States, France and Great Britain knew there would be a war and, according to Köhler-Busch, wanted a war – is of a stern-faced female soldier dressed in metal armor, with sword in hand, against a fiery background.

Another example is an image used by American media in 1917 when the United States entered the war. The image shows a King Kong-like figure grasping a bloody club in one hand and holding a terrorized woman in the other with the New York City skyline in the background. The caption of the image is “Destroy This Mad Brute – Enlist.” Köhler-Busch said this image is a clear example of how the media manipulated images of Germany and used the images as tools to enlist men in the war and sell war bonds.

“The symbolic changes in how Germany was portrayed in the media in the United States, France and Great Britain were instrumental in changing people’s attitudes toward the war,” said Köhler-Busch. “This purposeful manipulation of images depicted Germany as ‘the enemy’ and as ‘the other’ and revealed the moment when governments decided they were ready to join in the war.”

Köhler-Busch said that today, the media is even more far-reaching and that people must be cognizant of its power. “It is our civic and humane duty to look at what is portrayed in the media, understand when it is being used to manipulate us, and try to identify the reasons why it may be attempting to do so. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?’”

This semester, Köhler-Busch teaches Beginning German, Intermediate German I, German Literature 20th Century and Folk and Fairy Tales. She also works with students in Independent Studies.

Following Köhler-Busch’s presentation, Stanley will respond. A 30-minute question and answer period will follow Stanley’s response. Refreshments will be served.

Contact: Madelon Köhler-Busch, department of humanities, (608) 342-7129, kohlerbuschm@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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