Carolina in the Trenches: Localizing the Experiences of WWI

Heather R Perry, Associate Professor of History, UNC Charlotte

WWI is the root of our modern society and it is all around us in ways that most people are unaware. Moving away from a strictly “military history” or “battle history” of WWI and instead looking at it through the “War’s Impact on Society” lens reveals a truly fascinating moment of transformation. There are many ways to take “boring WWI history” and connect it to crucial elements of modern society, politics and culture. The crux of this seminar is to find ways to engage students in unfamiliar history by showing its relevance to contemporary objects, politics, rituals, literature, and everyday culture. We will focus on the social, cultural, and local impacts of the First World War. Most people consider the war from a strictly military point of view — if they consider it at all. But WWI also marked the emergence of modern art, literature, and music. It transformed the identities of all Americans and opened new chapters in race and gender relations. Medical and technological advances from the war came home and transformed American lives. Fellows will first look at how WWI shaped the modern American economy, environment, art, music, race and gender relations. Then we will look more closely at how the war impacted Charlotte and the Carolinas in particular, including establishment of the US Army military training camp at Camp Greene in Charlotte, and the first US internment camp for German prisoners in Hot Springs, NC. We will examine how WWI transformed Charlotte from a minor city to a Southern crossroads and metro center and the wider impacts on commerce, trade and agriculture in the Carolinas. Possible field trip ideas include the Carolina Room at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the Atkins Library Special Collections at UNC Charlotte, the Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte Museum of History and the Bechtler Art Museum of Modern Art. Fellows will also explore how to use on-line tools and databases to create interactive learning activities for students (and learners of all ages).