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Russian and German Postcards of First World War

Student: Olga Okhotnikova

Supervisor: Alexander Khriakov

Faculty: School of Arts and Humanities

Educational Programme: History (Bachelor)

Final Grade: 10

Year of Graduation: 2020

The work is devoted to the analysis of German and Russian postcards published and used during the First World War and the image of war which is formed on their basis. The choice of comparative perspective is determined by the problem of homogeneity of European cultural practices in depicting war. On this basis, the question was raised: were the ways of depicting typical attributes of war, such as allies, enemies, soldiers and civilians, the same for all participating countries, even the opposing ones, and were all these attributes typical? Besides the images themselves, the context and the social agents that influenced its creation are important in analyzing the postcards as a visual source. Such actors could be publishing companies, censors, photographers, artists, which makes the following question relevant: how did censorship, public sentiment and production conditions influence the visual content of the cards in Russia and Germany? The research conducted with sources and historiography showed that the context of postcard production in the Russian and German empires was very similar. The general patriotic mood of the wartime political culture determined most of the topics displayed in the postcards of both countries. Although censorship had different degrees of effectiveness in Russia and Germany, it still limited the field of interpretation of events that did not prevent various participants from being involved in the process of publishing postcards. The diversity of publishers, which included not only large publishers and charitable societies under the patronage of the imperial family, but also small printers and private sellers, contributed to the emergence of many various themes related to the war on the postcards. Analysis of individual cases shows the inclusion of new themes and their interpretations in the image of war. For example, the exploitation of children's images not only as victims of the war, but also as active participants in it, extends the landscape of war images to groups of society traditionally not included in it, and indicates the totality of war, in which all possible resources are used for the benefit of the belligerent state. In addition, the new total character of war also manifests itself in the inclusion in the image field of extremely atrocious behavior of the enemy, the victory over which is interpreted as an important goal for the entire "civilized" world. At the same time, the counter-argument about its own culture created the dichotomy of images of war, as the violence of the new war coexisted with the thesis about the need for mercy, which was based on the traditional view of military conflict. The new image was also created by front photographs, which was conditioned both by the fact of wide distribution of war photographs for the first time during the First World War and by the peculiarities of these photographs related to the limitations of technical facilities and censorship. According to the photographic postcards, the war seems to be motionless and the frontline peaceful, which contributed to the construction of a new "documentary" narrative, which was not like patriotic drawings that romanticized the war and aggressively propagated courage and heroism, or actual frontline life. Despite the few examples of differences between subjects and their representations on Russian and German postcards, the vast majority of the material that was analyzed demonstrates their similarities in most of the practices of representation and semantic accents put into images. And although the objects of praise and mockery are diverse, the methods of this praise and mockery do not differ much from each other and are the product of a common cultural environment. Thus, the postcards of the First World War from different countries, even those struggling with each other, can trace the existence of a common European cultural practice and the homogeneity of total mobilization.

Full text (added May 23, 2020)

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