-Andrew Rock, Contributing Writer
One hundred years ago, soldiers hunkered in muddy trenches as artillery shells and machine gun bullets screamed through the air. The flames of war had engulfed Europe, and the world would never be the same.
World War I was one of the 20th century’s most important conflicts, and the Mississippi College School of Humanities and Social Sciences, along with the Honors Program, will commemorate it this fall with a series of lectures and classes about different aspects of the war.
Throughout the fall semester, experts from across the South will deliver lectures in Aven Hall at 7:00 p.m. These sessions are free, and anyone is welcome to come. There will be lectures on Sept. 30, Oct. 14, Oct. 28, and a student-led memorial service on Nov. 11.
On Sept. 30, historian William Storey from Millsaps College will come to MC and speak on the role of technology during the war. He spoke at length about the stories students have to look forward to in his lectures.
“Industrialized battlefields were terrifying places,” Storey said. The technology often “led to such slaughter.”
However, this wasn’t always the case. Storey has some surprises for listeners on Sept. 30. He said that the Great War was more than just trenches and bayonet charges at machine guns. In fact, many soldiers developed creative tactics to avoid the dangers of the battlefield.
Despite this adaptation, Storey spoke of the “staggering” casualties incurred on all sides, and mentioned that Americans often forget the sheer scale of the killing. Steven Patterson, associate professor of history, elaborated on this particular cost of conflict.
Patterson focuses on the question “how did soldiers experience the war?” He said that it was not just Schlieffen Plans and tactical maneuvers, but real people dying in droves. The lectures this semester are a great way to learn some of their stories.
Patterson said that it is hard not to be emotionally affected by this “compelling and sorrowful tale,” speaking of the terrible conditions and high mortality. Countless young men were “in the mud, dying of disease,” in the trenches along the Western Front.
These stories become more personal when one remembers that many of these soldiers were college-aged. Patterson said that the memorial service on Nov. 11 will be a time of “somber remembrance” for these young men. MC artists will read poetry and sing songs written by the soldiers of World War I.
Two more famous artists influenced by the war were J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Both authors served in the British Army during the Great War. Jonathan Randle, chairman of the English Department, explained how it shaped the tales they told.
He said that Tolkien and Lewis took the horrors they experienced and “medievalized” them. For example, Tolkien took the vast battlefields of the Western Front and converted them into epic fantasy clashes such as “Helm’s Deep.”
Randle said that many of the memorable aspects of Tolkien and Lewis’ tales, such as the sense of camaraderie and loss, originate in their memories of World War I. Anyone who has enjoyed “Lord of the Rings” will want to hear the upcoming lectures about the war that spawned it. Randle said that the sessions are “a chance to engage in what a liberal arts education is about.”
These lectures are a rare opportunity to learn about a largely forgotten, but crucially important, war. From the terrifying role of technology, to the influence of battle on timeless authors, students are invited to learn about how World War I shaped the Western world.