About the ex­hi­bi­tion

The Virtual Exhibition 100 years First World War and November Revolution

The phenomenon of the war collections

The First World War, regarded by later generations as the great seminal catastrophe of the 20th century (George F. Kennan), was also seen by many contemporaries at the time as an incisive event of a previously unimaginable scale. This war was not only the first industrialised conflict, but also – even in the eyes of people at the time – the first media war in human history.

This power of the written word was also recognised by the librarians of the time and they decided to document this event by setting up collections of written material produced by the war. War collections thus started up everywhere, either privately or on the initiative of libraries. It is notable that many collections were dominated by a desire for completeness. Therefore, not only books, but also newspapers, posters, placards, flyers, letters, pictures, medals, postcards, photographs, music and films were also recorded.

The Deutsche Bücherei starts a new war collection

On 3 October the former Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig published its first announcement about the start of a new war collection in the Börsenblatt für den Deutschen Buchhandel [Journal of the Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association], the organ of the German bookselling trade, and requested help in compiling the new collection.

At the time of the concluding report of 1921, the collection comprised 35,000 books and brochures, 1,300 war maps, 60 official, legal and ordinance papers from the former occupied territories and over 600 war newspapers, prisoner camp and field hospital newspapers as well as homeland greetings from parishes, clubs, corporations and companies. In addition there were 15,000 posters, 150 airborne flyers and 40 capsules with single-page prints.

The First World War Collection project

Today the systematic card catalogue, which represents the main part of the collection, comprises 55 boxes with around 40,000 index cards. That does not include the posters, the ca. 2,000 single-page prints and the material that was discarded at an early stage, such as token money and food stamps. In the course of the retro-conversion of the old alphabetical catalogue of the Deutsche Bücherei between 1999 and 2005, the title details were saved in the database of the German National Library, thus making the items researchable according to formal criteria.

The objective of the overall "First World War Collection" project is to compile the remaining existing printed material on the First World War into a virtual collection and to improve the thematic research in the portal catalogue. The German National Library therefore wishes to support all interested parties in their search of the media and sources of the First World War. Inventory conservation measures ensure the usability of the stock on site. Selected digital sets provide direct access to the contents of the titles from 1914 – 1918.

The virtual exhibition

The virtual exhibition "100 Years First World War" makes visible the First World War Collection, which has now been compiled virtually. The intention is not only to exhibit the war, but also to bring media history closer, in combination with the war. The main reference will be the Deutsche Bücherei, its collection and exhibiting activities, and individual media types and pieces. In this manner, internet users can examine many of the digitised sources of the Leipzig War Collection.

The Revolution collection

Despite the general crisis, the Deutsche Bücherei began to collect revolutionary printed matter immediately after the outbreak of the November Revolution. Similar to the World War collection, the writings which sprang from the Revolution and the reshaping of the political landscape were regarded as indispensable material for future historical research. A call was sent out in 1919 in Germany and Austria to workers', soldiers', citizens', farmers' and people's councils, political parties, associations, the Reichswehr (armed forces of the Weimar Republic), individuals and private collectors. The collection was discontinued in late 1919 due to staffing shortages. Further work, especially interlibrary loans, was only conducted sporadically. By 1920 the collection included 2,532 posters, 6,855 leaflets and 732 newspapers.

Over time the newspapers became part of the regular holdings of the DB, the posters and leaflets remained in a separate collection and were distributed across various museums in the GDR in the 1960s. 4,680 posters and leaflets of these holdings are still usable today.