Centennial Series Marks World War I and the Russian Revolution

The series looks at the legacy of the U.S. entry into WWI, birth of Soviet Russia.

It is sometimes difficult to see what America’s entry into World War I and Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution have to do with the present, but it is vital to look back and think about what these monumental events mean for the world today, says Daniel Benjamin, the Norman E. McCulloch Jr. Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

That’s why the Dickey Center is co-hosting the 1917 Centennial Series, which looks at these times through the lens of history, graphic arts, film, literature, and political science. Also co-hosting the series are the Leslie Center for the Humanities, the Political Economy Project, and the departments of governmentRussianhistory, and film and media studies

Centennial events have run all term, with the final lecture by Yale history professor Timothy Snyder, “1917 Centennial Series: Origins of Unfreedom,” on Nov. 6, the anniversary of the “October Revolution.”

Snyder studies 20th-century Central and Eastern European history and the Holocaust. His best-selling book, On TyrannyTwenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century—applies the lessons of 20th-century Europe to present-day American politics.

“The Russian Revolution and the U.S. entry into World War I—which really was America’s first step toward being a global power—were such extraordinary events that this centennial gives us a chance to step away from the obsessions of the moment and try to better understand how we got here,” Benjamin says.

“The old order went into radical upheaval in Russia, across Europe and in the U.S.,” he says. “We’re seeing pretty dramatic events that affect our societies and states, so it’s all the more appropriate to consider how the past paved the way for the present, and also what the parallels are between 1917 and today.”

A detail from a Soviet poster depicting the armed insurrection in Petrograd on Nov. 7, 1917, that began the Bolshevik overthrow of the Russian Republic. (Image courtesy of Photos.com)

The legacy of World War I is in plain sight at Dartmouth. Dartmouth’s Memorial Field was built as a tribute to the 112 alumni who died in World War I. A plaque in honor of Dartmouth’s fallen in the Great War was installed by 47 Dartmouth Civil War veterans. The present-day equivalent would be Vietnam veterans putting up a memorial to the fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Let’s face it, changing habits of media consumption—especially the rise of news feeds through social media and the decline in newspaper readership—have eroded the historic sensibility of many, and especially young people. I thought it was an important to reengage with this history, and I was really pleased to have such strong engagement from our faculty,” Benjamin says.

A World War I poster exhibition is on display through October in the Nearburg Gallery in the Black Family Visual Arts Center. All events in the centennial series are free and open to the public.

On Friday, Oct. 27, “The Year that Shook the Arts—Literature and Cinema in the Russian Revolution,” will feature students from the Russian department reading from a collection of Russian poems from 1917. Boris Dralyuk, executive editor of ThLos Angeles Review of Books and translator of the collection, will discuss the work. Michele Leigh, assistant professor of film and media history at Southern Illinois University, will discuss cinema and revolutionary aesthetics. The event runs from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Loew Auditorium in the visual arts building.

On Nov. 6, historian Timothy Snyder will deliver the Mary and Peter R. Dallman 1951 Great Issues Lecture on “Origins of Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.” Snyder, who serves with Benjamin on the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. His latest book, On Tyranny, started as a Facebook post that quickly went viral. His lessons for confronting tyranny today include “Be kind to our language,” “Believe in truth,” and “Make eye contact and small talk.” Snyder will speak from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Filene Auditorium at Moore Hall.