WWI Immigrant Poetry Project

Newspaper scrap from the WWI Immigrant Poetry Project, reads "Bon Frei!"

WWI Immigrant Poetry Project

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Lorie Vanchena
Associate Professor, German Studies University of Kansas
Digital Archives TEI-XML Digital Edition


The WWI Immigrant Poetry Project creates a digital repository and annotated edition of poems written by German Americans during the decade of the Great War. Largely absent from scholarship on the history and culture of Germans and their descendants in America, this poetry sheds light on the complexities of German-American national identity during a time of upheaval and significant change for this immigrant group—the largest and most established non-English-speaking ethnic group in the United States on the eve of the First World War. The war, particularly after the U.S. entered the conflict in 1917, generated widespread and often virulent anti-German sentiment that would largely silence these ethnic voices by the end of the war. Written in both German and English, the poems convey a variety of perspectives on the global conflict, including jingoistic expressions of sympathy for the German Empire, patriotic support for America’s neutrality policy and its later declaration of war, and lamentations over the human cost of war. The WWI Immigrant Poetry Project seeks to preserve these poems, which were initially published in periodicals and anthologies, and make them accessible in a digital space for scholars, teachers, students, and the wider public.

The WWI Immigrant Poetry Project grew out of the centennial commemoration of World War I. It was intentionally designed as a high-impact educational experience for undergraduate students, who have contributed to all aspects of the project: identifying poems in primary sources, transcribing and encoding poems in XML, and creating the project’s web tool and other digital content. The project also sought to utilize archival collections held by the University of Kansas Max Kade Center for German-American Studies, most notably the periodical Bahn frei!, the newsletter of the New York Turn Verein (gymnastic society). The New York Turn Verein Archives held by the Center complement collections related to the Lawrence Turnverein held by the Max Kade Center, Watkins Museum of History, and Kenneth Spencer Research Library. The Center partnered with the Watkins on programs related to the Museum’s exhibit, “Community and Culture: The Lawrence Turnverein” (fall 2017-February 2018).

This project began with a digital humanities seed grant from the University of Kansas Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities (IDRH), which made it possible to hire three undergraduates. IDRH staff trained the students and project director in TEI and encoding in XML. Research for the WWI Immigrant Poetry Project has identified virtually unknown sources of German-American poetry beyond those currently included in the archive. We plan to continue adding annotated poems to the site.