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About North Carolinians and the Great War

"North Carolinians and the Great War" examines how the first modern war, World War I, transformed the lives of selected individual Tar Heels and shows the lasting impression the military conflict left on the economy, politics, and public policy of North Carolina.

The state strongly supported the war effort, with nearly 87,000 Tar Heels, both men and women, black and white, serving in Europe between 1917 and 1919. Over 6,000 of North Carolina's own were either killed or wounded. At home, newly created state and federal agencies, charitable organizations, and educational institutions collected nearly $250 million in special taxes, war bonds, and donations; supplied more than $160 million worth of food; and contributed large quantities of clothing, fuel, and other resources to support the nation's military forces. The public and private sectors inspired such resolve by actively whipping up patriotic fervor.

Although the United States was officially at war for just over a year, the conflict dominated the lives of North Carolinian civilians as well as their fellow Tar Heels in uniform—men and women. More importantly, the state's war experience created political, economic, and cultural legacies that shaped North Carolina's history long after the armistice was signed making the war the historical turning point that transformed North Carolina for the decades following. (For more general background, see "Introduction: Carolinians Go to War").

The "North Carolinians and the Great War" collection was made possible by a Library Services and Technology Act grant distributed through the State Library of North Carolina. The grant, one of thirteen Digitization Demonstration Grants, funded the digitization of 1,600 pages of published and manuscript texts. It also supported the purchase of special camera equipment necessary to create digital images of propaganda posters and World War I artifacts.

The fifty published texts range from contemporary articles on wartime fuel and food conservation, to regimental histories, to the memoir of a Tar Heel combat aviator. Due to copyright restrictions, only items published before 1923 could be included.

There are also six hundred pages of manuscript letters and diary entries written by North Carolinians who served in France, including future playwright and humanitarian Paul Green of Harnett County; textile scion, future banker, legislator, governmental official, and business and civic leader Robert March Hanes of Winston-Salem; army nurse Elizabeth Herbert Smith Taylor, a native of Scotland Neck; and future North Carolina congressman and governor William Bradley Umstead of Durham.

Also included are important visual items, including seven photographs and digital images of twenty artifacts from Umstead's army service, including his uniform, mess kit, sidearm, and other personal effects. Finally, there are digital images of one hundred wartime propaganda posters. These posters, which integrate emotionally evocative graphic images with brief textual messages, illustrate the use of modern advertising to forge mass opinion. They also reflected and reinforced popular attitudes about gender, race, and ethnicity as they related to the war.

All items are accessible either by author or by topic, with the topics divided into three main categories. The first, The Home Front, covers the federal and state government's campaign to raise money and to produce and conserve vital raw materials. This section also samples public expressions of patriotism as found in speeches and songs and highlights the role of African Americans, women, and students and teachers in the public schools and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in supporting the war effort. The second section, Propaganda Posters, examines the government's most powerful tool for manipulating public opinion during the war. Finally, The Soldiers' Experience follows Tar Heel soldiers, airmen, and a nurse from basic training camps in North Carolina and elsewhere through their service in France. This section also includes both histories of the two main Army divisions in which Tar Heels served, as well as the published and unpublished writings of several soldiers, and a photographic record of their experience. The Umstead artifacts are located in the Outfitting a Soldier subsection. The prose and images in this section reveal how American innocence and idealism collided with the grim realities of warfare.

"North Carolinians and the Great War" has been a collaborative project among the three Special Collections units of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library. The published texts digitized in the project and the artifacts from which digital images were created came from the North Carolina Collection. The Umstead artifacts were part of an exhibit presented by the North Carolina Collection Gallery. The manuscript letters and diaries were drawn from several collections in the Southern Historical Collection of the Manuscripts Department. The propaganda posters are from the Bowman Gray World Wars I and II Poster Collection of the Rare Book Collection.


Robert Anthony, curator of the North Carolina Collection, and Larry Alford, Deputy University Librarian, served as principal investigators for the grant.

Natasha Smith and Jill Sexton managed the digital conversion, encoding, and publishing of selected materials. They also built the site and maintained the database.

Michael Sistrom, Ph.D. in American History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, served as History Research Assistant. He and Mr. Anthony selected the published materials for digitization. Dr. Sistrom also wrote most of the subject category introductions and other explanatory information for the website.

Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther served as project catalogers.

Lynn Holdzkom, interim curator of the Southern Historical Collection and head of technical services; Tim Pyatt, former curator of the Southern Historical Collection; and Nancy Kaizer, project archivist of the Manuscripts Department, selected the materials from the Southern Historical Collection. Amy Davis transcribed and described them.

Dr. Libby Chenault, public services librarian in the Rare Book Collection, selected the propaganda posters and wrote the introductory content for them.

R. Neil Fulghum, Keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery, selected the Umstead artifacts to be photographed and wrote the introductory content for the "Outfitting a Soldier" subsection.

Fred Stipe and Bill Richards of the Library Photographic Services Section produced the digital images of the artifacts and posters.

Several graduate assistants worked on the project.