Published Friday Nov 2, 2018
A World War I Centennial Symposium will bring the history of 100 years ago to Tennessee Tech’s Backdoor Playhouse November 3 and 4 with scholarly presentations, living history events and a period-rules football game on the Tech president’s lawn.
“Lest We Forget” is presented by the Tennessee Great War Commission, a commission chaired by Tech Professor of History Michael Birdwell who has been studying the war for more than a quarter of a century.
“I have been studying it a long time, and it is absolutely fascinating,” Birdwell said. “It is the most literary war in history. The art, the music and the literature that comes out of it shaped the entire 20th century. It is still with us, very much.”
Birdwell and six other scholars are prepared to share that fascinating history with the Upper Cumberland at the symposium. Saturday’s events begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Backdoor Playhouse, with scholarly talks throughout the day by historians from across the state: “To Transmit in Perfect Safety: The Cherokee Code Talkers in World War I” at 9 a.m.; “From War Work to Political Activism: Tennessee Women after the Great War” at 10 a.m.; “The 1918 Influenza Pandemic” at 11 a.m.; “Tennessee Aviators” at 1 p.m.; “Army Mules of the Great Wat” at 2 p.m.; and “Over There, Over Here: African Americans, Tennessee, and the Great War” at 3 p.m.
Along with some of the key Tennesseans in WWI, the public will have a chance to learn more about how cultural impacts of the war continue into today. Things like daily bathing, T-shirts and women wearing their hair short all started during the war time.
“There are so many things we take for granted today that go back to the war,” Birdwell said. “It affected culture, language, geopolitics, art, literature, music. It has seeped into every nook and cranny of the world. People should know more about it.”
On Sunday, a WWI-era Army vs. Marine vintage football game will be held on the Walton House Lawn on Tech’s campus, with President Phil Oldham leading the coin toss at 1 p.m. Athletes will include period actors from the Tennessee State Parks. A period automobile display and an above ground trench display will also be on the grounds Sunday.
All of the events and lectures are free and open to the public.
For those interested in learning more about the war’s impact on Tennessee and Tech, the university archives is hosting the exhibition “World War I and Tennessee Tech: The Wartime experience at Tennessee Tech” through spring 2019 on the ground floor of the Volpe Library, open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Great War Commission’s work continues through 2019. For more information about upcoming events, visit https://tnsos.net/TSLA/GWC/.