Things are definitely stirring at the American Museum after its winter sleep – and one unfortunately that came to an end rather suddenly with a damaging water leak.
Staff and volunteers have been up against it getting things back on track for the most unusual spring opening l can remember. After a slight delay, the museum is about to launch a commemorative exhibition marking the centenary of America’s involvement in World War I on 29 March.
The museum, which is based at Claverton Manor – the place where Winston Churchill made his first political speech – will be hosting ‘Side by Side: America and World War I’; an exhibition that seeks to tell the stories of ordinary Americans and their extraordinary impact on the war effort.
It’s a subject that is surely going to encourage more males to visit the only American museum anywhere in the UK.
It’s also going to be the museum’s first interactive exhibition and one with some extremely rare artefacts on display. Included amongst them is a watch recovered from the wreck of RMS Lusitania. The ship was torpedoed by the Germans in 1915, and over a thousand people lost their lives, including 128 neutral American citizens.
This star item is joined by a Purple Heart medal, awarded to the father of one of the museum’s two founders, Captain Alexander Pratt (1883-1947). The exhibition also includes some items which have previously not been on public display, such as a family archive, which includes a pair of French baby booties sent home by a US soldier to his pregnant wife.
Each visitor to the exhibition will be given a personnel file, which details the war experience of a real person. These files include the stories of those often left out of America’s World War I history; namely women, African Americans, and Native Americans.
Head of Visitor Experience, Jon Ducker said, “We really want visitors to feel the personal impact of the war, and also to hear the experiences of those that have been forgotten. There are some amazing accounts of immense bravery from the Native and African American communities which have never been heard.”
There will be interactive spaces, including a field hospital and a life size model of a French Renault FT17 tank, which was used by the Americans on the Western Front. Doughboys,Tommys and Red Cross Nurses will also be appearing during the launch weekend of March 17, and on select dates throughout the exhibition; giving visitors a fully immersive WW1 experience.
The overwhelming focus will be on the personal experiences of war through a number of primary sources including newspaper articles and soldiers’ letters, as well as artistic responses such as popular songs, novels by the likes of Ernest Hemmingway and prints by Montgomery Flagg and Kerr Eby.
Chief Curator, Kate Hebert said, “Our exhibition will explore the subtleties of how America joining the conflict helped to end the stalemate and bring about the end of the war, challenging the preconceptions of both British and American audiences. While the military impact of America’s involvement in World War I may still be a matter for debate among historians, what is certain is that the war had an irreversible impact on America: Civil Rights, universal suffrage, and world politics.
“As the only museum outside of the US dedicated to celebrating American culture, we felt it was only right to pay tribute to those Americans, both at home and in Europe, who fought so bravely in World War I.”
America joined the war in April 1917, and troops engaged in their first major land battle in May 1918, helping the Allies bring the war to its close on 11 November 1918. Despite their relatively short participation over 53,400 Americans were killed in action, an average of 820 a day.
‘Side by Side: America and World War I’ runs from 29 March 2018 – 28 October 2018. For more information please see: https://americanmuseum.org