Pre­sen­ta­tion sheds light on hu­man side of WWI dur­ing cen­ten­nial

The Avenue News - - FRONT PAGE - By: GIANNA DECARLO gde­carlo@ches­pub.com

April 6th, 2017 marks the cen­ten­nial of Amer­ica’s in­volve­ment in World War I.

Af­ter years of neu­tral­ity, the United State de­cided to get in­volved with the war 100 years ago, mark­ing the be­gin­ning of the largest, most im­pact­ful event in our coun­try’s his­tory.

Michael Brown, a lo­cal his­to­rian, will com­mem­o­rate the cen­ten­nial with a lec­ture and demon­stra­tion on WWI at the Es­sex Li­brary on Mon­day, April 3. He will present ar­ti­facts and pho­to­graphs from his ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion, which also in­cludes au­then­tic uni­forms and equip­ment that the au­di­ence can try on.

“It is the wa­ter­shed of that cen­tury, noth­ing changed the world more than World War I, ev­ery as­pect of so­ci­ety has changed one way or

an­other as a re­sult of the war,” said Brown. “Peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how much of what we do or don’t do now is a re­sult of some­thing that hap­pened 100 years ago.”

The his­tory books fo­cus on the key play­ers and im­por­tant dates, he said, but they leave out the ex­pe­ri­ences of the ev­ery­day peo­ple that show the full story and the full im­pacts of the war. His var­ied col­lec­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion in­clude jour­nals and let­ters writ­ten by sol­diers while they were in the trenches fight­ing for their lives. His lec­ture will touch on what they ate, what they wore, their liv­ing quar­ters, and other his­tor­i­cal el­e­ments, like how the war helped pro­mote tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments, like the de­vel­op­ment of the gas mask, and how the wives and chil­dren that were left at home dealt with the ef­fects at home. From the com­fort of the li­brary, he hopes to en­trench his au­di­ence into the trenches, trans­port­ing them to 1917. The in­for­ma­tion isn’t com­ing from the gen­eral, it’s com­ing from the per­son on the front line.

“I’m more con­cerned with the hu­man el­e­ment. If I can awaken an in­ter­est in any as­pect of that then peo­ple can ex­plore on their own. For me, it’s these per­sonal items that have the most im­pact. It’s the pho­tos and let­ters, some of the let­ters just break your heart.”

Brown re­mem­bers a dis­fig­ured neigh­bor who had fought in the war. He, along with other chil­dren, would run away from the man un­til his fa­ther ex­plained that the neigh­bor’s face was scarred from ex­po­sure to mus­tard gas. His pas- sion for WW1 was awak­ened in 1997 when he helped his nephew with a school project on the war. Brown be­came fas­ci­nated with let­ters and diaries and other per­sonal ac­counts and how they cre­ate a wider, more hu­man and more real pic­ture of the Great War.

“When you look at any his­tory you tend to get a record of the kings and the queens and the gen­er­als and they’re only a small part of the story,” he ex­plained. “His­tory is the story of the peo­ple, the mul­ti­tudes that fight the wars, that make the ships, that work in the homes. These are the peo­ple that with­out whom no king or gen­eral is worth any­thing. They kind of get lost in his­tory. I think peo­ple need to un­der­stand that it’s what hap­pened to the lit­tle guy that’s im­por­tant.”

Brown him­self is a man of many tal­ents. He was a teacher in the Bal­ti­more City Schools, worked as a Pro­ba­tion Of­fi­cer, and a pho­tog­ra­pher. Now he di­vides his time be­tween mak­ing hand­crafted wooden toys, play­ing Santa Claus, sub­sti­tute teach­ing at Here­ford High School, giv­ing pre­sen­ta­tions on the Great War and on toy-mak­ing, and spread­ing his his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge to the next gen­er­a­tion.

“I re­al­ize I’m not get­ting any younger and I want to share what I picked up and what I know and maybe arouse the in­ter­est of peo­ple so they can keep up the re­search and pass it on to oth­ers.”

Brown’s demon­stra­tion will run from 4-5:30 p.m. All ages are wel­come. The Es­sex Branch Li­brary is lo­cated at 1110 East­ern Blvd.

MICHAEL BROWN

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