KU students, alumni, faculty bring WWI history to life

KU WWI logo
The KU WWI Project will commemorate the centennial of the war with four years of projects and events to bring the past into the present. This image incorporates an illustration from the 1918 Jayhawker yearbook.

When a long-dead archduke and his assassin begin following you on Twitter, odds are that something interesting is about to happen. What has led Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Gavrilo Princip to follow the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences on Twitter, as well as many other campus accounts, is an inventive effort to bring history to life in the present.

A century after the assassination that sparked the First World War, re-enactors will tweet as key characters to play out the events of June 28, 1914. The assassination quickly led to conflict among several nations in Europe, and eventually throughout the world.

The Twitter re-enactment is part of the KU World War I Project, a collaborative effort on campus that encourages students, faculty, staff and the community to get involved in retelling and rediscovering the history of the conflict that significantly changed the course of the modern world. Additional activities include concerts, lectures, film screenings, and student-generated projects.

The public will be able to follow along with the assassination re-enactment on Twitter through the hashtag #KU_WWI or through Twitter feeds at www.crees.ku.edu and www.european.ku.edu.

Leading up to the re-enactment, students, faculty and community members have busily researched and prepared their roles. The results of their work as well as an abundance of KU World War I resources are available at the project’s blog: http://kuwwi.com/.

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Re-enactors have been at work for months, scripting their tweets and gaining followers.

One point the blog highlights is that many of the tweets are actual direct quotes. Organizers note that #KU_WWI project staff referenced Greg King and Sue Woolman’s book, “The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World” when creating the script.

“The primary purpose of this mini reenactment is to show our participants ways of being historical while also being creative,” said project leader Sam Moore, who completed his bachelor’s in history in fall 2013.

The script was given to Slavic languages and literatures Instructor, Marta Pirnat-Greenberg, who incorporated it into the curriculum of her intermediate Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian class. As a class project, the students worked together to translate the script.

The German language translation was completed by Joshua McMullen, a senior in German languages and literatures.

“Language is an integral part to understanding culture,” said CREES outreach coordinator Adrienne Landry, “and we hope that the #KU_WWI Twitter Project showcases the many languages spoken by the characters involved in this historical event as well as the over 40 languages taught at KU.”

Another example comes from the intermediate course in Bosnian-Serbo-Croatian language. Students translated a video about assassin Gavrilo Princip, adding subtitles in Serbian and English to make the information accessible to a broader audience. Students and community members participating in the #KU_WWI Twitter Project now have a non-English, regional perspective of events, providing a glimpse of how different historical narratives can be understood and interpreted.

“I like to include content-based and project-based learning into my language classes,” said instructor Marta Pirnat-Greenberg, “it motivates students and makes language learning more relevant to them.”

Also in the past month, the Twitter Project has hosted mini-reenactments to practice characters and reveal more detail about events that unfolded before the assassination. One group of tweets in early June, #WhySarajevo, revealed that Archduke Franz Ferdinand tried and failed several times to cancel his ill-fated trip to Sarajevo.

Project organizers urge the re-enactors to play to their strengths. Here’s their advice in the call for tweeters:

“If you’re a theater person, add some theatricality to your tweets. If you’re good with geography and maps, tweet some good links. Know about East European culture? Fill us in! If you’re a history buff, a strong chronology of events would be appreciated. Know a foreign language? Translate the tweets for yourself and others! Think of this project as a performance piece using all the academic and creative skills you have to offer.”

It’s an opportunity not to be missed for the KU community. Go to https://twitter.com/KU_WWI to start following the action. When else will you have the opportunity to be so close to history?

The #KU_WWI Twitter Project is part of the University of Kansas centennial commemoration of World War I, coordinated by the European Studies Program. Learn more about participating units and upcoming programs at KUWWI.com
and http://european.ku.edu/wwi-tribute. Partners in the Twitter project include the KU European Studies Program, National World War I Museum, KU departments of Germanic languages and literature and Slavic languages and literature, Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center, Center for Global and International Studies and University Honors Program.

The KU World War I Project includes several programs in the College: Center for Russian East European and Eurasian Studies; the Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center; European Studies Program; the departments of Germanic Languages & Literatures, History and Slavic Languages & Literatures; University Honors Program; and the Center for Global & International Studies. Other campus partners include the Global Awareness Program, Hall Center for the Humanities, KU Libraries, KU Memorial Unions, Lied Center, School of Education, School of Music and Spencer Museum of Art.