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Exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I

World Overturned

The end of the war on November 11, 1918, brought tremendous relief around the globe but left in its wake questions about the new world the Great War had molded and about Americans' role in it. World War I was a world-changing event. During the war, four large powerful empires—Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian, and German—fell apart. In Africa and Asia, the wartime contributions of colonial troops, a weakened Europe, and Wilson's promise of "self-determination" planted the seeds of decolonization. Revolution took hold in Russia under the communists and threatened the governments of Germany, Italy, and others. Facilitated by the flow of millions of people put in motion by the war, the exchange of ideas, customs, and artistic expression spread new forms of global culture, even fueling an international jazz craze.

In this transformed world, Americans confronted the challenges of how to help negotiate a lasting peace, how to uphold the principles President Wilson and others claimed the country had fought for, and how to redraw the map of the world, particularly in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa—the former imperial territories of the defeated Central Powers. At home, they considered what the role of the United States should be in this emerging international order, how to reintegrate veterans returning from the war, and how to remember the war and those who served and sacrificed. World War I had shaken the lives of Americans and shaped a modern world to which they now needed to adapt.


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