This interactive, thematic website on Peace and War in the 20th Century has been designed to be informative, educational and engaging. Its major themes have been organized into the opposing paths of Waging Peace and Waging War. Within the themes, case studies provide context and insights. International conflicts are represented by the images and official records available in McMaster University Library’s archives. However, there are many collections of letters, photographs and other materials which tell compelling, personal stories. It is these stories which enable us to approach a deeper understanding of the greater issues concerning peace and war: the causes underlying the two world wars and the many other conflicts of the century; the role of governments and of war resisters in influencing public opinion; the unexpected heroism of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, both those who fought in and supported the wars as well as the many voices of pacifists, conscientious objectors, and others in determined opposition.
The personal stories, placed within their wider historical contexts, reveal much about Peace and War in the Twentieth Century. We identify with Jane Abbott, an American visitor who recorded the tensions in Vienna at the time of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, soldier Gerald Blake’s casual reporting of the now famous Christmas truce of 1914, the imprisonment in Germany of English teenager William Molony during the Great War, the hopeful efforts of students at the Canadian Youth Congress in the inter-war years, the many Canadians who attended the unveiling of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in 1936, Eric Grove’s hard-scrabble existence in a German POW camp in 1944-5, the discrimination incurred by Japanese Canadians in Toronto, the doomed humanitarianism of Alex Aronson in Iraq, and the activism of Canadian Claire Culhane in her protest against the fiasco of the Vietnam War. These, and many other stories of "ordinary" people, are presented on this site.
The website also introduces more internationally prominent figures. In 1967 McMaster University acquired the archives of Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, mathematician, social reformer, and Nobel Prize winner. His archives document his controversial role as peacemaker, beginning with his imprisonment during the First World War and ending with his work in opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. In 1971 the University acquired the archives of the feminist, journalist, and pacifist Vera Brittain. Her transformation in World War I from a comfortable, sheltered intellectual, intent on going to Oxford University, to a nurse attending wounded soldiers at hospitals in England, France and Malta, is inspirational. Several of our case studies touch on events in the life and times of these two outstanding individuals.
Other McMaster Resources
In the years since the acquisition of these rich, foundational archives, the University Library has purchased and received donations of many other archives on peace and war: memoirs, collections of books and journals, trench maps, posters, photographs, music, speeches, audio-visual materials, medals and even a bomb casing! The full extent of these collections, only a fraction of which will be found on this site, is outlined here in Archival Resources.