Spectacle of the First World War: A special guest blog by Elizabeth Mantz

07 October 2016

History | War and Conflict

This blog post has been written by guest blogger Elizabeth Mantz. Elizabeth Mantz is an Associate Librarian at Western University in London, Canada.

One of the reasons I like the Adam Matthew resources so much is the visual richness contained within each one. The historical value and depth of the primary source content is complemented and augmented by a wealth of accompanying vivid images, many in colour.

Quick evidence of the visual appeal of each Adam Matthew resource is readily found in the glossy images contained in promotional brochures that accompany each individual project. The visual content of each lends a whole other dimension that is largely lacking from most other primary source databases. The visual content moves the Adam Matthew resources to a whole new level of complexity and depth.

One of my favourite resources, and quite a timely one, illustrates the value of the visual: Adam Matthew’s First World War. The resource is composed of 3 modules; seamlessly searchable as a whole:

Personal Experiences

Propaganda and Recruitment

Visual Perspectives and Narratives

I find the visual elements – the creative responses to the many facets and themes of the war, not solely the trenches and battlefields – particularly compelling. Reading diary entries about the events and emotions soldiers experienced in daily life and in battle is augmented enormously by the visual depictions that accompany their personal accounts.

The Visual Resources tab in First World War links to two still-image galleries of particular interest: “Visual Galleries” and “Art Features”. “Visual Galleries” is a collection of primary sources, broadly arranged by document type, including:

- Art - includes oil paintings, water-colours, pastels and pencil sketches that present realistic depictions of dockyards, munitions factories and battlefields, as well as more expressionist works conveying the emotion of war.

- Map – contains weapons and ammunition, equipment, vehicles, aircraft, ships, souvenirs, ephemera, uniforms and insignia, from both Allied and Axis sources.

- Photograph – depicts activities across various nations and theatres of war, from the front line to the Home Front.

- Poster – highlights the international dimensions of the conflict, with dramatic selections from Australia, Austro-Hungary, China, India, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Russia and South Africa, as well as women’s war work, the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, and the German U-boat campaign.

Additional document types include Cartoons & Comics, Diagram, Greeting Card, Object, Postcard, and Sheet Music, all with similar depth and variety.



Russian postcard depicting an illustrated map of Europe. © Hoover Institution Archives. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

To see this document in the collection click the image.

One can search by keyword or by document type, filtering results by using themed search options. Once the desired image(s) are identified, they can be exported as pdfs, added to a light-box, or put together in a slideshow.

The “Art Features” includes 15 exhibitions, arranged by theme…

- The Battlefield

- Women at War

- Landscapes and Ruins

- War At Sea

- Medical Services and Casualties

- War in the Air

- The Soldier

The Ypres Salient at Night, 1918. © Imperial War Museums. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 

To see this document in the collection click the image.

… and by artist, featuring selected works of:

- John Lavery (Irish, 1856-1941)

- Paul Nash (British, 1889-1946)

- Olive Mudie-Cooke (British, 1890-1925)

- John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925)

- Muirhead Bone (Scottish, 1876-1953)

- Beatrice Lithiby (British, 1889-1966)

- Charles Pears (British, 1873-1958)

- William Orpen (Irish, 1878-1931)

Themes are accompanied by short explanatory notes; artists accompanied by brief sketch of life and significance of artist. The pictures themselves can be magnified, and meta-data augments the pictures and accompanying textual materials.

If a picture paints a thousand words, the Adam Matthew First World War resource is a treasure indeed!


For more information on The First World War, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Open access to the clickable documents featured in this blog will be available for 30 days. 

The recording of our October 12th 2016 webinar on the First World War Portal is now available here. All webinars are recorded and published to our video page and are available to view at your leisure.

Full access is restricted to authenticated academic institutions which have purchased a licence.

About the Author

Elizabeth Mantz

Elizabeth Mantz is an Associate Librarian at Western University in London, Canada. She has worked as a reference and instruction librarian for many years, with a particular focus on history since 2003. Her research interests include the institutional history of academic libraries, and evidence-based acquisition of streaming video and e-books.