International Visual Documents of the First World War in National Széchényi Library

In 2014, the 100th anniversary of World War I draws our attention to the cataclysm that shattered and changed the entire world. That war put an abrupt end to the old world and launched the gory 20th century. Today the Great War is seen as the beginning of a new age of technology. Machine guns, tanks, poisonous gases, and a multitude of tools developed to kill, demanded millions of victims killed in the war. The new warfare, the trench experience crushed the faith put into the value of human lives. Since the army created a new hierarchy, the war redrew entire societies and fully transformed the economy, while women's labour force participation altered the traditional gender roles.

In the 100th Anniversary Year, lot of books, articles and albums were published and exhibitions were organized about the Great War. Our new publication entitled "Picture the Great War" focuses on the problems of propaganda.

As one of the editors of the book, I faced the question: Why this war is still so interesting and what can we tell about it that has not been already told? I have the answer since a long time: I cannot understand it and that's why it is so interesting to me personally. Why did the people of Europe start to hate each other so much that they headed to the trenches? Why did they seem so happy when the war broke out? One answer to these questions might be the effectiveness of propaganda.

World War I was the historic moment when political propaganda appeared on a universal level, for the attitude of the public was no longer indifferent. War enthusiasm that initially characterized all participating countries soon began to dwindle, so it became necessary to improve the general mood.


The new war situation brought posters to the limelight. This genre, after all, was regarded as the most modern and effective means of mass communication at the time. Besides posters, postcards, leaflets, brochures, newspapers and many other documents were part of a general propaganda. It is important to mention that few of these propaganda products were ordered from 'above', most of these documents were published by private companies just sharing the general atmosphere. The wartime situation required strong control by the state over the media, censorship was effectively working in every country and, as a result of all these factors, 'negative' news could hardly appear. However, movie and beer posters, children's games, colouring books and romantic postcards could equally share the goal to maintain (and heighten) the fighting spirit. This was a total war, which means that every layer of the society felt its effect, home front became an important field, the financial support of the population also became a key question. This total fight required total propaganda, which was on a different scale in each country.


The image stock of this volume comes from a wonderfully rich international collection unseen in Hungary before; only a fragment of it could be published: around 600 images from a collection of more ten thousand pieces. The present album is a mere sample of photographs, posters, and leaflets, a collection that runs to tens of thousands of items. Our selection was determined by the characteristic features of the material. The documents came from all countries, from both sides of the front: from England, France, USA, Italy, the Slavic countries as well as from the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy and Germany.

Katona Anikó