Season 2 of the BBC hit miniseries “Downton Abbey” aired on local PBS channels on January 8th. This season promises to be educational as well as absorbing with the 1916, World War I setting and its perspective from the British aristocracy. The fictional account of one family’s experience during the Great War might put you in the mood to bone up on a bit of World War I history. While Downton Abbey might provide some perspective on World War I, The American Heritage Center, among its military history collections, has several collections that document Americans’ experience in the massive global conflict that forever changed world politics, national borders, and individual lives.
The Neil T. McMillan papers shed some light on a Neil McMillan, a soldier who served in the U.S. Army during World War I and became so enraptured by the new flying machines that he transferred to the Army Air Corps. His military service nurtured his love of flying and he was involved in aeronautics for the rest of his working life.
Thurman Wesley Arnold, a native of Laramie, attended the University of Wyoming, Princeton, and Harvard, and practiced law in Chicago for two years before enlisting in the U.S. Army during the Great War. He served in France during the war and his collection contains photographs of life in the training camps and on the field. Portions of his papers have been digitized, including the photographs of his World War I service.
For some perspective on what it would have been like to serve in the Austrian Air Force during World War I, the Wolfgang B. Klemperer papers can provide you with some photo documentation. You’ll find scrapbooks that depict his service to Austria in boxes 2 and 3 of the collection.
Fictional accounts can do a lot to bring historical events alive, but the truths on which they’re based can give much more contextual–and perhaps little known– background to such significant and widely researched events.
–Rachael Dreyer, Reference Archivist