A Look at History through Postcards

6 May 2008

trenches[Postcards] are of great historical and social interest… [They] can also be a profound artistic medium as well as projecting powerful political propaganda. At their best, they can recreate the immediacy, excitement and emotion of great historical events. – Andrew Roberts

The Bodleian Library launches a new book series, Postcards from..., with two initial titles. Powerfully depicting two of the most defining events in the history of the 20th century, the first books in the series feature images drawn from a stunning collection of postcards which has recently been donated to the Bodleian Library.

The collection is the work of John Fraser, who began assembling it when he bought his first card at the age of 12. Over the past sixty years, he amassed a remarkable collection of thousands of cards from around the world, particularly rich in political propaganda.

Each book in the series presents around 50 postcards, with an image from the front of the postcard printed on the right-hand page and the verso of the card on the facing left-hand page of the book, together with a caption explaining the card.

Postcards from the Trenches brings together a collection of postcards which portray everyday life in the subterranean world of battle fields. The First World War was unique in being fought largely in trenches. Men ate, slept, fought, played, sang, prayed, and died in the trenches. We see wounded men smiling obligingly for the camera; others appear to be suffering from the onslaught of boredom. Some take part in a mock party with very meagre provisions. One image shows a group of men kneeling to receive communion before going into battle.

The tone of postcards encompasses the range of human experience, from sombre realism to light-hearted humour. This is a fascinating insight into the everyday lives and behaviour of the men who fought one of the most gruesome wars in history.  

Postcards from the Russian Revolution features a collection of postcards chronicling the events leading up to the Russian revolution, from the first revolution of 1905 in which the Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich was murdered, to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the first public events commemorating the newly founded Union of Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Russian revolution of 1917 has been studied from many angles, but never before from the visual perspective of postcards, a surprising number of which were published around the event, many in Russia but others from France, England, the USA and other countries.

This book captures the essence of empire in its dying days, the fading splendour of monarchy, the social unrest and the mood of revolution which swept through the country. It also looks at the after-effects of revolution, including the great famine of 1921.

There are satirical sketches of Russia’s rulers, royalist and revolutionary propaganda, portraits of the royal family and pictures of ordinary people who took to the streets.

 Postcards from the Trenches, 112 pp, Colour illustrations, Hardback, £8.99, ISBN:  1 85124 391 7 / 978 1 85124 391 4, Series: Postcards From...
• Postcards from the Russian Revolution, 112 pp, Colour illustrations, Hardback, £8.99, ISBN:  1 85124 386 0/ 978 1 85124 386 0, Series: Postcards From...

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