Undergraduate Matt Culver’s exhibit “Lafayette, We Are Here! America Enters the First World War” is currently on display at the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum in Tuscaloosa. Matt Culver is a senior History/Computer Science double major, and has been involved with a group of students working on two World War I exhibits on campus in remembrance of the war’s centennial.
The exhibit currently on display at the Transportation Museum focuses specifically on students and Alabamians in the War, “their stories and their sacrifices.” Culver explains that the name for the exhibit came from U.S. propaganda portraying the war as “repaying our debts to France from the Revolutionary War, particularly our debts to Marquis de Lafayette.” The line came from a speech at Lafayette’s grave given by Gen. Pershing’s aide, Charles Stanton, “and that just became a battle cry.”
Culver’s interest in the First World War came from researching a relative who served and was killed in France, which encouraged him to study this period more deeply. “Everything changes because of this war. Our language changes — stuff like ‘over the top’ becomes popular because of the war. American dialects start to intermix, because you’re putting people from all over the country into these central divisions and sending them to France, so they start talking like one another. New music, new poetry, new film, new everything was born from this war…It’s just such this pivotal moment.” Culver says he likes to highlight the role the First World War in giving women suffrage when conducting tours of his exhibit, and he argues that once women served in the military, the right to vote became inevitable. “For the first time ever women fight on a large scale…They’re not serving in frontline units, but they are dying. They’re in the trenches, they’re fighting with the men. And they come back and they say, ‘Hey, we bled for this country too. We deserve the right to vote. And a year later they had it.’”
This exhibit will be on display at the Transportation Museum at 1901 Jack Warner Pkwy, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 until December 30th. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00am – 4:30pm. It will transition back to Houser Hall in January, when the World War I exhibit currently in the Gorgas House will move to the Transportation Museum. “These guys were just everyday guys. It’s really interesting to see Alabama’s story, because you can see our students who fought and died in this war,” Culver says. “Come learn about the war that you probably didn’t learn about in grade school.”