The Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection digital archive has just reached an important milestone – the 20,000th image! The project to scan all the prints, drawings, paintings and water-colors in the collection began in September 2004 and through the efforts of many staff members and students, is now the largest repository of special collections’ materials at Brown. While the original focus of the collection was the history and especially the iconography of military uniforms, Mrs. Brown collected widely around the subject acquiring thousands of images depicting the military history of the world circa 1500-1945.
As to the significant image, it comes from an album of chromolithographs depicting World War One scenes published in Japan by Shobido & Co. between August and November 1914. These rather garish and outlandish prints titled The Illustration of the Graet [sic] European War depict fanciful images of the fighting on the Western Front and elsewhere. The Japanese had a tradition of creating wood-block prints and many fine examples depicting their wars against China in 1894-95, and Russia in 1904-05 exist in the collection (yet to be digitized). The current series, while not of the same standard or quality of the earlier ones, is nonetheless telling in its portrayal of a war that was being fought thousands of miles away. The fact that these highly imaginative prints also include English titles suggests that the publishers also hoped to tap the foreign market.
This particular scene is straight out of an H.G. Wells epic and shows a fantastic confluence of airships and airplanes dueling in the skies above, what appears to be Paris. Aptly titled Severe battle in the sky French and German, it was printed on October 31, 1914 and published three days later. While the artist is unidentified, he may have been Ryozo Tanaka who worked for Shobido and is known to have authored at least one similar scene.
It is only through the combined efforts of many members of the Brown University Library staff that this incredible achievement could be made. In addition to the work of Peter Harrington, curator of the collection, and the staff of the Digital Production Services unit of the Center for Digital Scholarship, we have seen significant contributions in the form of high-quality metadata record creation from Betsy Fishman and Henry Gould in technical services and scanning of the graphics by a number of student employees. Further images will be uploaded in the months and years ahead.
Special thanks to Toshiyuki Minami, Sr. Library Specialist, East Asian Collection, for translating this album of prints.