Orages de papier

Salle d'exposition de la BNU (2e étage)
6, place de la République
Entrée libre

Exposition bilingue français/allemand

Horaires d'ouverture :
Lundi : 14h – 18h
Mardi-samedi : 12h – 18h
Fermé le dimanche

Visite guidée de l'expo :
Pour groupes et uniquement sur inscription les mardis, jeudis et samedis (sauf fériés). Informations à l'accueil de l'exposition ou au 03 88 25 28 17 ou à

Catalogue de l'exposition : 248 pages, 35 euros

Télécharger le dossier de presse

Orages de papier

12/11/2008 - 31/1/2009

Between 1914 and 1918, war was read, written, drawn and seen as never before.  The media flood was nothing less than a “paper storm” in response to the “steel storm” of real weaponry.  Battles, victories, defeats and life on the frontline were reported to keep up morale and weaken the enemy.  The pamphlets, newspapers, posters, photographs and other documents were real weapons of war, and were soon collected.  Brought together in “war collections”, they are witness to the great variety of resources used to fight both on and off the battlefield, and show us the war as seen by contemporary eye-witnesses.


The exhibition is devoted to the media flood produced by the Great War, reflecting an age when the media, propaganda and the desire for victory merged together.  It presents the war collections of the BNU in Strasbourg, the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart, the French National Library (BnF), and the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC), four institutions that are representative of the collection phenomenon in its French and German variants.

Origin of the project

The project came about in 2003 with the rediscovery at the BNU of a major collection on the First World War, containing books, newspapers and magazines, trench newspapers, posters, pamphlets, propaganda writings, ration cards, and images.  The decision to constitute the collection was made by the German administration of the BNU, and seems to have been totally neglected after 1918, with the exception of the books and newspapers that were incorporates into the general collections.

The story is as follows.  In August 1914, like the main German libraries of the time, the Director of the Kaiserliche Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek zu Strassburg (the original name of the BNU) produced a memorandum stipulating that the institution was to gather together all the printed documents the war would generate, at least on the western front.  This was not an isolated initiative in Germany, where it would appear that there was very quickly an awareness that this war would be totally different to anything ever experienced, and that it was necessary to collect as many documents on it as possible in order to supply future historians with the necessary material: in 1917, a study listed 217 public and private institutions constituting similar collections.

This awareness was of course also present in France, but unlike in Germany there was no general move on the part of libraries.  Two major institutions built up war collections – the National Library and the Municipal Library in Lyon.  Outstanding among the initiatives of individuals who created collections is of course that of the Leblancs, whose collection, gifted to the State in 1917, was the origin of the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC).


Scientific intentions

The framework and the argument put forward by the exhibition will be marked by the nature of the actual documents.  This is not a general exhibition on the First World War, but on the media flood the War generated.  The First World War was in fact the first war to be mediatised in the modern sense of the word – newspapers, posters, photographs and films (used for the first time at the heart of a conflict) bear witness to the link that the media maintained both between the frontline and the rear (photographs and films) and within the frontline (trench newspapers) and the social body (such as posters promoting war loans).  These new media called for action (with pamphlets dropped from planes en masse into the enemy camp to demoralise the troops) and are therefore fully a part of the conflict.  The Germans thus has the feeling that they had been neaten not by weapons but by what were not yet called “the media”: as soon as the war ended, there developed in Germany the concept of the constant barrage of paper (the “papiernes Trommelfeuer”) constituted by enemy propaganda.

The guiding thread of the exhibition will therefore be the common feature of all these documents despite their very varied appearance – their relationship with the notion of mediatisation.  It is this inflation of writing and images at the heart of the action, which was a totally new phenomenon at the time, that justifies the collecting activity of libraries and individuals.  All the different types of documents kept in the war collections are witness to this new mediatisation – war was read, written, drawn and seen as never before.  The exhibition will therefore show visitors not only the different types of documents held by the libraries, but also how they were used in the context of a highly mediatised conflict.


On the occasion of the “Orages de papier” exhibition, the BNU, with support from the BnF, undertook to digitise a corpus of eleven newspapers from the German frontline in the Great War in the Vosges area.  Click here to read the newspapers:
Trench newspapers

For more information on trench newspapers, read the article on them by a BNU curator entitled “Guerre des mots, guerre des mémoires: la presse du front allemande de la Grande Guerre” (click on the link above).


Cultural events

Saturday, 15 November at 6.30 p.m.
Showing of the video entitled “Guerre sans visage”, a play first staged in 2007 by the association Rodéo d’âme on the occasion of a first series of artistic meetings on the First World War and the duty of remembrance.  The showing will be followed by a meeting with the artistic team.  Encouraged by the interest it generated last year, Rodéo d’âme will be organising a second series from 24 October to 23 November 2008.
Details of events in the “Mémoires Vivantes” series at

Tuesday, 18 November at 6.30 p.m.
Reading and discussion on the book “Carnet de rencontres Mémoires vivantes”, recording all the artistic meetings and debates organised by Rodéo d’âme between November 2007 and January 2008.
More information at

Saturday, 22 November at 6 p.m.
The association ‘La Manivelle’, a duo comprising Liselotte Hamm and Jean-Marie Hummel, will sing a number of standards from the period, including patriotic songs in French, German and Alsatian.  For more than thirty years they have used humour, sensitivity and erudition to explore the relationships within a culture shared by two countries through history, music and poetry.
More information at


  • Friday, 28 November at 6 p.m.h
    The evolution of how the Great War has been represented in fictional cinema films from then until now, by Laurent Véray, co-director of the documentary film ‘L’Héroïque Cinématographe’ and professor at the University of Paris X-Nanterre.
  • Friday, 5 December at 6 p.m.
    A defensive war?  The image in German propaganda.  By Gerd Krumeich, professor at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.
  • Saturday, 13 December at 6 p.m.
    The pen and the gun – writing about the Great War (France and Germany), by Nicolas Beaupré, lecturer at the University of Clermont-Ferrand II.

The First World War is also covered by  ARTE Histoire, the television channel’s history portal.


The catalogue for the exhibition has been co-edited with Editions d'Art Somogy (Paris) and because of the subject and the partners involved there is also a German version, distributed by Flammarion Verlag.  Scientific coordination and overall management are by Christophe Didier, BNU curator and curator of the exhibition.  The first section is devoted to general studies on the libraries’ war collections.  Each theme of the exhibition is then developed, with particular attention paid various aspects of the subject, such as the mobilisation of civilians in Strasbourg, and the events of November 1918 in Alsace.  The catalogue closes with a text by Alfred Döblin (1878-1957, author of the novel “Berlin Alexanderplatz”) not previously published in French.  “Jours de révolution en Alsace” (revolutionary days in Alsace), written between 9 and 14 November 1918 when Döblin was a military doctor in Haguenau, combines the author’s personal impressions and the reactions of the people around him to the abdication of Wilhelm II, the signature of the Armistice, and the effervescence of the small town of “H” (Haguenau).

Orages de papier 1914-1918
Les collections de guerre des bibliothèques
248 pages, 200 illustrations
24,6 x 28 cm
35 euros
bound, with dust jacket
co-edited with Somogy – Editions d'art

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