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“Preparing Myself to Die”: War Letters at Gotlieb on Display

Soldiers’ writing shows the nobility and chaos of battle

Click above to watch an audio slide show featuring excerpts from letters and images included in yesterday’s Student Discovery Seminar America at War at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.


The letters are filled with stories, laments, hopes, fears, and most often, a longing to return home as soon as possible. They were written by Americans at war — from the Revolution through Vietnam, and they were featured in America at War, the most recent Student Discovery Seminar hosted by Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.

The Gotlieb Center Student Discovery Seminar Series gives students the opportunity to explore interesting subjects through discussion with University professors and archive experts, as well as by holding original manuscripts, letters, and photographs from some of the world’s most fascinating and influential figures. The next Student Discovery Seminar, on Tuesday, December 4, will feature selections from the Gotlieb Center’s archive of cartoonists and illustrators — from vintage Little Orphan Annie and Dennis the Menace drawings to original illustrations of Charles Dickens’ novels.

For the America at War seminar, which took place on November 13, the exhibited materials included a doubt-laced letter from Abraham Lincoln written shortly after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the training log book of an American pilot serving with the British in World War I, and poems by an American soldier in Vietnam. In addition to the written material, which students were able to handle in the center’s research room, there were other artifacts from wars past, including war-bond posters from World War II and a machete used by Marines on Iowa Jima.

“The goal is to give students a hands-on experience with primary sources,” says Alex Rankin, Gotlieb assistant director of acquisitions, who put together the seminar. “You could take a letter from Abraham Lincoln and hold it in your hands. It can be pretty powerful.”

Edward Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu. Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.