On Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, Professor Andy Morris held the opening reception for the new exhibit, “Books for the Troops in World War Two,” in the Lally Reading Room in Schaffer Library.
The exhibit seeks to showcase a seldom known aspect of World War Two.
During the war, millions of books were distributed to soldiers to boost morale and defeat boredom of soldier life. When the nation asked for Americans to donate, many answered the call.
While most of the books were for soldier’s leisure, the campaigns for donations stood to combat the book-burning being committed by Nazi Germany.
The exhibit highlights The Victory Book Campaign, The Armed Services Editions and the publications of the U.S. Armed Forces Institute.
The idea for the exhibit can trace its origins back to when Professor Morris agreed to help Professor John Cramsie with bringing Molly Guptill Manning, author of “When Books Went To War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II,” to speak at the Common Curriculum Convocation.
Manning’s book, which is written about the VBC and ASE, sparked Morris’ interests with both programs. What caught his eye were the unique physical features of the World War II-era books.
Morris informed me, “Their bright colors and small size made the books very interesting artifacts.”
Along with the books, Morris discovered the poster art and other physical aspects of the campaigns and found them fascinating. Being a collector of 20th century material culture, especially political artifacts, Morris bought a few ASE for himself.
Slowly, he began to put together a collection of ASE books, VBC posters, photographs of soldiers reading, letters and U.S. Armed Forces Institution pamphlets.
Many of the items featured in the exhibit were lent to Union by the University of Rochester.
The opening of the exhibit was attended by students, faculty, librarians and other staff members. The guest of honor was Molly Manning.
Manning gave a talk on her book in Nott Memorial. The hourlong lecture went into detail on the VBC and ASE books and how much they meant to the soldiers. The event was well attended.
When asked for the inspiration of the book, Manning stated she came across the ASE books while doing her master’s research on 20th-century author Arthur Train at the University at Albany.
During her research on the famous author, Manning said she discovered letters from around the world mentioning Train’s books in paperback form, something she had never heard of before in her research on Train’s work.
Intrigued, she dove in to find out and discovered the ASE books.
After finishing up her master’s and getting her law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Manning started doing more work on the ASE books. What she discovered was not just one program but several that helped bring over 100 million books to troops during World War II.
When asked why she wrote the books, Manning responded, “The story had to be told.” The books played such a major role in the morale and daily life of soldiers that she decided to put the task of saving this part of history on her own shoulders.
Manning’s book offers the reader a chance to see a major part of World War II that was almost forgotten by time.
Manning, who also attending the opening reception and giving the talk in the Nott, sat in with Professor Morris’ Roosevelt Era class and discussed the book with the students.
Manning believes that the ASE books’ lasting legacies were the introduction of paperback books to the American population and the success of the GI Bill, which helped over two million veterans receive a college education and create a society where college was no longer a luxury, but the norm.
Manning says she has begun to think about writing a third book, but that it will take a backseat since she will be adding another member to her family in little over a month.
Manning said her child “is already a historian and has been to dozens of her lectures.”
“Books for the Troops in World War Two” will be in the Lally Reading Room in Schaffer Library until this December, after which it will be sent to the University of Rochester.