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A War in Perspective, 1898-1998: Public Appeals, Memory and the Spanish-American Conflict


The exhibition includes three viewing or listening stations offering examples of media materials related to the period of the Spanish-American War.


Representing a technical advance over lantern slides and the Edison Company's kinetoscope (a type of peep-show available in picture parlors or nickelodeons since 1889), the new motion picture medium had by 1896 deeply impressed the public. The events of the year 1898 provided the opportunity for motion pictures to underscore and stimulate popular war sentiments. Because of technical limitations and the highly limited mobility of early motion picture cameras, documentary films of war actions were not common (except for footage of troop movements and public ceremonies). Instead, the film industry responded to the Spanish-American War by producing patriotic reenactments and emotional war propaganda.

Among the host of film companies established in 1896–1898, the Thomas Edison, American Mutoscope & Biograph, Vitagraph (Blackston & Smith), and Lubin companies in the east, and Selig and Edward H. Ahmet companies in the west, were the most prominent. Only the larger companies complied with any regularity with the patent requirement to deposit paper print copies of their films in the Library of Congress. Early film stock deteriorated after a few years, but the paper prints survived. In 1953–1955, the Primrose and Renovare companies were able to reconstruct some early films from these paper prints.

Most of the films included in the exhibition appealed to patriotic and melodramatic emotions of the time, and would often have been accompanied by live or recorded patriotic music. The order of the selections reflects the main themes of the exhibition: (1) antecedents, (2) popular appeals and participation, and (3) celebrations and public memories. Representing 30 of more than 100 surviving early motion pictures related to the Spanish-American War in the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division (Paper Print Collection), the films were selected by Professor Alfonso Quiroz, who wrote the descriptive text preceding each film.

A 30-minute television program about the exhibition, featuring an interview with curator Alfonso Quiroz, has been produced by City University Television.  The show premieres on CUNY-TV/Channel 75 on Monday, April 6 with screenings at 10:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m.  Additional screenings in April include Sunday, April 12 at 8:30 a.m.; Friday, April 24 at 7:00 a.m., noon, and 6:00 p.m.; and Sunday, April 26 at 8:30 p.m.  The program will then air monthly through August 1998.  For specific times, consult your television guide.  CUNY-TV/Channel 75, the cable television station of the City University of New York, is available on all cable systems in the five boroughs of the City of New York.


Patriotic songs had a powerful emotional effect and provided common referents and a sense of identity for communities in Cuba, Spain, and the United States. The search for recorded music of the Spanish-American War yielded a combination of popular songs and military music played and recorded since 1898. All the songs and musical pieces were, however, sung or played at the time of the war.


This video presentation includes reproductions of fourteen original lantern slides (an influential visual medium of the time); five additional lantern slides are shown in their original format in Section III, Subsection 15 of this exhibition. Also featured are seventeen slide reproductions of photographs, drawings, and cartoons, most of which were published in the United States and Spain during the Spanish-American War. The originals are in the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid and the Hemeroteca Municipal de Madrid.

IntroductionChronology | Part I: Antecedents, 1895-1898 | Part II: Public Appeals, 1898 | Part III: Popular Participation, 1898-1899 | Part IV: Public Memories Part V: Historical PerspectivesAudiovisual Components | Exhibition Checklist | AcknowledgmentsSuggested Reading /About the Library Shop | Related Exhibits/Spanish American War Websites of Interest | Exhibition home page | NYPL Exhibitions

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