On 5 July 2011, images from one of Duke University Libraries’ digital collections made a guest appearance on Episode 3 (Season 9) of the popular PBS show, “History Detectives.”

The segment, entitled “The Bullet That Fought America’s Secret Siberian War,” investigated the  origins of a curious example of “shell art”: a WorldWar I vintage cartridge-cum-letter opener, which was inscribed with the words “Geo. V. Thompson, CO E 31st Inf., A.E.F. Siberia.”  As the History Detective assigned to the case discovered, this piece of early-20th-century folk art had once belonged to a U.S. soldier, who was stationed with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Siberia, during America’s brief and unsuccessful intervention in the Russian Civil War.   Apparently, it was commissioned from a local artisan, who made his rubles selling souvenirs for American G.I.s eager to have an exotic memento of their stint of service in Siberia.  On the PBS website, viewers can watch the full episode (duration: 17:42), download the transcript of the show, and even read letters that George Thompson sent home from Siberia.

Viewers of the “Siberian Bullet” episode, and anyone else interested in further exploring America’s “Secret Siberian War,” can also consult the “Americans in the Land of Lenin” digital collection. This collection contains over 400 black-and-white photographs from Duke University’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, including images used in the History Detectives episode.  The collection provides unique visual documentation not only about U.S. involvement in the Russian Civil War, but also about daily life during war-time in an ethnically and religiously diverse region on the border of three major 20th-century powers (Russia, Japan, and China).  A YouTube video (duration: 2:44) and additional information about Duke’s digital collection of AEF photos can be found in the Fall 2008 issue of Duke University Libraries Magazine, which includes a shorter version of an article eventually published as “‘A Dirty Place for Americans to Be’: Images of the Russian Civil War in Siberia from the Robert L. Eichelberger Collection at Duke University Libraries,” Slavic & East European Information Resources, 10 (2009): 29–44.

 

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