Disseminating Destruction: The Impact of the Image during World War I

Matt Lieberman

Email: matthewlieberman2020@u.northwestern.edu

Faculty Advisor: Michael Loriaux


Matt Lieberman is a senior from Boston studying Journalism, Political Science and Integrated Marketing Communications. He wrote this research paper during Northwestern’s Art, Literature & Contemporary European Thought (ALCET) program in Paris, France.


My research explores how the coinciding innovations of World War 1 military technology and democratized, mass produced photographs of human suffering brought about societal disillusionment. To do so, I consider this relationship through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction and Jacques Rancierè’s dissensus in order to portray how evolving aesthetic conventions galvanized political action.

After noticing a swift evolution of aesthetic conventions from the 19th to 20th century, I sought to further understand these changes. In doing so, I came to the realization that industrialization produced an advancement in military technology around the same time that mass produced photography became widely available to capture and disseminate images of human suffering. Where do you see the future direction of this work leading? How might future researchers build on your work, or what is left to discover in this field? 

Future researchers might build upon this work by considering the implications of advancements in modern technology on our society. Images and videos now circulate through an instantaneous global network, leaving questions about whether this has the positive effect of sharing the truth, the  negative effect of desensitization, or both.

I will be working at PepsiCo in Chicago as an Associate Marketing Analyst.