- Associated Press - Friday, January 17, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The approaching centennial of the First World War will draw a lot of attention to Kansas City, home of the largest and oldest repository of information about the Great War this side of the Imperial War Museums in London.

Officials at the Liberty Memorial are planning to make the most of it.

“This is the time to assert the National World War I Museum,” said Thomas Butch, the new chairman of the Liberty Memorial Association Board of Trustees. “It is the opportunity to gather the spotlight in a way that won’t repeat itself.”

The Society for Military History will draw an estimated 600 scholars to Kansas City for its annual meeting in April. The German Studies Association is expected to draw twice that number for its annual conference here in September.

The World War I Centennial Commission, created by Congress and anchored at the Liberty Memorial, will hold a conference here in August, to be streamed on the Web, titled “Guns of August.”

Matthew Naylor, the president of the National World War I Museum, said all the activity is fitting to remember and to derive meaning from “this cauldron of activities around the early part of the last century resulting in World War I and the most dramatic period of social change in human history.”

Not only was World War I the first modern mechanized conflict, it resulted in the collapse of empires and the advent of democracy in Europe and elsewhere, the deconstruction of colonialism and the beginning of the “American century.”

It also intersected with revolutions in communications and in social expectations.

There will be a burst of interest on June 28, the anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the spark that led to the mobilization of the great powers and the beginning of hostilities in August 1914.

“The world really came asunder during that period,” Naylor said.

Over the next four years, there will be more academic conferences, exhibitions, performances and maybe even a historically accurate World War I video game.

There will be another peak of interest in 2017, the centenary of the U.S. entry into the war, and again in 2018 with the anniversary of the armistice.

That may offer the only appropriate occasion for celebration - as opposed to commemoration - during the entire centennial period.

For the private Liberty Memorial Association, which manages the publicly owned monument, the observance is a time to strengthen the National World War I Museum’s financial foundation as well as its prestige.

“We are a very new museum, which in one sense is hard for people to fathom since the monument has been there since the 1920s,” Butch said. “But the museum is just seven years old.”

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