While many Americans are familiar with World War II events such as Pearl Harbor or D-Day, most are less familiar with aspects of the war that took place in their own backyards. The Heinz History Center’s exhibit We Can Do It! WWII put a personal spin on a global event by exploring the impact of World War II as it evolved from the home front to the battlefield through Western Pennsylvanian eyes.
Taking visitors on a journey that started in a family living room in late 1930s Pittsburgh and ended with a young Marine Sergeant from Cambria County at the Battle of Iwo Jima and the oral history remembrances of WWII veterans, We Can Do It! WWII explored Western Pennsylvania contributions to the war through five main themes: the world in turmoil through the 1930s, Pittsburgh’s industrial build-up starting in 1939-1940, civilian home front activities, the military ramp up and induction (featuring Uniontown’s General George C.Marshall) and finally, the combat experience of local soldiers who served overseas. Covering nearly 9,000 square feet (including McGuinn Gallery and adjacent spaces) and featuring more than 300 artifacts, the exhibit was one of the largest projects the History Center has ever done.
As part of this project, the HHC also created a publication and a web-site that includes videos and a virtual tour. The publication was digitized through a partnership with Penn State University and available online as a searchable PDF. Website content includes a virtual tour,subject videos, photo galleries, blogs, and content shared by the public. Oral histories from the exhibit are available as digital audio files on YouTube and through our Library & Archives. A partnership with the regional organization Veteran’s Voices added almost 200 WWII video oral histories to our collection. Once transcribed, they will be available through our online catalog, YouTube, and the Veteran’s Voices web-site. The HHC received IMLS funding to tour a 500 square foot version of We Can Do It! WWII to smaller historical societies and libraries throughout Western Pennsylvania. Over the next four years, this exhibit will reach more than 24 venues, engaging under-served audiences that might never come to the HHC.