Postcard

The rise of the picture postcard coincided with the heyday of European colonialism at the beginning of the 20th century. As the picture postcard became one of the main means of communication, it is impossible to understand the project of colonial expansion without reflecting on the role of drawings and photographs. The first postcard was licensed officially in 1869 in Austria-Hungary. In 1900, around 500 million picture postcards were posted in Germany alone. At the same time, a huge collectors' scene emerged. Contemporaries spoke of a worldwide rush on postcards. Collectors' clubs were established, magazines were founded, and rules and criteria were formulated, which systemised the trend. Postcards were understood as knowledge carriers, in addition to newspapers or books. This was particularly true in the case of picture postcards from the colonies. Countries that remained inaccessible for most were displayed, making the colonial experience more tangible for the bourgeoisie back home, who were required support colonial expansion both financially and morally.

By 1900, every colonial power produced postcards and these displayed landscapes, newly-built infrastructure, and people from across the world. The postcards connected regions and people that were geographically distant from each other. They also sensationalised the colonial experience. Europeans were 'informed' on the, often overdrawn, physiognomy of colonial people and their traditions. Human zoos put these groups on display and the picture postcards accompanied these events. The postcards also showed European troops in colonial settings, thereby highlighting the dichotomy between Europeans and Non-Europeans.

The beginning of World War One saw the rise of a new genre: the field postcard. The war was one of the first conflicts in which propaganda became adopted as a weapon. Victory and defeat, triumph and harm, all the effects of war became subject matters for the producers of these postcards. Soldiers used the field postcard to communicate with family and friends at home and censorship ensured that an official narrative was told. The abstractness of war became more tangible on the Home Front when outlined on a piece of card sent from the trenches. War was portrayed as a natural, sometimes even desirable, condition. The display of chaos and derangement also helped to delineate the enemy, by visualising the brute use of force by the them and the 'savage nature' of its (colonial) soldiers. It was not only war that was depicted on these postcards, the safety of the home front also became a prominent motif. Everyday life was represented by scenes of farmers working on the fields or street scenes. These were to assure people that they were not in any danger from the horrors of war.

Postcards tell stories of unimaginable encounters. By connecting text with image, the evidence became stronger and the merit for the official propaganda invaluable. Since local newspapers rarely provided photographs of the front, the postcards were often responsible for shaping the image of war. They allowed for a better understanding of war. With numerous collectors located in many places, the postcards were disseminated easily and proved to be of great value for state propaganda purposes.

Picture postcards were produced as official propaganda. They often bore pre-printed texts to explain the imagery. Series were produced, which made collecting of these even more desirable. There are multiple aspects that that need to be considered when analysing a postcard: the picture, the pre-printed text, the hand-written text, and sometimes even the stamp. Questions that need to be asked include: who collected the postcard; when was it collected; why was it collected; where was it collected; what other postcards were collected with it, if any; and are there traces of possible former owners? So it is not only the postcards that become subjects of historical research, but also the traces they left and the connections they established need to be explored.

Jan Brauburger