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World War I Historiography


lelick1234

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Hello, 

I am preparing a podcast for my future high school students about the Global 20th Century.  I am looking for some guidance about the causes of the First World War.  My natural historical inclination is to focus on how the structural political/ideological trajectory of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century made the political crisis that lead to the war almost inevitable.  That is my general approach, which is probably the easiest way to include the Great War into a narrative that expands into the contemporary. I have access to the following books from the local library: 

Cataclysm by David Stevenson 

The Age of Empire and The Age of Crises by Eric Hobsawn

Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark

The First World War by John Keegan 

What else should I possibly read to gain a better understanding of causes of WWI? 

--Leo

 

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If you're going to use Sleepwalkers, be aware of the fact that he likes to victim-blame the Serbs.

I took a seminar on WWI.  I'm going to post what I thought were the best books we read in that class:
James Joll, and Gordon Martel, The Origins of the First World War

Jay Winter and Antoine Prost, The Great War in History: Debates and Controversies 1914 to the Present

Norman Stone, The Eastern Front, 1914-1917

Tammy M. Proctor, Civilians in a World at War, 1914-1918 

Susan R. Grayzel, Women's Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War

Both All Quiet on the Western Front and Storm of Steel were great in terms of cultural history.

J. M. Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History

I'm also going  to attach the syllabus for that class, in case it would be useful.  Our professor studied at Harvard, and was in the habit of posting books each week that we HAD to read, and like ten others each week that we could read for additional context, so there's an entire host of other books here that you might like, but I can't comment because I didn't read all of the ones he labeled "suggested".  He recommended that we read the required one and then two or three "suggested" books a week.

(And speaking of Pity of War, you'll see that our professor did make us read it.  Oh, god.  I do not believe there was one person in the class who thought he should include it for the next class.  His economic sections are enlightening, but beyond that, it reminds me of when news channels insist on having two sides to every story, when some stories have six sides and some stories only have one.  Check it out before you assign it, definitely.  His overall claim is that Britain should have let Germany take over Europe, because they only wanted to be a colonial power too, and they would have had "their time in the sun" is I believe his line, stopped at France, and then Ferguson claims Europe might have seen something like the EU much earlier. Again, I'm not telling you not to assign it.  But my thought was that it was contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, and to draw attention, and honestly, I can't think of one person in the class who did not tell our professor that he should take it off the syllabus for next time.)

 

Hist500WWIsyllabus.docx

Edited by HayleyM
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3 hours ago, HayleyM said:

If you're going to use Sleepwalkers, be aware of the fact that he likes to victim-blame the Serbs.

I took a seminar on WWI.  I'm going to post what I thought were the best books we read in that class:
James Joll, and Gordon Martel, The Origins of the First World War

Jay Winter and Antoine Prost, The Great War in History: Debates and Controversies 1914 to the Present

Norman Stone, The Eastern Front, 1914-1917

Tammy M. Proctor, Civilians in a World at War, 1914-1918 

Susan R. Grayzel, Women's Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War

Both All Quiet on the Western Front and Storm of Steel were great in terms of cultural history.

J. M. Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History

I'm also going  to attach the syllabus for that class, in case it would be useful.  Our professor studied at Harvard, and was in the habit of posting books each week that we HAD to read, and like ten others each week that we could read for additional context, so there's an entire host of other books here that you might like, but I can't comment because I didn't read all of the ones he labeled "suggested".  He recommended that we read the required one and then two or three "suggested" books a week.

(And speaking of Pity of War, you'll see that our professor did make us read it.  Oh, god.  I do not believe there was one person in the class who thought he should include it for the next class.  His economic sections are enlightening, but beyond that, it reminds me of when news channels insist on having two sides to every story, when some stories have six sides and some stories only have one.  Check it out before you assign it, definitely.  His overall claim is that Britain should have let Germany take over Europe, because they only wanted to be a colonial power too, and they would have had "their time in the sun" is I believe his line, stopped at France, and then Ferguson claims Europe might have seen something like the EU much earlier. Again, I'm not telling you not to assign it.  But my thought was that it was contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, and to draw attention, and honestly, I can't think of one person in the class who did not tell our professor that he should take it off the syllabus for next time.)

 

Hist500WWIsyllabus.docx

This was very helpful.  Exactly what I needed.  I will be posting what I learn from this research if you have any other guidance. 

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After examining the reference page of the World History textbook entitled Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, it seems that the authors' main reference was John H. Morrow's Great War: An Imperial History.  Looks pretty interesting.   

https://www.amazon.com/Great-War-Imperial-History/dp/0415204402/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468605926&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Great+War+an+Imperial+History

While the developments of Europe are important, since my research project is a global history, I feel that I have to focus on works that internationalize the conflict as means to make fluid transitions to cover different regions of the world and cover themes.  

Industrial Capitalism + Nationalism ( Great Britain, France, Austro-Hungary, The Balkans, The United States?) + Imperialism (Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, Syria, India, China).  

* Japan's modernization would have to fit somewhere in there too.  

Anyways just some thoughts. 

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3 minutes ago, lelick1234 said:

Industrial Capitalism + Nationalism ( Great Britain, France, Austro-Hungary, The Balkans, The United States?) + Imperialism (Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, Syria, India, China).  

YUP, that's my main claim as well.

I highly recommend you check out  The Origins of the First World War by James Joll and Gordon Martell.  They examine a variety of different potential causes as claimed by others, and then examine whether or not they think they're legitimate.  They have a really popular chapter called "The Mood of 1912", I believe.  It gets reprinted a lot.

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Also, check any GCSE website. The causes of WWI are a standard component in the British curriculum and they have excellent resources (i.e. summarized, so that you see examples on how to present them). Babbling historiography to adolescents will take you nowhere. 

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Most of my undergrads were split between Germany and Austria when asked to place the blame for starting WWI after a well-done, well-balanced lecture by the professor.  Two put out brilliant arguments for Britain, namely Britain's claim to imperialism ;)  I don't think a single person blamed France.

But the book lists above by other posters are good.  WWI is so large that you need to figure out the precise question you want to ask and discuss in the podcast.

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No one mentioned the grand dame of WWI, Barbara Tuchman?

Margaret Macmillan released an excellent book on the build-up to WWI in 2014.

My WWI seminar was taught from an intellectual history perspective, and Perry's Sources of European History: Since 1900, offers a plethora of meaty readings.

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On 7/14/2016 at 8:48 PM, lelick1234 said:

What else should I possibly read to gain a better understanding of causes of WWI? 

 

MOO, any discussion of the causes of the First World War should go hand in hand with a discussion of the historiography of the causes of the First World War. Given your audience, I recommend offering a 60k foot view. Towards this end, ISBN 9780521516488  and ISBN 9780199976270 may be particularly useful. Michael Howard has written two introductory works on the war that may also be useful.

For your background knowledge, in addition to some of the previous suggestions, I recommend the introductory essays by Jay Winter as well as the essays by Volker R. Bergham, and Jean-Jacques Becker and Gerd Krumeich in ISBN 9780521763851 . And also ISBN: 9780199261918 by Hew Strachan.

What ever you decide to read, TMP's guidance is crucial.

FWIW, it's my view that a conversation about the Great War's impact upon global history should center around the military history of the war, in particular:

  • operations in Eastern Europe,
  • civil-military relations, especially in Germany, and
  • the conflict as "total war".

IRT Barbara Tuchman, I recommend the highest level of caution in how one refers to The Guns of August in conversations about the First World War with professionally trained academic historians.

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OP did ask for a historiography. Tuchman's book is a must for not only the assumed causes of WWI up to the 1960s, but how Americans thought about WWI--which is practically a forgotten war in our society. If historians get touchy about the book, they are looking at it from a narrow perspective. 

I'm a cultural historian, so my points of emphasis would be nationalism, imperialism, and race both before, during, and after the war. And I'm siding with Du Bois's thesis that WWI began in and because of Africa. ^^

Edited by NoirFemme
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On 7/15/2016 at 2:19 PM, HayleyM said:

YUP, that's my main claim as well.

I highly recommend you check out  The Origins of the First World War by James Joll and Gordon Martell.  They examine a variety of different potential causes as claimed by others, and then examine whether or not they think they're legitimate.  They have a really popular chapter called "The Mood of 1912", I believe.  It gets reprinted a lot.

I just wanted to echo this recommendation. Joll and Martell have an excellent overview of the causes of the First World War. It is concise and extremely informative approach to the European alliance system, domestic political conditions, and European economic policies. It did incorporate some coverage of non-European elements, I thought the discussion of the influence of the 1904 Russo-Japanese War was especially fruitful. 

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Thanks for all of your wonderful contributions.  This global history of the 20th Century podcast is a life-long project that will hopefully keep me busy for many years reading, writing, and recording.  Since we have basically covered the origins of the the Great War, can I get any suggestions about literature that discusses the global consequences of the war.  I am personally excited to read Erez Manela's The Wilsonian Moment.  

https://www.amazon.com/Wilsonian-Moment-Self-Determination-International-Anticolonial/dp/0195378539?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc

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You CANNOT talk about World War I and not consider the spectre of global communism revolution. Europe was on fire and the Left was a scary possibility to Europe's capitalist elite and their politicians. See, in particular: Ireland, Russia, labour unrest in the UK, and Germany.

 

The concomitant rise of communism and its watered down forms in conjunction with capitalist-nationalism is a narrative that need be told to offer non-teleological alternatives to the carnage, exploitation, and death wrought by imperial-capitalist competition.

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  • 4 months later...

"My natural historical inclination is to focus on how the structural political/ideological trajectory of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century made the political crisis that lead to the war almost inevitable."

Personally, I'm a big fan of Christopher Clark. Reread the introduction to The Sleepwalkers again carefully. He notes, "far from being inevitable, this war was in fact improbable — at least until it actually happened."

Another good one, in addition to everyone else's suggestions, is Annika Mombauer The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus. She explicates a lot of the historiography from Fischer to the present.

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