A Comparative History of the First World War, 1912-1923 (HI33W) – Year 3

100 years after the outbreak of the First World War, one might be tempted to ask if there is anything left to say about this conflict. Yet, the contemporary relevance of an historical topic is unusually clear in the case of First World War studies. The conflict continues to intrude on the public sphere of former belligerent societies, and in many instances, historians have been called upon to engage in controversies that have produced more heat than light. Indeed, it seems that World War I has gained in importance since the 1990s. The growing interest in commemoration and the increased ‘social demand’ addressed to professional historians account, to a certain extent, for the dynamism of First World War studies. Indeed, as we commemorate the centenary of the war, the history of what George F. Kennan called “the great seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century” remains a vibrant field of investigation.

This final-year undergraduate Special Subject will allow students to develop a comparative understanding of the experience of the First World War in the context of the period between 1912 and 1923. The students will also consider the evolution of the historiography of the conflict since the late 1980s. Transformed by a comparative and cultural turn, the field was also reinvigorated by gender studies and innovative approaches to warfare. Questions of methodology as well as of chronology are now at the core of the historiographical debate. This module will challenge the conventional focus on national experiences and offer a pragmatic approach to the comparative and transnational history of the First World War. It will explore a range of historical questions including: war and social modernization, nationalism and cultural mobilization, the experiences of soldiers and commanders, economic mobilization, the transformations of the state, gender and citizenship, race and imperialism, the reconstruction of Europe, international relations and peacemaking.