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New Scholarship on World War I, 2000–2014: The Centennial

By Frederic Krome

The Centennial

This year’s anniversary of the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the subsequent declarations of war in August 1914 promise to make the next few years interesting, as the centenary of many famous moments of the war—the Battles of the Marne, Gallipoli, and the Somme, for example—will also engender opportunities for commemorations, reflections, and even more publications.

The year 2014 also provides an opportunity for libraries to assess the state of their collections, as the next few years are almost certain to sustain interest among students and teachers for some time.  An assessment of a library collection is also essential because the study of World War I has witnessed dynamic growth both in the production of books and in interpretation of historical research.  Indeed, Heather Jones’s 2013 essay for The Historical Journal argues that since 2000, new interdisciplinary methodologies have transformed the historiographic horizons of World War I studies.  For example, scholarly monographs have examined the role of race and gender in the war, while historians have looked to new sources to address old questions on such topics as the origins of the war and the experience of battle.

Along with greater emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, two additional trends in World War I historiography are of particular interest.  The first is a more extensive use of the comparative approach, which is being applied to explore the experiences of the common soldier and to examine the policies of the participating nations.  Jones’s recent study, Violence against Prisoners of War in the First World War, and Alexander Watson’s comparison of how German and British soldiers endured combat, in Enduring the Great War, challenge assumptions that soldiers’ experiences are all similar, no matter their nationality.  Comparative analysis of subjects such as propaganda, naval affairs, or even food policy widens the perspective on where and why similar goals—such as engaging the masses in war enthusiasm—succeeded or failed on a policy level.

The second historiographical trend helps place the war in greater chronological context.  For example, analysis of how military doctrine or technology evolved before 1914 helps the understanding of how armies adapted to the war.  Placing diplomatic activities to safeguard the rights of small nations or minority groups from before 1914 until the eve of World War II helps give perspective on the role of the Great War in the development of international law (and its successes and failures).  Examining the experiences of German soldiers during the conflict and then into the Weimar era and beyond tests assumptions about the long-term impact of combat, and challenges conventional wisdom about how the war experience radicalized German soldiers.

Works Cited