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New Scholarship on World War I, 2000–2014: Home Front

By Frederic Krome

Home Front

While recent scholarly inquiry has focused attention on the experience and endurance of ordinary soldiers, historians have also begun to mine the rich archival sources on the urban experience, again with a focus on the experience of the common citizen.  Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914-1919, edited by Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Robert, is part of the historiographic trend that seeks to break down the war by national boundaries and examines issues from a comparative perspective that is “relational” instead of sequential.  Each chapter therefore utilizes a single theme and then employs evidence from all three locations to provide a truly comparative perspective.  Roger Chickering’s The Great War and Urban Life in Germany: Freiburg, 1914–1918 demonstrates that in total war, civilians were often as likely as soldiers to become casualties.  Rather than being killed or injured by shrapnel, civilians were more likely to be harmed through the subsidiary effects of war, such as disease and afflictions resulting from starvation.  In a similar vein, Maureen Healy, Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire: Total War and Everyday Life in World War I, demonstrates that on the Habsburg home front, the struggle to find food played a vital role in unraveling the civic bonds of empire.

In an age of total war, the distinction between war front/soldier and home front/civilian became indistinct.  Tammy Proctor, Civilians in a World at War, 1914-1918, demonstrates how this blurring affected large swaths of the population.  In some cases, such as for civilians who lived close to the shifting front lines, the war had an obvious effect on their lives (and safety).  Yet even for people supposedly safely ensconced far from the fighting, the war had an effect on everything from diet and disease to safety (for example, ask a woman working in an armaments factory how safe she felt).

Works Cited