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New Scholarship on World War I, 2000–2014: Surveys

By Frederic Krome


Most surveys of the war have moved away from a focus on the western front and now encompass a more global perspective.  These surveys generally fall into two distinct categories: those that focus on the big picture and include political, military, social, and economic history; and those best characterized as either military or operational histories.  Students interested in the big picture should consult Hew Strachan, The First World War (vol. 1, To Arms).  This monumental study of what is supposed to be a grand trilogy of the war incorporates everything from diplomacy to finance.  Unfortunately, only one volume has appeared so far.

Libraries would do well to have in their collections The First World War (ten one-hour episodes on four DVDs), a 2003 British Channel 4 television series narrated and produced by Jonathan Lewis and based on Strachan’s 2004 book of the same name.  For basic reference, John Horne’s edited A Companion to World War I is a good source for students who need quick information, or a way to get started on research projects.

Eric Dorn Brose’s A History of the Great War: World War One and the International Crisis of the Early Twentieth Century and Strachan’s 2004 version of The First World War are superb general surveys, while a very good operational/strategic analysis that puts the war into global perspective is Michael S. Neiberg’s Fighting the Great War: A Global History.  Peter Hart’s The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War is a recent (2013) addition to the literature, and while it does not break new interpretive ground, it does very well integrating the experiences of common soldiers into the narrative.

Teachers looking for a good model to use to craft a lecture for either a European or world history survey course should see Michael Neiberg’s chapter in editors Roger Chickering, Dennis Showalter, and Hans van de Ven’s The Cambridge History of War; Volume IV: War in the Modern World.  Additional chapters in part two, “The Era of Total War, 1914-45,” will provide researchers with information on topics such as the laws of war, military occupations, and the home front.  For a nontraditional survey of the war, Ian F. W. Beckett’s The Making of the First World War considers how the war shaped the twentieth century via a focus on a dozen distinctive events, personalities, or films.

The three volumes of The Cambridge History of the First World War were published in 2014, edited by Jay Winter, one of the doyens of World War I studies.  Volume one, Global War, focuses on a narrative and topical history of the war and includes chapters on such subjects as the air war, Latin America, genocide, and the laws of war.  In an era of total war, the distinction between war front and home front becomes blurred, and volume two, The State, examines that blurring with such diverse topics as agrarian society, city life, and the role of scientists.  Volume three, Civil Society, includes chapters on gender, family life, shell shock, and the long-term effects on combatants.  The authors of the seventy-three chapters are a virtual roll call of the scholars of the era, and by incorporating many of the interdisciplinary topics that have transformed the field, the series promises to be an important contribution to any library.

Works Cited