by I.A. Isherwood
For class on Monday we will examine some of the short term causes of the First World War. When I say ‘short term’ what I mean is that we will be looking at how the diplomatic situation changed in the immediate decade before the war’s outbreak and the specifics of the July Crisis. In addition to their textbook reading, I have assigned a lecture by Margaret MacMillan and an online article by David Stevenson, two historians whose work I greatly admire. There is so much excellent material available online (podcasts, lectures, web articles by noted historians) that I have tried to incorporate some of this into the class to vary the assignments a bit.
From there, we will have a class debate on Wednesday. I think that there is some merit in discussing the issue of blame because it forces students to come up arguments on either side of the issue (and it gets them thinking beyond the ‘sliding into war’ fallacy) and to tackle the notion of war guilt itself at this early stage of the semester. The key thing is the realization that state leaders made conscious decisions to go to war in 1914 for reasons that seemed important and logical at the time. It is a hard thing to reflect upon those motivations in light of what we know were the outcomes of the war. But part of our job as historians is to do just that.