Why the war came …

by I.A. Isherwood

Today we started the Great War class. You can never gauge a semester by the first day, but I was encouraged by some hands going up which is a good sign. This week we will be introducing ‘the world of 1914’ and with that comes certain topics.

  • Changes to European powers over the nineteenth century. Here we are trying to get at 1914 by going back to 1815 and tracing the 19th century imperial world as it developed. This is tricky and time-consuming, but it is important for us to discuss social, economic, political, cultural, and diplomatic changes in the decades before the war.
  • European perceptions of the purpose of warfare in 1914. Why was a major war between great powers possible? Why was war a diplomatic option?
  • The post 1871 world and rising tensions in the first decade of the twentieth century. There are a lot of complexities in studying this period, but it is important for students to know that there were a number of international agreements and crises that did not lead to a general European before we dive into the one that did.
  • The July Crisis. Getting the facts and the timeline out of the way so that next week we can look at why the Central Powers went to war.

We’re reading Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig’s excellent Decisions for War so that we can get specific about who was making the decisions for war (and why). We’ll see how much of this material that we get through.