New Scholarship on World War I, 2000-2014

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Author: Frederic Krome
Date: Sept. 2014
Publisher: American Library Association CHOICE
Document Type: Recommended readings
Length: 11,579 words
Lexile Measure: 1380L

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The hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I was commemorated in a variety of venues across the world in the spring and summer of 2014. Like many milestones, the centennial of the war is an ideal proof text of the adage that when it comes to historical interpretation, what you see depends on where you stand. While the war shaped many events of the twentieth century--propelling the United States to world power status, causing the Bolshevik Revolution, and shaping the geopolitics of the modern Middle East, to name just a few--how one interprets the significance of these events depends on which side of current political dilemmas a person stands. Even the very name of the conflict is subject to geographic variations: in Great Britain and parts of Europe, it is referred to as the First World War; in the United States, it is usually called World War I; and some parts of the world still refer to it as the Great War.

Among historians, the war remains a subject of intense historical discussion, as a glance at any publisher catalog will attest. The old view of the war--a futile conflict in which lambs were led to the slaughter by butchers--actually dates to the decade after 1918. In 1914, many people went to war, sometimes resigned and sometimes enthusiastically, believing they were fighting for a number of noble causes: the rights of small nations (like Belgium), the freedom of the seas, national honor, and defense of their homelands. In the war's immediate aftermath, and despite the extent of the slaughter and suffering, this remained the dominant view. It was not until the late 1920s, with publications such as Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That (1929) and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), that the narrative of the conflict was cast in terms of futility and senseless slaughter.

Over the past few decades, the output of scholarly studies on the war has been quite impressive, as has the quality of the publications. Per Heather Jones's assertion about the development of the historiography of the war in her article "As the Centenary Approaches," and in order to make the subject manageable, only material published since 2000 is included in this essay, which is intended to reflect the historiographic evolution of World War I over the past decade. In some areas, the traditional subjects still provide a fertile source for publications. For example, studies on the origins of the war and specific zones of the conflict (e.g., the western and eastern fronts) still draw the attention of historians, albeit with attention on hitherto neglected sources. Yet, as Jones's essay indicates, the development of interdisciplinary studies has opened up new vistas for understanding the war via research into such subjects as gender, popular culture, and historical memory. This essay is organized according to themes designed to recognize the traditional subject matter of the war--such as the diplomacy and the background to the war, military technology, strategy and tactics, and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A381948049