The Great War: Crucible of the Twentieth Century

History 280B.001

Spring 2006
2303 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Fri 12-2

For George Kennan, World War I was ";the seminal catastrophe of the Twentieth Century."; For historians, it offers one of modern history's richest historiographies. It can be likened to a wheel, with spokes -- nationalism, total war, genocide, revolution, peacemaking, but also welfare-statism, sexual upheaval, decolonialization, and modernism, to name just a few -- reaching into the past and into the future. It has thus provided a rich field for innovative work by cultural and social historians as well as by their political, diplomatic and military colleagues.
This seminar will conceive its subject broadly, with works mostly on European countries, but also touching on US and Ottoman history. It will offer the chance to read some classics (Paul Fussell's Great War and Modern Memory, for example) as well as some of the most recent and innovative work (e.g., John Horne and Alan Kramer's German Atrocities 1914. A History of Denial). We will discuss both the ";subject matter"; and (when relevant) the thesis of each book, but also (with an eye to our own craft) the techniques of the historian and the ";genre"; of the work. Some weeks we shall tackle contemporary sources: e.g., Abel Gance's film, J'accuse (Nov. 1918; then re-made in the thirties).

The work load will stress quality over quantity. My preferred mode, aimed at keeping discussions focussed, is to assign a single book each week. Nevertheless, on some weeks we shall supplement the book with a document, or one or more articles, and even perhaps an additional book, depending on the state of the literature. In addition to vigorous participation, seminar members will have three assignments, whose goals are to provide practice in reviewing, analysis, and pedagogy, respectively: 1) a five-sentence summary of each week's book, due at the meeting at which that book is discussed; 2) a short paper (no longer than 10-15 pages), due at the end of the semester, either analyzing and interpreting a single contemporary document/source of your own choosing, or summarizing and analyzing recent developments in a particular field or sub-field; 3) responsibility for leading one week's discussion (not to be confused with making a ";presentation";).