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Fig.1 Underdtanding the Great War
As an MA student on the Bham First World War studies programme we are reading and then writing a book review on Niall Ferguson’s ‘The Pity of War’. The consequence for me is a significant growth in my library of First World War books, and eBooks such as this one. Meanwhile, with this contrasting worlds of real and virtual playing out in parallel workds I am doing the Open University MA in Open and Distance Education module H818: The Networked Practitioner. I’ve done three MOOCs. Is this how a campus based taught course at Bham lauches itself into 21st century education?
Posted on Wednesday 16th October 2013
The University of Birmingham is linking up with the BBC to create an academic first – a unique distance learning course marking the centenary of the First World War next year.
The ‘Wings of Modernity’ course, developed by the University’s Centre for War Studies in conjunction with the BBC, was announced during a press conference outlining the BBC’s forthcoming World War One Centenary coverage today (Wednesday 16 October). It will be a pilot Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) looking at the evolution of airborne conflict, published on the FutureLearn platform.
Controller of Learning Saul Nassé says: ‘The BBC continues to be excited about the development of MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses that will enable mass participation in learning online. We are keen to explore opportunities with a number of University partners as part of our WW1 coverage. The first one to be developed will be with the University of Birmingham, the short course will cover the deployment of air power during the First World War and attitudes to the use of new technology.’
Dr Jonathan Boff, lecturer in war studies at Birmingham, commented: ‘This exciting initiative will give us a chance to share our passion for First World War history with the widest possible audience. It also enables us to continue our pioneering use of digital technology both to support existing students and to attract new ones. Students stimulated by the MOOC can easily pursue their interest by exploring our wide range of full-time and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, online and face-to-face, in war studies and the history of warfare.’
Director of the Centre for War Studies Dr Peter Gray added: ‘The University of Birmingham has, in the Centre for War Studies, the largest and longest-established centre for specialist research and teaching of the First World War anywhere in the world. It is also internationally renowned for excellence in the study of Air Power.
‘The ‘Wings of Modernity’ MOOC will bring together our strengths in both areas to allow students to explore, not only the Great War in the air, but also the impact the war had on aviation more generally, and more broadly still to examine developing attitudes to technology in a time of revolutionary change. Although we often take aeroplanes for granted today, the story of how we got to this point is a fascinating one whose roots lie in 1914-18.’
In a separate but related development, the Centre for War Studies is one of the Universities providing academic advice and support to the BBC’s digital content for the First World War centenary.
This will cover a range of material designed for audiences from as young as five years up to those as old as the war itself and is evidence of the commitment of both organisations to explaining the history of the Great War to the widest possible audience.
Notes to editors
Dr Jonathan Boff is Lecturer in War Studies at the University of Birmingham, where he leads the MA in British First World War Studies and an online-only MA in Military History by Distance Learning.
Dr Peter Gray is the Royal Aeronautical Society Senior Research fellow in Air Power Studies at the University of Birmingham and Director of the Centre for War Studies. He has published widely on a range of air power subjects from historical issues through to contributing to current debates on remote warfare such as the employment of drones. He has extensive practical experience from his time in the Royal Air Force and is in demand worldwide for his knowledge of air power history, theory and practice.
The Centre for War Studies at the University of Birmingham is one of the leading institutions of its kind in the United Kingdom. It brings together academics from around the globe to research and teach military history. With particular strengths in the study of the two world wars and the history and theory of air power, it offers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses and maintains a unique network of alumni and associates active in the field of military history and war studies.
For media enquiries please contact Jenni Ameghino, University of Birmingham Press Office, +44(0)121 415 8134 / +44 (0)7768924156
As I read all that has been said and is being said on the outbreak of war in 1914 I become more confused, not less. It is messy to say the least. A few pages on from drawing the above conclusion Niall Ferguson goes on to blame the smokescreen of indecission put up by the British Foreign Minister Grey. The mistake is to think there is a simple answer.
You start by thinking of gambler’s around a Euopean table, then start to wonder if Germany has the most to lose, to gain and to risk.
Although Kindle suggests otherwise I have read most of these. I have read Christopher Clark ‘The Sleepwalkers. How europe went to war in 1914’ twice and am now reducing copious notes down to a cribsheet or revision notes. In due course I want to generate a series of multiple-choice questions on the QStream patform and a SimpleMind mindmap. By then the info may have stuck. According to Kindle 70% read takes me to the reference section of this 600+ page book. A third complete read is likely as I feel I can trust this Cambridge professor of history to be accurate and up to date.
‘Boy Soldiers’ I have read as a paperback. I find the eBook version more versatile – not least having it in my pocket at all times to cross reference. If there is a way to interest teenage boys in the history of World War One this is it. ‘Meeting the Enemy’ I have just downloaded as Richard van Emden is an easy and authoritative voice. It’ll add colour and insight to my own grandfather’s recollections of how a ‘Jerry’ wandered into their pillbox one foggy October or November morning in 1917.
I have several books on women and the First World War – anthologies and diaries. Often revealing for the common experience rather than anything that is startlingly different.
Others I have read to hear the same narrative with a different voice.
Sean McMeekin on the July Crisis is thorough and more tightly chronological than Clark who spends more time with each country. Another way to do this might be as a kind of bibliography – each of the sixteen or so key players profiled in detail relating to decisions taken in 1914. By the time I have read Allan Mallinson the chronology and landscape of the events leading to conflict in 1914 ought to be clear in my mind. This is how I learn – multiple voices on the same material expressed in a slightly different way – what resonates are the moments and conclusions that they have in common, or something finally makes sense when I hear it expressed in a certain way, or a new insight or nugget of information is offered.
Max Hastings, understandably given his journalism background, composes his narrative like a journalist dipping into anecdotes and gossip. Whilst adding colour and noise some of the history is wrong (the dates of and significance of Russia’s preparatory and pre-mobilization plans) and very little is referenced, which I find odd as he had to get his information from somewhere. Already I am hearing a phrase or fact here and there that I recognise from documenaries and the basic and sometimes dated texts – all should be properly cited but is not. This feels like an opportunity to cash in on 1914-1918 interest. However it does offer something new – largelly what the papers were reporting, with all the selection for sensationalism or curiosity, bias, hyperbole or fog that this means.
Richard Holmes I’ve read in print. Like Lyn Macdonald I find he offers an excellent perspective from the soldier’s point of view.
Paddy Griffith comes recommended courtesy of comments in an Amazon Review. Not this book in particular, but the author and the many books he has written.
Meanwhile I colour this with the Hew Strachan inspired documentary series on the First World War (on YouTube) and others, along with the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and visits to battlefields (Ypres) and museums.
Read on a period in history until you hear the people speak? I can listen to several hours of interviews with my grandfather – or those done with hundreds of veterans over the decades. I like my grandfather’s perspective – it was a job to be done and he wanted to get on with it until the job was done.
A couple of things I feel convinced of from the above reading:
Germany was hemmed in and ultimately left with no choice but to attack on all fronts – Serbia, Austria-Hungary, Russia and even France started this war.
Once in play the brutal behaviour of Austria in Serbia, and especially of Germany in Bulgaria, revealed a a national character, whether fed from the top or inculcated in the soldiers, that had to be stopped.
And the most trammeled and set upon?
So much for neutrality. Did this make Germany (and potentially France) think of Begium as neutered?
As we approach the centenerary of the First World War what will each nation have to say?
Has Germany gone quiet?
What can Serbia say?
And the Turks?
Let alone Commonwealth and Colonial peoples and nations?
What does it say about humankind and nationhood?
It’s not as if we don’t still live with the consequences of that war and the second world war.
Like an undergraduate, rather than a postgraduate, long in tooth, I am reading Prof.C. Clark’s book ‘The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in1914’ for the second time. Read as an eBook, largelly on an iPad with some reading when outdoors on a Kindle, or at my desk, I highlighight in multiple colours and add some short notes as I go along.
With this second reading I am taking notes – in ink using a brand new fountain pen into a softback ‘journal’ or note book. To assemble the information and have it stick I am now professionally aware as an educator with a Master’s degree in e-learning that you need to put in some effort, rather than being passive; that working with different media helps, and that sifting and repeating and reworking content (as I came to appreciate during my A’ levels several decades ago) contributes to this process – as will writing an assignment, working it into fiction (as I plan to do) and even visualizing the content in mindmaps and drawings/paintings.
I have this idea of expressing what I find out as if I could brief my late grandfather; he’d be 117.
For Jack Wilson of Benfieldside, County Durham the First War was a job – he spoke of ‘getting on with it’. As he left school age 14 and was never party to any kind of broader insight, my talking of the Ottoman Empire, the role of Italy, Russia, Serbia and France will intrigue him.
So, we can’t blame the Germans? We have to blame the times? And the Press … and even bankers, at least those in France who financed massive infrastructure and armement projects in Russia and Serbia … and a collection of foreign ministers and other people hungry for power, or for the strength and prestige if their respective nations or empires.
I cannot recommend Prof. Clark’s book more strongly – it should be everyone’s starting point as we approach the hundreth anniversary of this dreadful conflict and reflect on what it did to people and the world.
‘The war to end war’ to quote HGWells correctly cast a long shadow across the world Europe and the Balkans, the former Ottoman Empire and beyond.
A more thorough, comprehensive, balanced and relevant, detailed narrative of whst took place, how and why that led to conflict in 1914. Vital resding to anyone interested on why the world went to war in 1914, and background to many 20th and even 21sf century conflicts since from the Second World War, through the Cold War, Balkan War and even civil war in Syria. As the Ottoman Empire fell apart like a pair of unmendable trousers the Balkans became a collection of nations that the powers of the day wanted to influence – Russia eventually picking Serbia which was also the nemesis of Austria-Hungary. Britain was aligned with Russia to protect interests far further afield, such ad India, while France, still wounded from the loss of Alsace-Lorraine was more thsn prepared to fight Germany if first the alliance with Russia, and then that with Britain could be brought into play. Some three decades of taking an interest in the First War and this book is by far the best read on the causes and therefore the most important of anything I have read. Make it the first book of any you may wish to read as the centenary looms.
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914 by the Australian historian Christopher Clark is the most thorough, balanced and I therefore believe accurate assessment of what took Europe and the world to war in 1914 – repurcussions froms which we still feel to this day, not least in the current impasses in Syria, a product of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and in its use of chemical weapons first used and condemned in the First World War. Blaming a nationa is foolish – the blame, if we are to pick people, begins with the Serbian plotter, assin and gangster Dragutin Dimitrijevic – a regicide who planned and successfully executed the assasination of archduke Franz Ferdinand – without him none of this would have happened. In HIS hands is the blood of 9 million from the First War and 20 million from the Second. He wanted to bring things to an impasse between Serbia and Austria-Hungary so that a Great Serbia could be forged. Next in line to blame is Tzar Nicholas II of Russia who turned any advice on what had caused or who had instigated the assasination of the Archduke on its head and in pushing to support Serbia knew an attack on Austria- Hungary was needed and doing this would expose a flank to German so would naturally have to include an attack on Germany too. Next I blame the French for siding with Russia and knowing that they would need to attack German or defend an attack from Germany. Tucked in here somewhere blame must go to Conrad and Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – who deserved and required retribution for what all knew to have been a plot from Serbia if not from the Serbian government – the problem here was the tangled mess that was the Serbian government – too weak to oppose terrorist groupings (there are two) such as The Black Hand, who like a secretive group of Free Masons or the ‘old school tie’ and artistocratic links that controlled politics in the British Empire, could not be policed, managed or held to account. Austria-Hungary should have asked, “what would Franz Ferdinand” have done? He would had trodden carefully, always having wanted to give greater autonomy to ‘nations’ within the empire. And, on the list, but lower down, blame needs to go to Gavrilo Princip. As various opportunities presented themselves to assasinated the archduke and some of the seven assasins had their go, two go cold feet on seeing the duchess Sophia – did she need to die too? Had Princip shot only the archduke then the response from Vienna, though tough, may have been less than all out war with Serbia. I do not blame Germany at all, indeed I see how they suddenly found themselves hemmed in by aggressors. Germany, like Russia, were then simply chancing their arm, believing each had the adequate military muscle to prevails and itching to settle all kinds of unresolved scores and national and empirical ambitions that a battle or two would resolve. None could see the scale. It became, and has been, a hundred year’s of war …