How Should World War I Be Taught?

On August 5th, 1917 The New York Times published a rotogravure pictorial spread for their Sunday supplement, leading with General Pershing inspecting a shell factory in France (the top image).

The most alarming picture in the entire 7-page spread is the one in the lower left-hand corner (closeup below) showing French soldiers wearing gas hoods operating a truck-mounted gun (right under a picture of Gen. Pershing getting a rose from a Parisian munitions worker):See the whole thing at the Library of Congress.  And don’t miss reading the ads at the back — items such as “Armi-Khaki” brand trousers and skirts were for sale for the discerning yet patriotic young woman.  And check out the other newspapers in this collection: the New York Tribune had far more accurate pictures of life in wartime.

Compare that sanitized version to the present.  The lede on this Associated Press article about the centenary of the third Battle of Ypres (which occurred about a week before the Times thing was published) shows how reporting has changed:

Dismembered soldiers sucked into cesspools of mud. Shattered tree trunks and the waft of poison gas hovering over the wounded who were awaiting their fates on the scarred soil of Flanders Fields.

The featured image for this post shows a nightmare scene from Ypres that never made it into a contemporary newspaper, but that could definitely be used for that AP article.  It shows soldiers of an Australian 4th Division field artillery brigade on a duckboard track passing through Chateau Wood, near Hooge in the Ypres salient, 29 October 1917. The leading soldier is Gunner James Fulton and the second soldier is Lieutenant Anthony Devine. The men belong to a battery of the 10th Field Artillery Brigade. (Photo by Frank Hurley, available from the Collection Database of the Australian War Memorial under the ID Number: E01220.)

The recent centenary of the U.S. entry into World War I on April 6th has prompted a similar bit of soul searching about how that war is represented in our classrooms — and in our textbooks.  The state standards for U.S. history courses vary widely, but most emphasize teaching WWI as part of the narrative of rising U.S. power and its global projection, while the standards for world history courses emphasize impersonal forces such as nationalism, militarism, and imperialism.  (I say most, even though the author only surveyed three large states, as I’ve done or supervised correlations for dozens of sets of state standards over the years.)  Author Kyle Greenwalt thinks this is due to the differing aims of the courses (creating citizens vs. navigating global connections), but that they can be reconciled:

In my own view, it seems incomplete to teach just one of these conflicting views of World War I. Instead, I would recommend to history teachers that they explore competing perspectives of the past with their students.

What do you think?   If you compare WorldView Software’s American History II, Chapter 8: America Becomes Involved in World War I with our World History B, Chapter 8: Causes, Course and Conclusion of World War I, you should see elements from both the narratives represented.  For example, in World History B, you’ll find Wilson’s Fourteen Points presented from the American point of view, as well as a map detailing the extent of imperialism in 1915.

And it matters today because we see the same urges to isolationism and internationalism: The recent Bastille Day celebrations in France included the French president hosting the American one:

But Mr. Macron is hoping that his invitation will mark a turnaround: that Trump’s positions on trade, borders, security – and key from the French president’s vantage, the Paris climate accord, from which the US pulled out – could get a rethink after his state visit. After all, if President Wilson won the 1916 American election on an isolationist pledge, he entered “The Great War” just weeks after his inauguration, a key to the Allied victory a year and a half later.

It’s too early to tell whether this tack will work, but it shows that at least Macron is determined not to let history repeat.


BulbgraphOnOffWrite unguided essay outlines together in class, using the guided essay model. Have class discuss and select main and supporting ideas.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

January 13, 1776

British Admiral Molyneaux Shuldham reports to the First Lord of the Admiralty Lord Sandwich that he will be “surprised to learn how fast the armed vessels of the rebels have multiplied lately, how …

Source: January 13, 1776

[The paths of revolution never run smoothly — read George Washington’s letters from this post and the next to get a taste of what a general has to put up with!]

Top Ten Posts in 2016

These were the posts on WorldView Software’s blog that were most popular over the past year:

  1. Home page / Archives – See the latest post here
  2. American Ancestry in Maps – there are LOTS of people with German ancestry
  3. Transgender People in History – definitions, historical examples, and more
  4. The Museum of Lost Objects – documenting antiquities lost to war
  5. How Do Polls Work? – when is a poll a valid measure of public opinion?
  6. Economic Indicators – non-traditional indicators of economic well-being (or not)
  7. Phases of the Moon – why we keep track of the moon
  8. Could You Come up with $1,000 for an Emergency? – a personal financial literacy issue
  9. Secular Homeschoolers – why WorldView’s materials are a good fit
  10. Using Pokémon Go to Teach Local History – how to work the fad into your lesson planning

Have a happy new year, and thanks for reading!


BulbgraphOnOffAlmost any current browser can be used with WorldView Software, making it accessible from a wide range of devices.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

Battle of the Milvian Bridge (Essay)

“Yet combining the accounts, as later streamlined tradition inevitably does, results in a nonexistent clarity over the event: one account places the vision on the day before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, another leaves out the night dream and betrays neither a Christian or pagan slant, while the earliest account of the Italian campaign mentions no vision or dream at all, but does assume Constantine was divinely guided: “You must share some secret with that divine mind, Constantine, which has delegated care of us to lesser gods.” Perhaps counterintuitively, the inconsistencies in the accounts may speak to the genuinely strange nature of the experience, which was remembered, retold, and reinterpreted, throughout Constantine’s life.”

— excerpt from word and silence

[Exploration of a turning point in history: the conversion of Emperor Constantine. For background, read Chapter 6: Rise and Fall of Rome in WorldView Software’s World History A.  Read more of the excerpt at word and silence; the entire article is available in the current edition of Military Heritage.]

[Featured image is a detail from the painting Constantine at the battle of Milvian Bridge by a member of the Raphaelite School.]

Global Peace Index on #internationaldayofpeace

With the headlines filled with news of record-breaking numbers of refugees from war and civil violence, it seems counter-intuitive to state that for the most part, violence is actually declining. However, it seems to be true, and by certain measures has been for some time now, both in the U.S. and globally.

Back in 2014, the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University released a report indicating a significant decline in the frequency and deadliness of armed conflict since World War II.  While the report noted that the total number of armed conflict types  increased 300% from the 1950s to the end of the Cold War, most of those conflicts were low-intensity civil wars with comparatively low fatality counts.  In general, international wars between countries are responsible for more deaths, so a decline in this type of conflict led to a decline in deaths from violence.

According to the researchers at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the Syrian Civil War and terrorism in the Middle East and Southwest Asia are the exceptions that have proved the rule.  The IEP’s Global Peace Index for 2016 measures 23 indicators including incidents of violent crime, countries’ levels of militarization, and weapons imports.  The Syrian conflict and other escalating conflicts in the Middle East (Iraq, Yemen, Libya, etc.) have increased the level of global violence as a total, even as the rest of the world becomes more peaceful.  The researchers also found significant  improvement in resources devoted to peacekeeping and away from military spending.

Here in the U.S. the decline is also happening.  According to this report in the Washington Post last year,

fewer Americans are dying as a result of gun violence — a shift that began about two decades ago….This decline in gun violence is part of an overall decline in violent crime. According to the FBI’s data, the national rate of violent crime has decreased 49 percent since its apex in 1991. Even as a certain type of mass shooting is apparently becoming more frequent, America has become a much less violent place.

The article identifies several possible explanations for the decline: more police officers, the use of computers to collect and crunch data,  a decline in national alcohol consumption, less lead in the environment, and a better economy.

And the trend has actually continued, with similar exceptions that prove the rule: while the statistics for the national homicide rate leaped up this year, that is the effect of murders in just three cities: Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. (and Chicago is responsible for most of those). The rest of the country continues to experience less violent crime.

Why is this decline happening?

Harvard professor Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist, linguist, and psychologist, thinks that this is because of human nature.  In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, he writes that innovations such as the state with its monopoly on the use of violence and ideas such as human rights have progressively contributed to more peaceful societies — from the family on up to the globe.  This has been possible, he says, because humans are hard-wired to have reasoning ability and emotional empathy.  That, in combination with material prosperity, allows a culture that values peace — and creates a virtuous cycle where more peace allows more prosperity which allows more peace.

Not everyone agrees with either his data or his assessment of it.  The book’s reviewer at The New York Times makes note of a disturbing trend in violence tied to climate change, and questions whether this might stop that virtuous cycle.  And that isn’t the only threat on the horizon: a reviewer at The Christian Science Monitor wrote:

Discussing the possibilities of terrorists or so-called rogue states, Pinker said, “A large number of deaths from a single renegade perpetrator would be a misleading indicator of the state of the world.” But that is precisely the point, which is why World War I is still shocking 100 years later – technologies of mass destruction can make the otherwise peaceful and progressive nature of societies irrelevant.

The reviewer at The Guardian flat-out refuses to buy the thesis that reason is winning.  The power of the state can and has been used to kill, not just to pacify — as practically the  entire 20th century and the prison-industrial complex in the U.S. demonstrates.  Furthermore, rather than admit that reasoning from base assumptions can permit extraordinary evil to flourish, he writes that Pinker discards much of the Enlightenment and its progeny:

How could a philosophy of reason and toleration be implicated in mass murder? The cause can only be the sinister influence of counter-Enlightenment ideas…Such links between Enlightenment thinking and 20th-century barbarism are, for Pinker, merely aberrations, distortions of a pristine teaching that is innocent of any crime: the atrocities that have been carried out in its name come from misinterpreting the true gospel, or its corruption by alien influences.

And finally, Pinker’s grasp of statistics has been rigorously questioned (.pdf).  This last is important because how data is generated in the first place is just as fraught with complications as how it is interpreted; epistemology counts.

All of which goes to say that these datasets and these explanations are debatable, so have at it in class!

[Featured image is 6,000 members of the Ithaca community forming the world’s largest human peace sign, 22 June 2008, by Rebecca Eschler, CC by 3.0.]


BulbgraphOnOffProjects and Internet Projects are ideally suited to flipped classrooms — students can read and research on their own, while doing the cumulative activity in class.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

Teaching with Images

They say one image is worth a thousand words, which may or may not be true depending on your verbosity. However, you can certainly use one image to spark a multitude of discussions. The image featured here is the famous AP photo by Nick Ut of nine year-old Kim Phuc running screaming down the road from her village (used in WorldView Software‘s American History II).  She ripped off her burning clothes, but still couldn’t escape the jellied napalm that clung to her skin:

It was Ut, now 65, who captured Phuc’s agony on June 8, 1972, after the South Vietnamese military accidentally dropped napalm on civilians in Phuc’s village, Trang Bang, outside Saigon.

Ut remembers the girl screaming in Vietnamese, “Too hot! Too hot!” He put her in the AP van where she crouched on the floor, her burnt skin raw and peeling off her body as she sobbed, “I think I’m dying, too hot, too hot, I’m dying.”

He took her to a hospital. Only then did he return to the Saigon bureau to file his photographs, including the one of Phuc on fire that would win the Pulitzer Prize.

She was incredibly able to survive the burns over a third of her body.  The image is back in the news because Ms. Phuc, who now lives in Canada with her husband and children, is set to undergo laser treatment that will hopefully relieve the agony from the scarring that she has lived with ever since recovering.

As a teacher, there are many questions that can be generated for this image, aside from the obvious one about its effect on the anti-war movement in the United States.

  • Use it to compare to other famous images from that conflict, such as Eddie Adams’s photo of a general summarily executing a prisoner — what assumptions are you as the viewer making about the image? How much background and context do you know about it?
  • This image is a snapshot in time, but we’re revisiting it in this blog because the consequences of that moment in time continue to reverberate — the child grew up and became an adult.  Kim Phuc started the KIM Foundation,  which provides medical and psychological assistance to children wounded in war.  Is an image’s job done if it raises awareness in the moment?  Or are there echoes?
  • What does it mean when such a powerful image is protected by restrictive copyright laws?  What is “fair use” of such an image?
  • What is the role of the photojournalist?  What, if any, rules or guidelines should they follow when covering the news?  Do these rules apply to other journalists as well?

And so on.  Let us know in the comments about other discussions!


BulbgraphOnOffArt images are a great way to introduce units: use them to generate questions on all sorts of topics!