A world War 1 Historians Dinner Party

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A World War 1 Historians Dinner Party

This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. For this special occasion, and with the help of some magic by the Time Lord, 12 historians will be coming over for a “Who dunnit” dinner party to discuss the causes of World War One. It is your job, as a class, to decide on the seating arrangement.

Online version here: http://yesibhistory.blogspot.com.au/p/historians-on-ww1.html

Here are our guests:http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-zg68n4kxuj4/uuywmsza_ci/aaaaaaaadxq/nehegt1rlog/s1600/dining_room.jpg

  1. Ruth Henig

  2. Gordon Martel

  3. AJP Taylor

  4. Sydney Bradshaw Fay

  5. Fritz Fischer

  6. Paul Kennedy

  7. Christopher Clark

  8. Richard Evans

  9. Max Hastings

  10. Gary Sheffield

  11. Gerhard Ritter

  12. Margaret MacMillan

Task 1

You will each be assigned an Historian. For your historian, compile an information sheet (no longer than one typed A4). Provide some brief background on the guest. (for example: Where are they from, when did they write their book(s), what was the response to their book, what is their area of expertise, what other books have they written etc etc).

To who and/or to what does this person attribute the outbreak of World War One? This section should contain a clear explanation of their views, and who (if possible) they agree or disagree with. Try to identify where this historian sits in the debate.
Include quotes.
Include a portrait photo and an image of their most relevant book on World War One.

Task 2

You will receive everybody else’s information sheet. Read all of them. Become familiar with the view points of the other historians. Create a tentative seating plan by yourself. The dining table will be long and rectangular, with 6 people sitting on each side. No people will sit at the head of the table.

Task 3

Come together as a class to create TWO seating plans:

Seating plan 1: Plan for the most harmonious party. Minimal arguments. Let people who agree and have much in common sit together. Guests who disagree the most should be furthest from each other.
Seating plan 2: Plan for the most heated debates. Let’s make it an interesting evening! Sit people who really don’t see eye to eye close to each other.

Task 4

Act it out! Bring in food, some drinks and let's have some great discussions.


You have a lot of information at your finger tips.

  1. A must: All historians views ww1 IVS This is a very detailed and interesting document that outlines the historiography of WW1. This information is vital in understanding the different viewpoints on and interpretations of the causes of World War 1. Focus on the second article that contains the historians' quotes.

  2. Get some tips on efficient online searches.

  3. The Google Drive folder (WW1) has many relevant handouts and information.

  4. Use your textbook

  5. Don’t forget Google Scholar, EBSCOhost, Jstor and the EBL.

  6. Come by my office, I have some of the books by these historians.

  7. There is detailed up-to date information on the recent work of some historians on this page (incl Margaret MacMillan, Gary Sheffield, Richard Evans, Christopher Clark)

  8. Collected WW1 links on Diigo: https://www.diigo.com/user/vanweringh/ww1

Historians on World War 1, the recent debate


Introduction 2

Richard Evans on Causes of WW1 3

Challenging WW1 Myths, by History teacher John Blake 4

Nigel Biggar: WW1 was a just war 6

Review and explanation of Christopher Clark’s “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914″ 10

Review and comparison of Clark’s “Sleepwalkers” and McMeekin’s “July 1914″ 12

Review of three books, by MacMillan, McMeekin and Hastings: How recklessness, unstable alliances and bad luck plunged Europe into crisis 14

Niall Ferguson: WW1 was unnecessary. Interview about his book “The Pity of War” 16

Antony Beevor on the left/right wing debate 18

Russel Tarr’s worksheet on Historians Debate on Twitter 19


It promises to be a great year for World War One Historiography. In the first week of 2014 UK’s Tory Secretary of Education Michael Gove started a heated debate about the way the centenary of WW1 should be commemorated. Gove attacked the “Left-wing” and “the Blackadder” interpretations WW1. Twitter erupted in response and soon many respected historians weighed in on the debate. I found all of these viewpoints fascinating so I collected some of the recent articles and summarised them. Below you will find key excerpts of articles by Richard Evans, Gary Sheffield and Nigel Birrar. I outlined book reviews of Christopher Clark, Sean McMeekin and Margaret McMillan and there is a great article by History teacher John Blake. I included an old interview (YouTube) with Niall Ferguson on his book “The Pity of War” and there is a fantastic Twitter discussion between History teacher Russel Tarr and Historians Simon Schama, Tom Holland and Gary Sheffield.

The outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914 has been attributed to accident, design and confusion:

  • No one intended that armed conflict would break out in 1914; 

  • German and Austrian military elites planned the conversion of a Balkan diplomatic crisis into an armed confrontation; 

  • Political and military leaders throughout Europe began to manoeuver with some notion that war was possible, but found that they could not resist the momentum of confrontation (Joll 1992). 

The debate is now extremely sophisticated, especially concerning the calculations and policies of the German leadership and revolves around whether Germany intended an offensive war of territorial expansion or a defensive war designed to reorder European diplomatic relations. Recently debate has centred more on short term factors such as the reasons behind the blank cheque, Russian mobilisation and competing Serb, Austro-Hungarian and Russian aims for the Balkans. 

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