The 6 key IB history concepts through the lens of current US interest in World War I

If you have studied the First World War as an IB student, the importance of this war is not lost on you.  World War I sowed the seeds of communist revolution in Russia, independence in Ireland, decolonization in much of the world, and a change in the international perception of a number of countries.

2014 marked the beginning of the centennial for most of the belligerents involved in the war, and this has led to a renewed interest and reconsideration of the causes (another IB history key concept) of the war, and of those involved in the origins of the war.  The nature of the study of history changed and there is more of a consideration of different perspectives (yet another concept!) on the war.  The origins don’t simply focused on the machinations of the major powers, and those in power.   In particular, there has been renewed interest in the role of Gavrilo Princip and what can be learned from this young man who was not much older than a second-year DP student when he assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and set the wheels of war in motion.

By James Montgomery Flagg. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the United States, however, the First World War is not covered in depth.  Despite the significance (one of the IB history key concepts) that the war had on events that affected the US, it was seen as a European affair that only became relevant to the US when its interests were threatened.  Once the war concluded, most Americans returned to studied disinterest in what they saw as European affairs, and the war receded as it could.  As the centennial of the First World War began, there were some articles and documentaries, but it is only in 2017, as the US entrance reached its centennial that interest began to climb.  A quick search of World War I in US media shows a sharp increase in its presence from April onward, and it continues through the summer.

In addition to the raised profile of the US World War I Centennial Commission – which has a very useful and user-friendly website at http://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php – there are also a number of articles that have appeared in scholarly and popular journals.  Most recently, National Public Radio reported that the US National Air and Space Museum has an exhibit to commemorate the war.  The eponymous Artist Soldiers exhibit documents the ways in which soldiers and army-commissioned artists documented the war (https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/artist-soldiers).

What does it all mean?  Now that the US has reached its centennial of involvement there is a re-consideration of the war, and the part that the US played in it.  What seemed like an abstraction as early as 1919 or 1920 is so much more relevant today.  The instantaneous nature of media means that Americans are far more connected to the rest of the world now than they were then.  At times that leads to a feeling of fear and xenophobia (as it did in the past) but it also means an increased desire to understand the impact of the war on international events, and perhaps a re-consideration of the consequences (another concept!) not just of US involvement in the war and the peacemaking process, but also in its determination to be disinterested in all things European.

As historians, it is your job to consider how much continuity and change there has been regarding these attitudes – and with that, we have hit all 6 concepts.

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