The new academic year began for me almost weeks ago. A new journey with new faces and new students to enlighten and to inspire (hopefully). It is also exciting for me, personally and professionally, as I am one of a team of three professors collaborating on a new class being offered this semester. As this upcoming November 11, 2018, marks the centenary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Great War of 1914-1918 (World War I), this particular class offers a retrospective on that event, the “war to end all wars.”
Sponsored by the university’s Office of Inter-Disciplinary Studies (IDS), this is a relatively novel effort within our academic community to combine the past with the present in examining both our present lives and our future actions. The class is an attempt to foster collaboration between the academic faculty of the many different disciplines in exposing students to new areas of study, learning and instructional modes. It also exposes both the instructors and students to an entire new range of both.
The subject matter of this new educational enterprise is “The Hundred Days Campaign.” It explores the final months of the Great War and how the Allied powers (U.K. and the Commonwealth, France, Belgium, Japan, Italy, Romania, Greece and the USA) and their individual national and collective international war attitudes that created a peace that was doomed to failure. This fateful initiative changed lives and affected history in ways that we are continuing to experience.
Author’s Note: The above photograph I found on the internet. It doesn’t depict a Great War warrior (the helmet design dates this from a subsequent war) but the idea is still conveyed. Of course, we all know that soldiers almost never fought bare.
Being involved in this project is rewarding for me as my baccalaureate degree is in history and this afforded me the opportunity to return to the subject after years of being removed from facilitating any educational discussion of topics relating to history. Since leaving the historical discipline, I have learned that my maternal grandmother’s brother (Uncle George) fought in the Greek army during World War I as was gassed while defending Greece from the enemy (Ottoman Turks, Bulgarians or Austro-Hungarians; no one alive remembers which one). The effects of being exposed to the gas affected him mentally and he committed suicide by hanging himself in 1921. Therefore, my participation has assumed a personal connection.
Designing our curriculum was perhaps the greatest challenge for all of us involved. Each one felt their own discipline was paramount and deserved far more attention than it was awarded. I, on the other hand, had no stake other than history as a baccalaureate realm of study and frequently found myself having to instruct my fellow esteemed colleagues on what actually did transpire during the Great War and what did not. One collaborator insisted the the “Charge of the Light Brigade” took place during this period in history and wanted to know my credentials for correcting her. She has yet to apologize for her mistake when I proved her mistake.
The above image shows World War II soldiers skinny-dipping. They’re not World War I troops, but I am certain a number of WWI combatants skinny-dipped during their terms of service.
Aside from the above mentioned incident, mostly my contributions to the curriculum and to the class consist of a discussion of the chronological progress of the last months of the conflict and offering insight onto the same. My time is required of each class meeting as the history of the 100 Days Campaign is the core of the course offering. This spared me entering into the departmental controversy surrounding necessary time restrictions. Students majoring in History and especially Twentieth Century History were offered this class as a “meets requirements” course towards their major field of study. For all other students, it was offered as an elective toward graduation requirements.
In preparing for this class, this past summer I did research into the 100 Days Campaign as well as the origins and outcomes of the Great War. I admit to not having to research as extensively as I’ve kept current throughout the all centennial years of the conflict, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. During this July and August, I did read the following books relating to the Great War:
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm by Miranda Carter
The End of Tsarist Russia by M. Berenger
Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I
by Nick Lloyd
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began
by Jack Beatty
The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan
Author’s Note: To prevent any misunderstanding, neither I nor my students participate in my classes bare. Using images of nudity (hopefully) encourages others to try nakedness for themselves.
Thus far, we’ve had three class sessions this academic year and this “experiment” in interdisciplinary education has received positive responses from the class. The enrollment reached maximum even before the registration deadline last semester. The University’s Registrar’s Office is even maintaining a “waiting list” of others who wish to enroll for this semester.
It’s a challenge that I needed professionally. It is also rewarding seeing the enthusiasm of the students. In my eyes, although the USA’s involvement in the Great War of 1914 – 1918 isn’t receiving much attention, academically nor nationally, it does prove that it is one event that clearly warrants recognition and study. In order to avoid repeating our mistakes of isolation in the future, we do need to examine our past.