So, How Would You Teach a Course on World War I?

A friend teaches at a State University. He is going to be teaching a one credit course on World War I, which he has never taught before. He described his students as moderately smart but not very knowledgeable about history. He plans to use All Quiet On the Western Front as his main text and a bunch of articles and excerpts, plus lectures. I offered my thoughts about how I would teach such a course. Since our readers seem to like posts which recommend books, I thought this might be of interest.

A course on World War I taught to moderately intelligent undergraduates, using All Quiet on the Western Front, and some short articles or excerpts for the rest of the readings, could be done very nicely. Even a very limited intro to WWI will do any kid a lot of good. You cannot understand the modern world without understanding something about WWI.

A number of thoughts spring to mind, especially Lord Acton’s timeless dictum, “study problems, not periods”. So, World War I should be taught as a tangle of problems within a framework of known facts (names, dates, locations and events, which WILL be on the test). Assuming twelve classes, here is my seat of the pants take on what I would do. Further mulling would of course lead to revisions, but this is what occurs to me.

The comment you made about the war, which I agree with absolutely, would be the theme of the class: This is where it all went wrong.

Read more

Did these elections matter?

On a most obvious level local elections do not matter in Britain. Local councils have long ago lost many of their powers; most of their money comes from central government, which decides which council gets the most funds and practices redistribution of wealth between them; legislation is made in Westminster (or Edinburgh or Cardiff) at best but much more likely in Brussels. Recycling, so beloved by David Cameron (though not much discussed by Tories at the local level) is an EU competence as are all environmental issues, and the decisions taken locally are very limited.

So, really, who sits on the local council is of little interest or importance to the people of Britain. This is reflected in the turn-out: uniformly low. This year it was 36 per cent on average, a couple of points down from 2004, though there were anomalies, as I shall point out later.

Local elections can be used to give an unpopular government a bloody nose but this does not necessarily translate itself into a subsequent general election victory. Both William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith led the Conservative Party to superlative results in the local elections. Hague then proceeded to lose spectacularly in the general and IDS was knifed by his own party five months after his success.

Bearing all that in mind, it is fair to point out that the Labour government was given a spectacular bloody nose, just as everyone expected. They lost 319 seats and control of 18 councils. The Conservatives won 316 seats and gained control of 11 councils, some rather unexpected.

Read more