Instructor: Professor Y.A. Bennett

Seminar description

November 2017 will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the end of the Battle of Third Ypres, or Passchendaele, a battle which cost the British some 275,000 casualties, the Germans 220,000 and the Canadians 16,000 casualties. November 11, 2018 will mark the centenary of the Armistice. It is a particularly interesting moment, therefore, for critical engagement with the extraordinarily rich historiography examining British society’s experience of the First World War. A glance at two websites, sponsored by Oxford University, the ‘First World War: New Perspectives’ [] and ‘World War I Centenary – Continuations and Beginnings’ [] provides a wonderfully accessible introduction to the innovative research and the variety of theoretical tools and methodologies which characterize so much of the current work on Britain and the First World War. The websites offer a taste of the historiographical debates and themes relating to British society, and the British soldier’s experience of the First World War, which the seminar will explore. After looking at these websites, you might wish to explore some of the suggested readings given below, which we will be taking up in the seminar.

Course requirements and evaluation

The fall term, and part of the winter term, will be devoted to historiographical discussion and to the honing of bibliographical and research skills. Students will begin work on their seminar papers (20-25 pages: 40%) in September, by selecting a topic in consultation with the instructor and preparing a preliminary proposal and bibliography (due early October: 15%). This will be followed by full literature search and an historiographical review of materials related to the seminar paper topic (due late November: 15%). Students will be given as much help and guidance as wished/required; regular, individual tutorials are an integral part of seminar.  In both terms, consistent, informed participation in the seminar discussions will constitute an important component of the seminar work and, together with oral presentations, it will likely be worth about 30%. The first drafts of the seminar papers will be due before the February, 2018 study break; the final drafts will be due towards the end of March, 2018. In preparing the seminar papers, it is expected that students will seek out, to the fullest extent possible, the widest variety of primary sources – print and electronic – available since the papers are to be based on primary source materials.

(N.B. The items of work, and the percentages assigned to them, are still under consideration and may be subject to change.)

Suggested readings

Tony Ashworth, Trench warfare, 1914-1918: the live and let live system (1980); Adrian Gregory, The Last War (2008); Stephen Heathorn, Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation (2013); Arthur Marwick, The Deluge (1965); Catriona Pennell, A Kingdom United (2012); M. Roper, The Secret Battle (2009); Dan Todman, The Great War: Myth and Memory (2005); Janet Watson, Fighting different wars : experience, memory, and the First World War in Britain (2004).

Best wishes for the summer … and maybe I’ll see you in HIST4500 in 2017-2018!  If you have any questions, just e-mail me.

Y.A. Bennett