About the seminar
The centennial of the end of World War I offers an opportunity to think anew about the war’s centrality in American and world history, society, and culture. World War I in History and Literature is a three-week summer seminar for sixteen teachers that examines the meaning and relevance of World War I today and prepares teachers to teach the war from an interdisciplinary perspective.
This seminar combines historical sources and literary texts to explore the impact of World War I in an interdisciplinary way. We will examine the impact of the war on a wide range of individuals in the United States and around the world. Primary sources, secondary sources, and works of literature will offer windows into the experiences of soldiers and civilians in a time of total war.
World War I mobilized all layers of society and touched lives far beyond the front lines. As governments redirected economies to support the war effort and used propaganda to build support among the masses, the lines between civilians and soldiers were blurred or erased. As total war unfolded, major population centers were targeted in bombings, women replaced men on factory floors, and the expansion of armies required the enlistment of new constituencies both at home and from the far outposts of empire.
Our work together
The seminar is made up of four thematic units, each of which examines a different aspect of total war through the lenses of both history and literature.
- Unit One introduces the concept of total war and examines canonical texts, many of which may already be familiar. Total war is a key concept in the historiography of World War I and is of great importance to understanding the historical contexts of and literary works about the conflict.
- Unit Two begins our examination of non-canonical representations of the war. From established narratives about America’s entry into and experience of the war, our focus shifts to an investigation of the conflict through the lives of African-American men and women.
- Unit Three examines the active role that women played in the conflict. Understanding the war experiences of women – as factory workers, nurses, teachers, and citizen volunteers – is essential to understanding the role of the home front in World War I.
- Unit Four turns our attention to the mobilization, service, and sacrifice of colonial subjects. We will expand our definition of total war beyond the boundaries of the nation state to include the belligerents’ empires, and help us understand and approach World War I as a truly global war.
Each unit will begin with a set of historical primary and secondary source readings to establish a historical framework for further discussion. We’ll then turn to works of literature (novels, short stories, and poems) that further illustrate the various consequences of total war. On the final day of each unit, we’ll gather for a brown-bag luncheon with the project’s pedagogy consultant to discuss curricular uses of seminar materials. In this informal setting, participants will discuss and explore interdisciplinary ways to use each unit’s assigned materials in their classroom teaching. To allow participants sufficient time for close readings of the assigned texts and careful consideration of the seminar’s themes, the co-directors will dedicate three to four days to each unit.
Our reading list will introduce important canonical and non-canonical texts and includes a range of shorter historical and literary works — ranging from 1 to 5 pages in length — chosen to allow teachers to integrate the seminar’s themes into their own classrooms in a format appropriate for secondary school students.