module specification

SS6077 - Understanding the First World War (2018/19)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2018/19
Module status DELETED (This module is no longer running)
Module title Understanding the First World War
Module level Honours (06)
Credit rating for module 15
School School of Social Sciences
Total study hours 150
105 hours Guided independent study
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
In-Course Test 50%   In-class test
Coursework 50%   Essay
Running in 2018/19

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
No instances running in the year

Module summary

This unit focuses on critical aspects concerning the origins, nature and consequences of the First World War. It explores the outbreak of the war in 1914, using primary source material to highlight the problems of interpretation and the continuing controversy over why the war was fought. It then considers issues of command, strategy and tactics; the experiences of the combatants and civilians under occupation; and the wider impact of the war on European governments and society. The political, social, economic and cultural legacy of the war is discussed as well as its significance as the seminal event of the 20th Century.

Module aims

  1. to provide an overview of the origins, nature and consequences of the First World War
  2. to introduce students to the scholarly debates surrounding the war and its significance
  3. to develop students’ skills of historical analysis and interpretation and to apply them in comparative contexts
  4. to familiarise students with some of the key source materials on the First World War including diplomatic documents, personal correspondence, documentary film and literary sources.


The international state system, military planning and the pressures for war in 1914

The July crisis of 1914 and the outbreak of war

Military strategy and technology; the war of attrition on the Western and Eastern fronts

Trench warfare and the soldiers’ experience of the war

Atrocities against civilians and the experience of non-combatants

Economic and social mobilisation for war: the Home fronts

War aims and the role of neutral countries

Dissent and opposition to the war; the Russian revolution in context

The war at sea and US entry

The defeat and collapse of the Central Powers

The peace settlement of 1919-21

The political, social, economic and cultural legacy of the war

Learning and teaching

Students will be taught through a combination of lectures, presentations, seminars and workshops, supplemented by material available on WebLearn and in-class tasks focused on primary sources.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the module, students will be able to

  1. demonstrate an understanding of key aspects of the First World War and the nature of historical change between 1914 and 1918
  2. critically assess different interpretations of the war’s origins, nature and impact
  3. compare the experience of war across different European countries and judge the applicability of general interpretations to specific contexts
  4. demonstrate familiarity with some of the primary source material on the First World War
  5. demonstrate skills of analysis, criticism and expression in a written context

Assessment strategy

Formative: occasional short written responses to questions or documents arising from the respective week’s focus; summaries of primary sources discussed in class
Summative: in-class test using primary sources; 2000 word essay


Audoin-Rouzeau, S. and Becker, A. (2002) 1914-1918. Understanding the Great War. London: Profile Books.
Beckett, I. (2007) The Great War 1914-1918, Harlow: Pearson.
Clark, C. (2013) The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914, London: Allen Lane
Ferguson, N. (2009) The Pity of War, London: Penguin.
Geiss, I. (ed.) (1967) July 1914, London: Batsford.
Herwig, H. (1997) The First World War. Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918, London: Arnold
Horne, J. (ed.) (2010) A Companion to World War I, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Joll, J. And Martel, G. (2006) The Origins of the First World War, London: Routledge.
Keegan, J. (1998) The First World War, London: Hutchinson.
MacMillan, M.  (2003) Peacemakers. Six Months that Changed the World, London: John Murray.
Mombauer, A. (ed.) (2013) The Origins of the First World War. Military and Diplomatic Document, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Morrow, I. (2003) The Great War. An Imperial history, London: Routledge.
Sheffield, G. (2002) Forgotten Victory. The First World War: Myths and Realities. London, Hodder Headline.
Strachan, H. (2001)The First World War, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Strachan, H. (2003) The First World War. A New Illustrated History, London: Simon and Schuster.
Watson, A. (2008) Enduring the Great War. Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914-1918, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Winter, J. et al. (eds.) (2001) The Great War and the Twentieth Century, London: Yale University Press.