Skip to main content Skip to navigation

A Comparative History of the First World War, 1912-1923 (HI33W)

Office Hours:
Lecture Times:
Seminar Times:
Room H010, ground floor of the Humanities Building
P dot Purseigle at warwick dot ac dot uk
Tuesdays, 2-3pm and Wednesdays, 10-11am.
Lectures TBA
Seminars TBA


100 years after the end of the First World War, one might be tempted to ask if there is anything left to say about this conflict. Yet, the contemporary relevance of an historical topic is unusually clear in the case of First World War studies. The conflict continues to intrude on the public sphere of former belligerent societies, and in many instances, historians have been called upon to engage in controversies that have produced more heat than light. Indeed, it seems that World War I has gained in importance since the 1990s. The growing interest in commemoration and the increased ‘social demand’ addressed to professional historians account, to a certain extent, for the dynamism of First World War studies. Indeed, as we conclude the centennial commemorations of the war, the history of what George F. Kennan called “the great seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century” remains a vibrant field of investigation.


This special subject will allow students to develop a comparative understanding of the experience of the First World War in the context of the period between 1912 and 1923. The students will also consider the evolution of the historiography of the conflict since the late 1980s. Transformed by a comparative and cultural turn, the field was also reinvigorated by gender studies and innovative approaches to warfare. Questions of methodology as well as of chronology are now at the core of the historiographical debate. This course will challenge the conventional focus on national experiences and offer a pragmatic approach to the comparative and transnational history of the First World War. It will explore a range of historical questions including: war and social modernization, nationalism and cultural mobilization, the experiences of soldiers and commanders, economic mobilization, the transformations of the state, gender and citizenship, race and imperialism, the reconstruction of Europe, international relations and peace-making. It will combine a thematic approach with a particular attention to key military engagements.

  • Set text:

You will be expected to have read the following book by the end of the year. It is available for purchase at the campus bookstore. A reading schedule will be circulated to help you plan your reading.

WARNING! This is a long book. Do start reading as soon as possible.

Leonhard, Jörn, Pandora’s Box: a history of the First World War, trans. Patrick Camiller (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2018)

  • Introductory session:

In preparation for our first meeting, please read the introduction to Pandora’s Box as well the following article:

Heather Jones, ‘As the centenary approaches: the regeneration of First World War historiography’, The Historical Journal, 56, no. 03 (2013), pp. 857–878.

  • General bibliography:

Horne, John (ed.), A Companion to World War I (Oxford, 2010)
An excellent collective volume, synthetic and comprehensive and very useful bibliography

Neiberg, Michael S., Fighting the Great War: A Global History (Cambridge, MA, 2005)
Clear and concise, an invaluable military history of the First World War

Stevenson, David, 1914 - 1918: the history of the First World War (London, 2004)
A very good general history of the conflict.

Strachan, Hew (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War (New edition, Oxford, 2014)
A brilliant collection of thematic essays by leading authorities.

Winter, Jay M (ed.), The Legacy of the Great War: Ninety Years On (Columbia : Kansas City, Mo, 2009)
A very interesting book aimed at a general audience but articulated around dialogues between historians of the war.

Winter, Jay M. (ed.), The Cambridge History of the First World War, vol. 1. Global War (3 vols, Cambridge - New York, 2014)
--- (ed.), The Cambridge History of the First World War, vol. 2. The State (3 vols, Cambridge - New York, 2014)
--- (ed.), The Cambridge History of the First World War, vol. 3. Civil Society (3 vols, Cambridge - New York, 2014)
An outstanding multi-volume history of the war as a global conflict.

  • Dissertation:

Please contact me on p dot purseigle at warwick dot ac dot uk as early as possible if you are considering writing a dissertation in connection with this Special Subject. Students returning from a year abroad and/or with good linguistic skills are strongly encouraged to explore non-British topics.

Adrian Gregory’s book, A War of Peoples 1914-1919 (Oxford, 2014) is one of the very best introductions to the war on the market. Read it and make an initial list of themes and questions you are interested in. Then, get in touch!

The following volume should be your first port of call to investigate available primary sources:
Beckett, Ian, The First World War: the essential guide to sources in the UK National Archives(Richmond, 2002)

The British Library’s website offers a good introduction to the BL’s First World War collections at

The Imperial War Museum in London was created to document the experience of the First World War. Its WWI collections are therefore among the richest and most significant in the world. Please visit

Warwick’s own Modern Records Centre also holds a number of collections and documents pertaining to the First World War. Please visit their website ( and contact their staff.