H-SHGAPE Question of the Week: WWI and Survey Courses

Elizabeth Garner Masarik's picture

Welcome to H-SHGAPE's Question of the Week! Each Wednesday, the list editors will ask a question about the Gilded Age and Progressive Era that we hope will provoke lively discussion. We encourage you to share your thoughts by typing in the "Post a Reply" box below the original post, or, if you're getting this by email, by clicking on the "Read More or Reply" link.

If you'd like to submit a question to be asked in a future week, please contact the H-SHGAPE Editor-In-Chief, Jeremy C. Young, at jeremy.young@dixie.edu. This week's question:


November 11th, 2018 will mark the centennial of the end of World War I. How do you frame the conflict in your GAPE or survey courses?

When it comes to teaching World War One in a US history course, I first like to pullback and characterize the conflict for what it was: a primarily European phenomenon (though I emphasize the role that Europeans' colonial subjects played as soldiers and laborers during the war). Once I have provided the European context, I explain how initial US neutrality gave way to US intervention in the war on the side of the Allies. With respect to the war's historical significance for the US, I like to highlight two things: 1. Wartime mobilization provided the Wilson Administration the opportunity to enact long-desired Progressive reforms, such as federal regulation of various industries, as well as quash the more radical members of the Progressive Movement. Put differently, World War One provided the space for the enactment of Progressive reforms, but it also ultimately closed the door on the Progressive Era. 2. US participation in the war, specifically on the winning side, boosted US prestige around the world and solidified the status of the US as one of the world's great powers. The US may have become an economic powerhouse during the Gilded Age, but it was during the Progressive Era and World War One that the US became a military power.

One of the thoughts I have for bringing into a survey course are primary sources from the 1890s. Newspaper articles in American papers discussed the rising powers of Germany and Japan; the conflicts happening among Turkey and Greece; Turkey and Bulgaria; and an article on the ambitions of leaders in the Slavic countries of Serbia. These are a few examples yet I think students take to these examples that help set the mood happening in Europe prior to WWI.