A Thematic Approach to Teaching World War I
“This is what people in the Middle East have being saying since 1919. Why are we presently involved when we aren’t listening?”
These impassioned observations came from the archivist reviewing plans for an upcoming exhibition at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, America’s leading museum dedicated to remembering, interpreting, and understanding the Great War. With the most diverse collection of World War I material culture holdings in the world, we have heard - and ask ourselves - seemingly simple questions that, in reality, have no easy answers. Why did World War I begin? How many countries were involved? Why didn’t the ‘War to End All Wars’ actually end all wars?
One of the great catalysts for change on a global scale, World War I is complicated. Rich with dynamic primary sources, it can be a powerful tool for teaching critical thinking. As one of the most transformative events of the 20th century, this global conflict set the stage for 21stcentury’s prosperity and poverty, peace and hostilities.
History no longer is just memorization of dates, names and facts. Themes provide connections between historical time periods, thought, and principal developments in this country’s history. Perhaps more importantly, student find relevance in the study of U.S. history because of the connections made between the past and the present. In this session, teachers will learn how to apply a concept to a class of events for the purpose of promoting higher order student reasoning and theorizing about cause and effect in history. A theme or concept acts as a lens through which related events are defined, analyzed, redefined, tested, and put together into an overall framework or theory for understanding new examples.
We are currently celebrating the centennial of the Great War. This panel of teachers and museum educators will offer options to assist teachers in approaching the war. They will discuss and feature resources published in the new World War I lesson book published by National History Day and HISTORY, and endorsed by the World War I Centennial Commission. This resource features primary source documents from HISTORY, the National Archives, the Army Heritage Foundation, the Naval Heritage and History Command, the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and the National World War I Museum.