Thursday, October 30, 2014

New website features!

Check out the new navigation bar on the website!  (It's just below the title.)  Now you can access resources more easily when you visit this site.  The upcoming events schedule and other informational sections each have their own links.

The website also features a new bibliography with suggestions for further reading on a variety of World War 1 topics, and an online resource listing too.  Both sections will continue to be updated as new resources and books are published.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Dangers of the Battlefield...One Hundred Years Later

 By the late fall of 1914--basically around this time 100 years ago--the final flanking maneuvers in the race to the North Sea were solidifying a line of trenches from the Belgian Coast to Switzerland.  Stretching some 440 miles, the tactical and strategic goals of every subsequent campaign to regain (or alternately to hold) territory along the trenches of the Western Front would demand the use of artillery to try to dislodge or destroy enemy fortifications.  The demand for artillery shells was insatiable; for most of 1914 and early 1915 neither side could produce shells in sufficient quantity (in the millions) to prevent shortages on the front.  In the haste to ramp up production of this critical war materiel, everything from miscalculating the quantity of powder to poor-quality chemicals, fuses, or metal ultimately resulted in about a quarter of all artillery shells failing to detonate when fired.

Moving forward in time to the present, undetonated shells still represent a constant danger for farmers and individuals working, or simply walking, in and around the battlefields and military posts of World War I.  And those shells are still taking lives.

While it may be difficult to grasp the dangers of these shells individually, since we tend to think of them inadvertently going off one or two at a time, let's pause for a second to talk about the Battle of Messines that began on 7 June 1917.  British soldiers labored over eighteen months to dig 21 mine shafts across no-man's land and under German positions along the Messines Ridge.  Each shaft was filled with thousands of pounds of explosives (the largest containing some 41 tons), with the plan to detonate all the mines at 3:10 am just prior to a massed infantry assault (comprising nine divisions) and a creeping artillery barrage to provide cover for the advance.  Only 19 mines were detonated, but they killed some 10,000 men almost instantly and allowed the British assault to achieve its initial tactical objectives within three hours.  So what about the other two mines?

The British told Belgian authorities that with all the German counter-mining going on, and the devastation caused by the massive explosion of the other mines, that they were no longer certain where the two missing tunnels (and the explosives in them) were located.  One was found on 17 June 1955 near Le Pelerin when lightning struck nearby electrical pylons (erected in the 1950s) and set off the explosives in the ground beneath it.  The other mine is still under the Belgian countryside somewhere south of Ypres....

A recent article about the dangers of unexploded ordinance along the Ypres front highlights the ongoing concern for how to safely locate and remove these explosives and serves as a good reminder for our next talk on November 6.  Please come out to Twomey Auditorium on Nov. 6 at 6:00 pm to learn about efforts to preserve the battlefields, deal with unexploded shells, and address the public history questions and civic responsibilities that surround efforts to commemorate the First World War.

One of craters produced by the Messines mines. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nov. 6: Public History, Preservation, and Commemoration Efforts in Europe and the U.S.

Tonight's talk by Dr. Tenbus was a great success, and we were pleased to see around 100 people in attendance.  Thank you for coming out!

Our next talk will be at 6:00 pm on November 6 in Twomey Auditorium--please note the time shift as this differs from previous talks.

Dr. Abbie Grubb, a professor of history at San Jacinto College in Houston, Texas, will be joining us to present "Poppies on Parade: The Preservation and Commemoration of WWI Sites on the Centennial of the Great War."  Her talk will have a public history focus: she will examine the ongoing efforts to preserve WWI battlefields in Europe and offer a comparative analysis of commemoration efforts in the United States.  She will also address some of the obstacles to preservation efforts for the battlefields, including unexploded ordinance, urban development, and competing visions for interpretation.  Undergraduate and graduate students considering careers in public history are especially encouraged to attend.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Understanding the Modern Middle East

Thank you to everyone who attended the talk by Dr. Steve Trout this past week; we learned a great deal about the imagery and uses of parades to both create and shape civic rituals and commemoration.  For those interested in learning a little more about my fellow Demon Deacon Laurence Stallings, check out this article by his daughter featured in Wake Forest Magazine in 2012.

Our next talk will be on October 22 at 7:00 pm, and features a focus on the lesser-known aspects of the war in the Middle East.  Although often downplayed in the rush to explain the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand  and the origins of the war as a consequence of European entangling alliances, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire is essential to the story of the First World War.  In particular, diplomatic controversies between France and Germany over African colonies and two Balkan Wars in 1912-1913 were direct consequences of the collapse of the empire and are often seen as precursors to the World War.  Dr. Tenbus will explore these tensions by examining the Arab Revolt against the Turks, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration, and other decisions made by Europe during and in the aftermath of the First World War, decisions that in turn shaped much of subsequent twentieth-century strife in the Middle East.  We hope to see you in Twomey Auditorium (Wood Hall 100) for the event!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We're on Facebook!

Thank you to everyone who came out to hear Dr. Crews's lecture last night!  We learned about some new interpretations for the importance of the Zimmerman Telegram to the entry of the United States into World War I as well as a broader diplomatic and political context for the Mexican Revolution.

I wanted to point out that the series is also on Facebook now, so please like us there to keep up with the latest events and information:

Thanks again for your support!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The first public lecture of the fall semester will be held September 9, 2014, at 7:00 pm in Twomey Auditorium (Wood Building room 100).  Dr. Dan Crews will present "World War I and the Mexican Revolution," which will detail American political and military policies towards Mexico in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Dr. Crews describes his talk:

Historians often use labels to identify periods of time that they consider to have an underlying theme that permeates all aspects of life.  One such label is the Age of Imperialism, 1870-1918.  During this era practically the entire world was divided among the European Powers, the United States, and Japan into formal colonies or informal protectorates and recognized spheres of influence.  Massive foreign investment in Mexico fueled dramatic economic growth that exacerbated social inequality and led to the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920.  The most deadly period of that revolution occurred during World War I as the Great Powers shifted their support from one faction to another.  President Woodrow Wilson's policies to 'guide' the Mexican Revolution and turn Mexico into a quasi-protectorate failed repeatedly as Mexican leaders balanced U.S. influence with that of Great Britain and Imperial Germany.  This lecture will explain how, in the midst of revolutionary chaos, Mexico retained its complete sovereignty from a neighbor that was indisputably the greatest power on Earth at the end of the Age of  Imperialism.

We hope to see you on September 9 for another installment of the Great War History Lecture Series at UCM!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Bristol Fighters

The Western Daily Press has published a story highlighting the British F.2 or Bristol Fighter and the aircraft's role in World War I.  During the spring and summer of 1917, the Bristol Fighter was one of the newer, more agile aircraft designed by the Allies that allowed them to fight more aggressively (and successfully) the German Albatross and turn the tide of the war in the air.  You can read the story of the "Brisfit" here:

Photo credit: Wikimedia and The Shuttleworth Trust