The First World War: Interrogating the Myths (HIC3301)

StaffProfessor Catriona Pennell - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aims of this module are two-fold:

1. Firstly, you will explore the ways in which the British public currently understand the First World War. The centenary period 2014-2018 is a particular gift in helping students to see, very visibly, what popular ideas and perceptions exist about the war. Art, literature, film, television, drama and comedy, such as John Boyne’s The Absolutist, Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, War Horse, Downtown Abbey and Blackadder, will also be important cultural outputs through which the war is ‘imagined’;

2. Secondly, you will relate these popular ‘imaginings’ to academic research both since the Second World War and the more recent ‘revisionist’ approach that emerged in the 1990s. With a heavy focus on primary sources, this course will seek to introduce you to the latest research and allow them to apply their knowledge in analysing primary material. You will examine the latest revisionist historiography mainly from a socio-cultural perspective and be actively encouraged to contrast it with traditional interpretations.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Display a deepened historical understanding of important events and themes in the history of the First World War from an national and comparative perspective
  • 2. Appraise competing historiographies and understand key aspects of the revisionist cultural turn;
  • 3. Understand and critically evaluate the available sources relating to the First World War and relate them to the wider historiography;
  • 4. Contrast and assess the information provided from contemporary and post-war sources and to consider how memories of the war are formed.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Formulate appropriate questions relating to a body of source material and utilize that material to answer these questions;
  • 6. With minimum guidance, develop and sustain historical arguments in a variety of literary forms, using appropriate terminology
  • 7. Display a command of comparative perspectives
  • 8. Analyse at a close and sophisticated level original sources and assess their reliability as historical evidence
  • 9. Evaluate critically the reasoning of discourses current in the period under studyy

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 10. Set tasks independently and solve problems, formulating appropriate questions and marshalling relevant evidence to answer them;
  • 11. With minimum guidance, digest, select and synthesise evidence and arguments to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument.

Syllabus plan

Topics will include: Popular Memory and the War; New Historiography; the Approach of War; Popular Reactions to War; Industrialised Warfare and the Western Front; A Global War? Beyond the Western Front; Soldiers Experience; Gender in Wartime; Pacifism and Opposition to War; Victory, 1918; Peace and Post-War International Relations.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11These will not be formal lectures in the traditional sense. The opening session of the week will be led by students in the form of an assessed group presentation on a given question (an oral essay) followed by discussion and lecturer-led guidance on the pertinent issues relating to the week’s theme
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Students will largely be expected to build their own interpretations and explore concepts and issues in the seminars. A core reading list and primary source pack must be prepared in advance. The seminar work will comprise discussions of particular topics and sources relating to the subject matter of the module
Guided independent study267Private study to prepare the seminar reading, primary sources and assessed work.
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10 minutes per studentStudents will be offered the opportunity to receive individual feedback on their formative essay plan and ideas prior to the research essay deadline.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research essay planNo more than two sides of A4 (c. 1,000 words). To include indicative primary and secondary sources1-11Verbal during individual tutorial

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Primary source analysis essay201,500 word eesay1-11Written and oral feedback
Group class presentation on a set question (oral essay)3020 minutes + Q&A equivalent to 2,000 words.1-11Written and oral feedback (incl. brief summary via email after class)
Research essay502,500 words1-11Written and oral feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Primary source analysis essay1500 words1-11Ref/Def period
Group presentation on a set question (oral essay)2000 word essay in response to the original presentation question.1-11Ref/Def period
Research essay2500 words1-11Ref/Def period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Audoin-Rouzeau, Ste?phane and Annette Becker, 14-18: Understanding the Great War (2002)
  • Beckett, Ian, The Great War, 1914-1918 (2001)
  • Bond, Brian, The Unquiet Western Front (2002)
  • Bourne, J.M., Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 (1989)
  • Gregory, Adrian, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (2008)
  • Horne, John (ed), State, Society and Mobilisation in Europe During the First World War (1997)
  • Horne, John (ed), A Companion to the First World War (2010)
  • Kocka, Jürgen, Facing Total War: German Society, 1914-1918 (1984)
  • Neiberg, Michael S., Fighting the Great War: A Global History (2005)
  • Prost, A. and J. Winter, The Great War in History: Debate and Controversies (2005)
  • Sheffield, G.D., Forgotten Victory: The First World War, Myths and Realities (2002)
  • Smith, Leonard, S. Audoin-Rouzeau and A. Becker, France and the Great War 1914-1918 (2003)
  • Strachan, Hew (ed), The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War (1998)
  • Stevenson, David, 1914-1918: The History of the First World War (2004)
  • Todman, Dan, The Great War: Myth and Memory (2005)
  • Winter, J.M. and Jean-Louis Robert (ed), Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin 1914-1919 Vols 1 and 2 (Cambridge: CUP, 1997 & 2007)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Web based and electronic resources:

 The library has also made recent investments in online resources for the First World War. Via the electronic library, subject ‘History’, please consult:

  • The First World War: Personal Experiences (Adam Matthew Digital): A digital collection of primary sources.
  • UK World War One Collections: An accessible online database which captures information on UK university, archive, library and museum holdings relating to the conflict.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

First World War, memory, culture, perception, myths, Britain, comparative