Our World Remade: World War I

As the centennial of World War I begins, this series invites participants to delve into the history, literature, and poetry of "the war to end all wars." Sites can choose whether to host five or six discussions and are strongly recommended to follow the outline of topics and readings listed below. The introductory essay by project scholar Wendy Galgan lays out the scope of the series and will help facilitators formulate a syllabus and questions of their own. 

Texts include historical accounts; novels; poetry; government documents; news accounts; and journals and letters from soldiers, nurses, politicians, pacifists, and other eye-witnesses to the tragic and transformative events of The Great War.


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"Our World Remade: World War I" by Wendy Galgan

This introductory essay by project scholar Wendy Galgan overviews the topics and themes of the series. The essay, available as a free downloadable PDF, is recommended for prospective host sites, scholar-facilitators, or participants in the series.

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All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Remarque's 1929 classic has been called the greatest book about war ever written. Follow German soldier Paul Baumer, who enlists with his classmates in the opening days of the war. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. Whether any will survive—and in what condition, physical and emotional—holds readers until the end.

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The First World War: A Brief History with Documents edited by Susan R. Grayzel

Ferocious and all encompassing, the First World War touched countless lives in Europe and far beyond. Historian Susan R. Grayzel explores the unprecedented nature of modern “Total War,” and outlines the origins, experiences, and legacies of the war through — and beyond — Europe and the West. A wide array of documents, ranging from nationalist propaganda and diplomatic agreements to poetry and intimate letters and journals, reveal the far-reaching causes and consequences of this total war.

The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry edited by George Walter

Unrivaled in its range and intensity, the poetry of World War I continues to have a powerful effect on readers. This newly edited anthology reflects the diverse experiences of those who lived through the war, bringing together the words of poets, soldiers, and civilians affected by the conflict. Here are famous verses by Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen; poetry by women writing from the home front; and the anonymous lyrics of soldiers' songs. Arranged thematically, the selections take the reader through the war's stages, from conscription to its aftermath, and offer a blend of voices that is both unique and profoundly moving.

The Penguin Book of First World War Stories edited by Barbara Korte

This new collection of short stories about World War I features works by such famous British authors as Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, Radclyffe Hall, Katherine Mansfield, Robert Graves, Muriel Spark, and Julian Barnes. Written during the war and after, these stories illustrate the impact of the Great War on British society and culture, as well as the many ways in which short fiction contributed to the literature of that time period.

Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War by Paul Jankowski

It is said that Verdun made France, but what did France make of Verdun? Like many battles, Verdun was bloody and indecisive, a symbol of the war's mechanization and horror. Historian Paul Jankowski reexamines the longest battle of the Great War, drawing on both French and German sources, to tell both the military history and a social and cultural perspectives.

A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot

After a court martial in January 1917, five Frenchmen convicted of self-mutilation (in order to avoid combat) are dragged along the network of zigzagging trenches to the improbably named frontline trench, "Bingo Crepuscule." What exactly happened in Bingo is as labyrinthine as the trenches themselves, but Mathilde Donnay, the fiancee of one of the soldiers, is a determined young woman whose wheelchair is unable to contain her fiercely independent and willful spirit. Aided by an indulgent, well-to-do father, a generous private investigator, soldiers who survived the conflict and the families of those who didn't, Mathilde begins the long and spotty process of re-creating events out of the chaos of war.

Sample Syllabus & Resources

Groups may choose whether to do a five-session or six-session series and whether to read all or some of the texts listed for each session.

Session 1: The War to End All Wars

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)

Session 2: The Call to Arms (and its Dissenters)

Suggested selections from The First World War: A Brief History with Documents (2012):

  • Section 1 Introduction: "The Origins of the First World War"
  • "The Treaty of Vienna" (1879)
  • "The Hague Conventions" (1907)
  • Bertha von Suttner, Lay Down Your Arms (excerpt) (1889)
  • H. G. Wells, The War in the Air (excerpt) (1908)
  • F. T. Marinetti, "Manifesto of Futurism" (1909)
  • Charles Mangin, The Black Force (excerpt) (1910)

Suggested selections from The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (2006):

  • A.E. Houseman, "On the idle hill of summer"
  • Thomas Hardy, "Channel Firing"
  • Geoffrey Faber, "The Eve of War"
  • Edward Thomas, "The Trumpet"

Session Three: Incalculable Losses: The Battle of Verdun (2013)

Paul Jankowski, Verdun: the Longest Battle of the Great War

Session 4: Technology, Horror and Duhumanization

Suggested selections from The First World War: A Brief History with Documents:

  • Section 2 Introduction: "Living Through the First World War"
  • Christian Creswell Carver, "Letter from a British Officer Describing the Battle of the Somme" (July 1916)
  • Karl Gorzel, "Letter from a German Soldier on the Battle of the Somme" (October 1916)
  • "Resolutions Adopted by the International Congress of Women at The Hague" (May 1915)
  • Sigmund Freud, "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" (1915)
  • G. Elliot Smith and T. H. Pear, "Shell Shock and Its Lessons" (1917)

Suggested selections from The Penguin Book of First World War Stories (2007):

  • Barbara Korte, "Introduction:
  • Herman Cyril McNeile, "Private Meyrick-Company Idiot"
  • Mary Borden, "Blind"
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "His Last Bow"

Suggested selections from The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry:

  • George Walter, "Introduction"
  • William Gibson, "Breakfast"
  • Wilfred Owen, "Exposure"
  • Ezra Pound, "Poem: Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr. T. E. H."
  • Robert Graves, "The Survivor Comes Home"

Session Five: Trying to Make Sense of the Senseless

Suggested selections from The First World War: A Brief History with Documents:

  • Section 3 Introduction: "The War's End and Aftermath"
  • "America First, Now and Hereafter" from The Chicago Daily Tribune (January 1918)
  • "The Treaty of Versailles" (June 1919)
  • Helen Zenna Smith, Not So Quiet (excerpt) (1930)

From The Penguin Book of First World War Stories:

  • Harold Brighouse, "Once A Hero"
  • Muriel Spark, "The First Year of My Life"

From The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry:

  • John McCrae, "In Flanders Field"
  • Siegfried Sassoon, "Sick Leave"
  • Richard Aldington, "Reserve"
  • Mary Wedderburn Cannan, "Paris, November 11, 1918"
  • G. K. Chesteron, "Elegy in a Country Churchyard"
  • Ivor Gurney, "Strange Hells"
  • Osbert Sitwell, "The Next War"

Session Six (Optional): Those Left Behind: Love and Loss in the Great War

  • Sébastien Japrisot, A Very Long Engagement (1991)
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Special Partners

This series is made possible by support from Penguin Books.

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