The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War.
This edition of the Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War is the revised edition released in 2014 during the centennial of the start of World War I. The previous edition was released in 1998, in time for the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice in 1918. As with the original edition, the editor is Sir Hew Strachan, a renowned authority on this particular conflict. He is an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford and a Life Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and currently serves as a Professor of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews. In addition, he is an Imperial War Museum trustee, a Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner, and serves on the national advisory panels for the centenary of the First World War for the United Kingdom and Scotland. He has authored numerous works on World War I in particular and military history in general.
The book itself consists of twenty-four chapters written by separate contributors. The chapters are arranged thematically and examine all aspects of the war such as society, economics, geography, and culture. Strachan himself provides the introduction as well as authoring Chapter 10, "Economic Mobilization: Money, Munitions, and Machines." The other contributors to this edition include many of the world's leading authorities on World War I including Dennis Showalter (Colorado College), J.M. Winter (Yale University), Holger Herwig (University of Calgary), John Morrow (University of Georgia), and David Trask (United States Army Center of Military History).
According to Strachan, "there have been three high points over the last hundred years" (Strachan 9) in regard to scholarship about World War I. The first involved the wealth of personal memoirs in the years following the war and including the release of the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. The second high point surrounded the commemoration of the war's fiftieth anniversary and involved mostly narrative histories celebrating the nostalgia of the conflict. The final high point is in conjunction with the centennial of the war (9-10). Strachan describes the challenge for those celebrating the centennial to avoid the "cliches of the fiftieth anniversary in order to shape a fresh set of popular narratives" (10). This summation places this edition of the book firmly in the midst of the final high point in World War I literature.
Published seventeen years apart, key differences between the two editions include an expanded introduction, new illustrations, and a brand new chapter entitled, "No End to War." There are also three new authors replacing the original contributors for chapters 2, 11, and 14. Sadly, the original authors passed away during the interim between the two editions. In the first two chapters, the titles remained the same, but Chapter 14 changed from "Women, War, and Work" to "The Role of Women in the War." All three of the chapters by new authors retained some of the original illustrations, but also included new ones.
The sole new chapter was written by Robert Gerwarth of University College Dublin and focuses on the continuation of violence following the signing of the armistice. Gerwarth depicts how the peace treaty did not end the fighting but resulted in political and social turmoil throughout Europe. This turmoil was the result of the dissolution of the Habsburg, Romanov, and Ottoman empires. "Their disappearance from the map provided the space for the emergence of new and often nervously aggressive national-states seeking to defend their real or imagined borders through unrestrained force" (Gerwarth 304). In the introduction, Strachan describes this chapter as "a reflection of one of the directions which the study of the war has taken since 1998" (Strachan 9).
Chapter 11 entitled, "The Role of Women in the War" deviates from the original version in that it explains the role of women in the context of the war as opposed to the role of women in the war effort. Historian Gail Braybon in the 1998 edition of the book focused on the numerous jobs on the homefront in agriculture or industry where women replaced men sent off to the front to fight. Historian Susan Grayzel in the new edition explains the perception of women in the context of World War I and also the role that geography played in their participation as active participants or bystanders. She also spends time discussing the impact that women had on the war effort. The result is a better rounded chapter on the role of gender in World War I.
Chapter 2, "The Strategy of the Central Powers, 1914-1917" remains basically the same in structure in both editions by providing an overview of the military and diplomatic goals of the Central Powers during the course of the war. Historian L.L. Farrar, Jr. in the original edition emphasized military strategy at the start of the war, the shift in strategy in 1916, and the leadership of influential Germans Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. Both chapters provide a detailed explanation of the Schlieffen Plan, Germany's war plan going into the war, which is critical to understating the early phase of the war. The major difference with the new version by Holger Afflerbach of the University of Leeds is a more in-depth description of the evolution of strategy as evidenced by the different campaigns as the war progressed.
Chapter 14, "Mutinies and Military Morale" was originally written by David Englander and the updated version was completed by Alexander Watson of Goldsmiths, University of London. Both the original and the revised have similar structures addressing the basis for morale and discipline and including statistics for corporeal punishment from various countries during the war. The new chapter rounds out the theme of morale with a discussion of the nature of unit cohesion and organizational support as well as the concept of the citizen soldier.
The "Illustrated" edition, which Oxford University Press has become renowned for, includes twenty-four color plates and seven maps. The color plates are located approximately in the center of the book and are gorgeous in reproduction quality. Copious black and white illustrations are also littered throughout the book to complement the writing.
In addition to the index at the very back of the book, key terms are listed in the margins throughout the text to guide the reader to particular topics within the chapters. Interestingly, there are no footnotes or endnotes to cite sources used by the authors. This absence should not invite skepticism regarding the scholarly nature of the work since a cursory review of the academic background of the authors quickly establishes their credibility as experts. Instead, this deficiency could slow down further study of the themes covered in the book. There is an updated further reading section of the book that is organized by chapter that provides sources for research into the topics covered by the individual authors.
The strength of this type of book is the credibility of the individual authors and their extensive knowledge of their given areas of expertise. Unfortunately, there is somewhat of a lack of cohesion between the different chapters as they were written individually and without collaboration. Aside from the introduction by Strachan framing the scope of the work and illustrating some of the material in the ensuing chapters, there are no intermediate chapters to give cohesiveness to the book. Further, there is no conclusion to provide a summary of the previous chapters, but in its place a chapter entitled, "Memory and the Great War" by Modris Eksteins of the University of Toronto. This final chapter discusses the war as remembered by the participants and society in subsequent years. The biggest weakness of this title that I could identify is the fact that there is no overarching thread to connect all of the chapters. As with any work attempting to cover a topic as vast as World War I in only one volume, this title unfortunately does omit certain topics and theaters of the war. In particular, there is no mention of the war in Asia. Nevertheless, this is still an excellent source for the study of World War I. Due to its nature as a collaborative effort and the wide range of themes that it covers, this title would serve well as a complementary source to a general overview of the war such as Strachan's The First World War. It could be challenging to a student or researcher who did not already have a rudimentary knowledge of the conflict if they were attempting to use it as an introductory text.
Reviewed by Michael David Kennedy, United States Air Force Academy
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|Author:||Kennedy, Michael David|
|Publication:||War, Literature & The Arts|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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