The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War

By Kennedy, Michael David | WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War


Kennedy, Michael David, WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts


The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Hew Strachan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, $45.00, hardcover, 416 pp.

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 "clichés 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. …

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