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World War I: The "Great War"

Discover how World War I all too quickly expanded far beyond the expectations of those involved to become the first "total war."
World War I: The "Great War" is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 184.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Expansive and Thought-Provoking This course was engrossing and I looked forward to watching the next one or two segments each time I could carve out some time to do so until final completion. I thought that the course covered a great number of "bases" with sufficient detail, but with an eye toward teaching us about the overarching effects of the Great War both as the people involved experienced it and what it means for the present and future. I also appreciated Prof. Liulevicius's attempt at scholarly neutrality throughout and his desire to give us the "building blocks" upon which to form our own conclusions about the Great War and its effects. At the beginning of my embarking on this journey, I had keen interest in the Great War as two of my grandparents fought in it as US soldiers and that it was spoken about often, especially by my maternal grandmother which further piqued my interest. I was not disappointed by this course. While I could never say that any course completely satisfies my interest in the material, I think that I have been given a good grounding by Prof. Liulevicius to continue on and dig deeper into some aspects of this war that he has enlivened in me. A fantastic course!
Date published: 2022-01-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The War That Warped the Twentieth Century As Professor Liulevicius notes, George Kennan, famous as the father of US “containment” policy against the Soviet Union, described the First World War as the “seminal catastrophe” of the twentieth century. The war itself and the imperfect peace that followed birthed the Russian Revolution and international Communism, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, fascism and Nazism, the Second World War, decolonization, and the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict in and around Palestine. Historians’ debates over the war’s causes and the postwar settlement have never ceased. Liulevicius emphasizes four themes. First is the totality of this war, the way it brought nations and empires to coordinate every possible resource to ensure victory—manpower, coal and iron, industrial managers, labor unions, food, the press, and public opinion. Second is the importance of ideology, especially nationalism; governments and pro-war opinion-makers worked hard to convince the public that victory would ensure the nation’s salvation while defeat would bring humiliation or even destruction. Subject nationalities like the Poles hoped the war would free them from non-native rule. The Serbs wanted war to break up Austria-Hungary and allow them to build a greater South Slav state under their rule. The only serious competing force was international socialism, represented by Vladimir Lenin, head of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party. Third is the shock of the new. This war featured the first large-scale use of machine guns (except in the faraway Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05) and submarines, the first air war, including the deliberate bombardment of enemy civilians (in Great Britain), the first tanks, and the first military use of poison gas. The Western Front was also new: a continuous band hundreds of miles long, so thoroughly fortified with barbed wire and trenches and defended so effectively with artillery and machine guns that vast armies on both sides scarcely made any dent in it. Fourth is brutalization. Top commanders unfeelingly fed millions of their men into a pitiless meat grinder, Great Britain and Germany tried to starve each other into submission, Russian and German troops terrorized and murdered civilians in East Prussia and Belgium, the Ottomans murdered up to a million Armenian civilians in cold blood, and some German and Italian veterans developed a love of combat that they carried with them into postwar politics. We think we know what the war was like, but viewers raised with the Western perspective and its emphasis on pointless bloodbaths like Ypres, the Somme and Verdun will find some surprises here. Along with the Western and Eastern Fronts this war had other significant fronts that were every bit as frustrating for the Allies as the other two. They included stupid Italian efforts to break into Austria-Hungary through the Alps, the failed Gallipoli invasion of 1915-16 against Turkey, the nearly useless Salonika Front, where the Allies violated Greek neutrality as outrageously as the Germans violated the Belgian in a vain effort to bring down Bulgaria, and of course the war against the Ottomans in the Near and Middle East, where the British advanced with extreme slowness northward through Palestine and suffered disaster in Iraq. Both sides tried to bring down the other through subversion as well as attack. The Allies sought support from Ottoman Armenians and Arabs, and Austria-Hungary’s Czechs and Slovaks. The British tried unsuccessfully to win over Central European Jews by supporting a “national Jewish home” in Palestine. The Germans tried to set off a global jihad against the British Empire and smuggled arms to Irish rebels; their great success was sending Lenin by train into the failing Russian Empire on the correct assumption that he would take that country out of the war. Both sides wooed the Poles. Furthermore, the war did not simply end in 1918; there were several afterwars: the Russian Civil War, the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-21, the Greek-Turkish War of 1919-22, and the Romanian invasion of Hungary in 1919. Then there was this little piece of cruelty: American organizers of postwar tours of US cemeteries in France for Gold Star mothers required that they be racially segregated. The course has some problems. Liulevicius sometimes hesitates or stumbles and resorts to redundant phrases like the “totality” of total war. Through the first several lectures he coughs at times; was he suffering a cold? More serious are the factual errors. In Lecture 14 he falls into the common historians’ trap of believing the photo purporting to single out and magnify an ecstatic Hitler supposedly present among patriotic demonstrators in front of Munich’s Feldherrnhalle in August 1914; it was a fraud manufactured by Hitler’s favorite photographer after the war. In Lecture 26 he implies wrongly that Rasputin first became influential during the war. In Lecture 35 he overstates the case when he writes off the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch as a “comic farce”; it was no farce and failed to break out of Munich only because the Reichswehr in Bavaria decided to stop it, killing or wounding several Nazis in the process. There is also a funny mistake in Lecture 33, when a map shows Anatolia labeled as Poland. These weaknesses are greatly outweighed by strengths. Liulevicius covers nearly aspect of the war: its political causes, the opening plans, the big battles, the lives of common soldiers in the trenches and civilians at home, the problems of economic management, the wars at sea and in the air, the peace settlements, and memories of the war. I wish he had given more attention to the Eastern Front, which in the US is always underplayed as to both wars, but he rightly points out Eastern Europeans remember the war differently than we do, not as a pointless slaughter but as a great struggle that ended in national liberation. The professor is also frighteningly prescient—in 2006—when he warns in Lecture 30 that a great pandemic like that of 1918-20 might happen again. If you buy this course, you will be pleased with it.
Date published: 2022-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The "forgotten" War remembered. This lecture series was by far one of the best I've heard. You get a rich and textured buildup as to the reason of the war, why it was so prolonged and bloody and a good mix of general overview to sordid details. You are taken to the battlefields and home towns on both sides of the Atlantic. Highly recommended
Date published: 2021-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course! I have been a customer of The Teaching Company/The Great Courses for over 20 years, and I am still enthralled with the vast amount of material at my disposal through your company. I wanted to take a moment to say how much I enjoyed the lectures on WWI by Professor Liulevicius. He is an excellent lecturer who skillfully combined military history with diplomatic history, cultural and social history, and, perhaps most importantly, showed why it was all so relevant today. I have been through this course twice now, separated by several years, and I realize just how much I have learned from this course. Anyway, I wanted to offer a few words of praise for a gifted scholar who can bring his obviously deep understanding of this material to a level that we non-specialists can appreciate.
Date published: 2021-12-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed Feelings The professor did a good job talking about what led up to the war the social impact of the war, and the Armenian genocide. However he only briefly described major battles, so this is more of a social home front history, and less of military history. I recommend this product depending on what you want to learn.
Date published: 2021-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Watershed event for me to have the opportunity. This is my first series of lectures under the Wondrium umbrella, and I cannot imagine anything more impactful in our time of peril in the United State of America. As postulated, the Pandora's Box of global conflict has been opened and stands ready to undermine our very hold on the illusive concept of peace. The totalitarian urges are alive and waiting impatiently.
Date published: 2021-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive Coverage of he Subject This is an excellent course. The lectures are well organized and coherent. The professor is articulate. He could, however, liven his talks by injecting some humor into them without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter. The course covers all areas of the war including diplomatic, military, social and economic. It does not ignore the Eastern Front - where the action differed markedly from the often static trench warfare on the Western Front - or actions in the warring powers' colonies. Naval warfare and the war in the air are also discussed. The last lecture, "Legacies of the Great War," provides fuel for further discussion and argument amongst those interested in World War I. Although the Armenian genocide was covered extensively, more discussion of other aspects of the involving the Ottoman Empire is needed. More discussion about how the Ottoman Empire came to be involved in the war would be helpful. The professor discussed the war aims of the other great powers but did not indicate what the Ottomans hoped to gain from the struggle, a serious omission. On the whole, this is an excellent course about fascinating subject that was covered clearly and with sufficient detail.
Date published: 2021-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding History Of WW I Dr. Liulevicius brings to life the people who endured the suffering & trauma of the Great War both soldiers & civilians - he skillfully imparts the details & facts that would otherwise be overwhelming because of the magnitude of the events - he is superb.
Date published: 2021-10-07
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From August 1914 to November 1918, an unprecedented catastrophe gripped the world that continues to reverberate into our own time. World War I was touched off by a terrorist act in Bosnia and all too quickly expanded far beyond the expectations of those involved to become the first "total war." It was the first conflict in which entire societies mobilized to wage unrestrained war, investing all their wealth, industries, institutions, and the lives of their citizens to win victory at any price.


Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius
Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

Modernity is a notoriously slippery concept, because, obviously, what is modern now will soon become the past, as time marches relentlessly forward.


University of Tennessee

Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Professor Liulevicius has won many awards and honors, including the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. At the university he teaches courses on modern German history, Western civilization, European diplomatic history, Nazi Germany, World War I, war and culture, 20th-century Europe, nationalism, and utopian thought. Dr. Liulevicius has published numerous articles and two books: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I and The German Myth of the East, 1800 to the Present.

Professor Liulevicius participated in The Great Courses Professor Chat series. Read the chat to learn more about diplomacy and war

By This Professor

Turning Points in Modern History
A History of Eastern Europe
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin
Communism in Power: From Stalin to Mao
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration
The Century's Initial Catastrophe

01: The Century's Initial Catastrophe

The opening lecture presents the main themes of the course, beginning with the concept of total war. Other themes include the role of ideology, the meanings ascribed to the war by different sides, and the war's legacy.

33 min
Europe in 1914

02: Europe in 1914

This lecture examines the state of Europe and the world before the onset of the war in 1914. The emergence of the German Empire created strains in the international balance of power, as divided among Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.

32 min
Towards Crisis in Politics and Culture

03: Towards Crisis in Politics and Culture

Even among those who expected war, there were widespread misconceptions about the nature of the conflict to come. In this lecture you explore the prevailing ideas and attitudes in Europe and then turn to the premonitions noted by contemporaries of coming disaster.

34 min
Causes of the War and the July Crisis, 1914

04: Causes of the War and the July Crisis, 1914

This lecture analyzes the immediate events that led to war, from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary at Sarajevo in June 1914 to the diplomatic chain reactions that followed in the July Crisis.

29 min
The August Madness

05: The August Madness

Hysterical celebration known as the August Madness greeted the outbreak of war between the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and the Allies (France, Great Britain, and Russia). You analyze new research that questions how widespread this emotional outburst really was.

30 min
The Failed Gambles - War Plans Break Down

06: The Failed Gambles - War Plans Break Down

This lecture follows the unfolding of the German Schlieffen Plan, which envisioned quick victory on two fronts, and the French Plan XVII, which aimed to recover lost French territories. Both were thwarted.

31 min
The Western Front Experience

07: The Western Front Experience

The Western Front soon froze into static trench warfare and horrific slaughter from attempts to break this deadlock. Generals on both sides sought a breakthrough that would allow sweeping offensives and glorious cavalry charges. These never came.

29 min
Life and Death in the Trenches

08: Life and Death in the Trenches

This lecture gives a detailed overview of the trench landscape from the perspective of ordinary soldiers: the elaborate fortifications, the omnipresence of death, and the codes of behavior such as the Christmas fraternizations between the trenches in 1914.

31 min
The Great Battles of Attrition

09: The Great Battles of Attrition

Once the new dynamics of industrial war had been recognized, there followed a series of months-long battles of attrition. You examine the battles of Verdun and Somme in 1916, and in 1917 the French Champagne Offensive and the Third Battle of Ypres, also called Passchendaele.

31 min
The Eastern Front Experience

10: The Eastern Front Experience

This lecture illuminates the unfamiliar clash of empires in the East, beginning with the Russian invasion of German East Prussia and the ominous disasters of the Austro-Hungarian war effort. The Germans achieved victory against the Russians at Tannenberg in 1914 and followed up with the "Great Advance" of 1915 into Russian territory.

32 min
The Southern Fronts

11: The Southern Fronts

Turkish entry into the war expanded its scope. Allied landings in Gallipoli in 1915 were repulsed by Turkish defenders. Italy entered the war on the Allied side but met disaster against Austria-Hungary at the battle of Caporetto.

31 min
War Aims and Occupations

12: War Aims and Occupations

What goals did the Allies and the Central Powers pursue from the outset of the war? How did these goals change? After examining these questions, you turn to the experience of military occupation and how it affected civilian populations.

31 min
Soldiers as Victims

13: Soldiers as Victims

Historians estimate that half of the soldiers mobilized in the war were killed or wounded, and some suggest that nearly half of surviving soldiers experienced psychological traumas. This lecture seeks to convey the immense scale of this carnage.

31 min
Storm Troopers and Future Dictators

14: Storm Troopers and Future Dictators

Attempts to break the immobility of trench warfare produced storm troopers, fearless warriors habituated to the trench landscape to a disturbing degree. Two ordinary soldiers seemed to enjoy the war too much: Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

30 min
The Total War of Technology

15: The Total War of Technology

An important element of World War I was the expanding destructive potential of technology. This lecture covers such developments as the machine gun, poison gas, and the submarine, as well as the economic weapon of ersatz materials.

31 min
Air War

16: Air War

While the war in the air was not yet decisive in World War I, it was a frightening portent of what future conflict would hold. This lecture surveys the rapid improvement in early airplanes and the growth of the myth of the fighter ace.

30 min
War at Sea

17: War at Sea

Like the land forces, the opposing navies also reached a stalemate. The Battle of Jutland in May 1916 was the only large-scale British-German naval clash, and it ended indecisively. The naval blockade imposed by the British on Germany was of far greater effect.

31 min
The Global Reach of the War

18: The Global Reach of the War

This lecture surveys fighting in the European colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The diplomatic sparring for the sympathies of neutral states is also examined, along with the economic dimension of the global war.

31 min
The War State

19: The War State

Total war put new demands on the state to mobilize populations and economies for victory. For example, Britain broke with earlier liberal traditions to give the government increased power over the economy and political speech.

31 min
Propaganda War

20: Propaganda War

This lecture examines the increasing sophistication of official propaganda. You also study the phenomenon of spontaneous propaganda produced by citizens, which could take the form of rumors, myths, and stereotypes of the enemy.

32 min
Endurance and Stress on the Home Front

21: Endurance and Stress on the Home Front

The home fronts in all the warring countries met privation, shortages, and surveillance with both endurance and signs of growing stress. The British blockade led to severe hunger in Germany, and the employment of women in war industries disrupted social traditions.

31 min
Dissent and Its Limits

22: Dissent and Its Limits

A range of voices spoke out against the conflict as it deepened, including workers, pacifists, and even a decorated British officer, Siegfried Sassoon. At the same time, radical socialists saw in the war an opening for world revolution.

31 min
Remobilization in 1916 - 1917

23: Remobilization in 1916 - 1917

Increasing war-weariness led all the combatant powers to attempt to reinvigorate the war effort. In France and Britain new civilian governments took the lead in this effort, while in Germany the de facto military dictatorship inaugurated a new propaganda campaign.

29 min
Armenian Massacres - Tipping into Genocide

24: Armenian Massacres - Tipping into Genocide

World War I saw the launching of what is considered the first full-scale modern genocide: the 1915 Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey, in which between 500,000 and one million men, women, and children of the Armenian minority were killed or died from abuse.

33 min
Strains of War - Socialists and Nationalists

25: Strains of War - Socialists and Nationalists

This lecture explores the growing divisions in wartime societies, which produced revolts such as the 1915 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland, the French army's mutinies in 1917, and the growing alienation of subject nationalities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

31 min
Russian Revolutions

26: Russian Revolutions

The Russian Empire was the first to break under the pressure of war. In March 1917, the tsarist regime abruptly collapsed. Months later the liberal-led provisional government itself collapsed when Lenin's Bolsheviks seized power and inaugurated a new Communist state.

32 min
America’s Entry into the War

27: America’s Entry into the War

In this lecture you follow the path that led the United States to join the Allied cause against Germany in April 1917. America's entry gave the war a larger ideological character, articulated by President Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points.

31 min
America at War - Over There and Over Here

28: America at War - Over There and Over Here

World War I had a profound impact on American society. You explore the sophisticated propaganda campaign launched to rouse the nation to arms, the massive economic mobilization, and the encounter of American doughboys overseas with the "old continent."

30 min
1918 - The German Empire’s Last Gamble

29: 1918 - The German Empire’s Last Gamble

Hoping to win the war before the massed arrival of American troops, the Germans marshaled their reserves for a final offensive in March 1918. They advanced to within artillery range of Paris before being stopped by an Allied counteroffensive.

30 min
The War's End - Emotions of the Armistice

30: The War's End - Emotions of the Armistice

When the guns fell silent on November 11, 1918, many Germans found it difficult to accept that they had lost the war. As a crowning horror, a worldwide pandemic swept the globe: the Spanish Influenza killed an estimated 50 million people.

31 min
Toppled Thrones - The Collapse of Empires

31: Toppled Thrones - The Collapse of Empires

The defeated Central Powers saw their empires and political structures come crashing down. This lecture outlines the startling internal collapse of the Central Powers and the question of what new order would replace the extinct regimes.

30 min
The Versailles Treaty and Paris Settlement

32: The Versailles Treaty and Paris Settlement

The peace settlements ending World War I were beset with contradictions. Should the treaties reconcile enemies or punish the defeated? Were they meant to repair the prewar balance of power or abolish it? This lecture considers the resulting treaties in depth.

32 min
Aftershocks - Reds, Whites, and Nationalists

33: Aftershocks - Reds, Whites, and Nationalists

In the turmoil after the war, intense ideological conflict arose. Partisans of international Communism heralded by Soviet Russia (labeled Reds) battled counterrevolutionary forces (called Whites). New nation-states also collided repeatedly.

32 min
Monuments, Memory, and Myths

34: Monuments, Memory, and Myths

Vigorous debates surrounded the question of memorials to the fallen. This lecture analyzes such monuments as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Also investigated are myths that arose in the wake of the war, including the "Stab in the Back" legend in Germany.

32 min
The Rise of the Mass Dictatorships

35: The Rise of the Mass Dictatorships

World War I showed the power that could be mobilized by states organized for war. This experience provided the model for postwar totalitarian movements, including Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany, and Communism in the Soviet Union.

31 min
Legacies of the Great War

36: Legacies of the Great War

This concluding lecture confronts the largest and most difficult question: What were the true meaning, legacy, and significance of World War I? You examine the economic, social, and political impact, as well as the individual human consequences of this disaster.

31 min