Other History Topics

Causes of the First World War – Militarism and the ‘Arms Race’

Dreadnought

The launch of the Dreadnought

On the 10th February 1906 the British King, Edward VII, launched HMS Dreadnought – a revolutionary new type of battleship that made all other ships obsolete. She was the fastest and most heavily-armed ship in the world, and the name Dreadnought began to be used to describe a whole class of similar ships.

You might think that having the best ship in the world would make Britain the undisputed champion of the seas, but the launch of the Dreadnought arguably created more problems than it solved.  Ever since the British government adopted the Two-Power Standard as part of the Naval Defence Act in 1889, the Royal Navy had to have at least the same number of battleships as the next two largest navies in the world combined.  At that point it was France and Russia, but by 1906 Wilhelm II had become Kaiser of Germany and began aggressive military expansion and the development of a German Empire under his ‘World Policy’ or Weltpolitik.

But why was the Dreadnought a problem to Britain the Two-Power Standard?  The issue was that Britain now only had one more Dreadnought than every other country in the world.  With all other ships obsolete in the wake of the new design, it was too easy for other countries to catch up.  When Germany launched the first of its Dreadnought-style Nassau ships in 1908, Britain was forced to keep ahead by building more and more.  The naval arms race and the tension that followed was a major contributing factor to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Causes of the First World War – The July Crisis

Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, this video explores the 6-week period known as the July Crisis.  It explains the concept of Germany’s ‘Blank Cheque’ and how the alliance system caused the nations of Europe to become embroiled in what was now a ‘world’ war.  Reference is made to the Schlieffen Plan and how this led to Britain’s declaration of war.

Princip Sandwich

Gavrilo Princip’s sandwich myth and the causes of WW1

Since becoming a teacher, I’ve been disturbed by the number of people who claim that the First World War was caused by a sandwich.  Having read a huge amount of sources about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, I’ve put together this video that presents a detailed look at the claim that Gavrilo Princip was able to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and cause the First World War because he went to buy a sandwich from Schiller’s Delicatessen.

My video was inspired by Mike Dash’s excellent article at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2011/09/gavrilo-princips-sandwich/ – it’s well worth ten minutes of your time to read it.

Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia

The Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia, 23rd July 1914

On the 23rd July 1914, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia specifically designed to be rejected and lead to war between the two countries.

The ultimatum was delivered at 6pm by the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Belgrade, with a deadline of 48 hours within which the Serbian government had to respond. They accepted all but one of the numerous demands, which led Austria-Hungary to declare war three days later on 28th July.

Austria-Hungary had been concerned about the growing power of Serbia, and was keen to find a way to weaken the government and stop it taking over the Southern Slavic populations of the northern Balkans, and especially Bosnia, under the banner of pan-Slavism. To the government officials who favoured war, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on the 28th June was the perfect excuse.

Following the assassination, Germany had given Austria-Hungary assurances that it would support military action against Serbia, in what is known as the ‘Blank Cheque’ of 5th July. Acting with the knowledge that the strongest army in Europe was on their side, the Austro-Hungarian Crown Council began to discuss how best to justify a war against Serbia. They decided that an ultimatum containing unacceptable demands would be the best course of action, and finally agreed the wording on the 19th.

After Serbia’s refusal of the sixth point in the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary declared war. Although it was intended to remain localised, the network of European alliances that had developed from the late 19th Century soon saw the conflict develop into the First World War.

Treaty of London 1839

The Treaty of London: Belgium independence and the First World War

The Treaty of London recognised and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium.

In 1813 Napoleon’s rule of the Netherlands was ended by the combined armies of Russia and Prussia, and control was given to William Frederik of Orange-Nassau. Two years later, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, modern Belgium became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

These southern provinces were predominantly Catholic, and a sizeable number of the inhabitants spoke French. However, William clearly favoured Protestantism and had tried to impose Dutch as the official language. This led to tensions which were exacerbated by economic problems that included high unemployment and arguments over the effect of free trade on the less developed south. A revolution erupted in 1830 that led to the states declaring independence on 4 October, although William refused to recognise the independent Belgium for over nine years.

In signing the treaty that formally recognised the existence of the independent Kingdom of Belgium, the Netherlands were joined by Britain, Austria, France, Russia, and the German Confederation. Furthermore, Britain insisted that the signatories also recognise Belgium’s perpetual neutrality.

The neutrality clause was of central importance in the outbreak of the First World War, since Germany violated Belgium’s neutrality when its forces crossed the border in the Schlieffen Plan. Britain thus claimed to be upholding the Treaty of London when it declared war on 4 August 1914 – much to the anger of German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg who couldn’t believe Britain would go to war over a ‘mere a scrap of paper’.

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Lesson Plan

In 1989, Billy Joel released the song We Didn’t Start the Fire.  I created a lesson sequence in which students analyse the song’s interpretations of the past, and and wrote an article about it in December 2009’s edition of Teaching History for the Historical Association.  The learning really comes in when we consider why Billy Joel decided to include the events that he did.  You can read my sequence overview below, or you can click to download the full We Didn’t Start the Fire article, in which I also discuss how the lesson sequence has been implemented in the UK and Egypt.
In order to teach the sequence outlined below, you will firstly need a copy of the music video I produced for the song, which you can download here.

  1. Introduce song and its events. Students choose an event and begin to research it (check out www.teacheroz.com/fire.htm as a great starting point) – focus on significance. Give an overview of the event/person/etc. but also think about why Billy Joel chose to include it. What was special/significant about it? Students to prepare a presentation to present next week.
  2. Finish presentation preparation and watch. As students present their findings, brainstorm the different definitions of what makes an event significant. Discuss the range of possible explanations for what makes something “significant”.
  3. Brainstorm events/people/developments of the years since the song was released (1989 onwards). Discuss which of these are significant and why – link back to the definitions of significance from last week. Do different people have different ideas of what is significant in our lifetime? In pairs/small groups students to look at their significant events and write their own verse for “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. You may find the syllable grid a useful resource to give to students to help them with this activity. As annoying as it is to hear the song over and over again, the students usually like to have the song played on repeat so they can practise their lyrics. Click here for a karaoke version you could use.
  4. Students to use Audacity (freeware audio software) to record them singing their own verse over the karaoke track. When this is complete, students should export the finished MP3 file to Windows Movie Maker and use Google Images to find pictures to create a video to accompany their song.

The completed videos are perfect examples of ICT being used to access high quality historical thinking skills. “Significance” is often a challenging key element to plan for, but I hope this overview helps you to include it in a lesson sequence.

For details of the full lesson sequence, download the article here.

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Video Download

Many people have created videos to accompany the song, but I felt that I should have a go at developing my own.  The version of this video I placed on TeacherTube is in the Top 10 most viewed videos of all time and has received over 900,000 views.  You can watch it in the video player below or can download a high resolution version to save to your computer:

Download
Syllable Grid

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Syllable Grid

The third stage of the We Didn’t Start the Fire the lesson sequence requires students to write an updated verse for the song.  Some students struggle with the division of syllables and beats, so I devised this simple grid to help them structure their verses to fit the original song pattern. The original lyrics follow a particular song structure and so, by having a visual reference that demonstrates how the lyrics were made to fit the verse, students may find it easier to make their own versions fit with the original.

Download here – We Didn’t Start the Fire – Syllable grid for lyrics (portrait version)

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Backing Track

The third part of the We Didn’t Start the Fire lesson sequence involves students writing their own verse to ‘update’ the song.  As annoying as it is to hear the song over and over again, the students usually like to have the song played on repeat so they can practise their lyrics. The media file below is a karaoke version of the song that you could play.