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Online Textbook for History 1112

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Historians have an ongoing debate about whether World War I and II were merely two related events or, in fact, one long war punctuated by about 20 years of peace, not unlike the Thirty Years' War discussed in HIS 1111. This lesson discusses the historiographical debate and then examines the causes, effects, and events of both wars. The focus is two-fold in examining the lives of people involved in the wars on a small scale and the larger world-shaking events on a macro scale. The lesson takes the student from approximately 1870 to 1946.

Learning Objectives

Upon successful completion of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Summarize the hegemony of the European powers from 1880 to 1914, recognizing the competition for new territory and political sway that preceded World War I.
  • Recognize the new role of the United States in world affairs after the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which America emerged victorious.
  • Note the influence and effect on Europe of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, which ended in Russia’s defeat. 
  • List and analyze the many causes of World War I, from the complex system of alliances to the ethnic differences in Europe.
  • Describe the major battles and pattern of warfare in World War I and how the entrance of the United States into the conflict shifted the balance of power.
  • Explain the importance of the “homefront” in the war and examine the moving artistic and literary pieces created during World War I.
  • Detail the terms of the peace treaty at Versailles and the effects of severe reparations that contributed to the economic collapse of Germany and worldwide economic depression.   
  • Explain the meaning of fascism and describe the rise of this form of government in Spain, Italy, and Germany after World War I. 
  • Describe the formation of the Axis powers and their acquisition of new territories as other nations such as Britain sought to prevent another global war. 
  • Provide details on major battles, strategies, and events of World War II, including efforts on the homefront, resistance work behind Axis lines of power, and the entry of the United States into the war in December 1941.
  • Explain the Holocaust, an organized and systematic effort to destroy Jews and other persons, and how an event of such horror could occur.
  • List new inventions and technology that was employed in World War II, including the atomic bomb and the ethical issues surrounding its use.
  • Summarize the peace accords between the Allies and Axis powers at the conclusion of World War II, and detail how the seeds of the Cold War emerged from these peace accords.

Terms to Know

  • Adolf Hitler
  • Adolph Eichmann
  • Albert Einstein
  • Alexander Kerensky
  • Allied Powers (World War I)
  • Central Power (World War I)
  • Anglo French Entente (1904)
  • Anschluss
  • Anti-utopia
  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand
  • Axis Powers (World War II)
  • Allied Powers (World War II)
  • blitzkrieg
  • Battle of Britain
  • Battle of the Bulge
  • Battle of the Bulge
  • Battle of the Somme
  • Battle of Verdun
  • Benito Mussolini
  • Bolsheviks
  • Communism
  • Concentration camp
  • Dawes Plan
  • D-Day
  • Duma
  • Dunkirk
  • Eisenhower
  • Enigma (World War II)
  • Expressionism (in the arts)
  • Fascism
  • FD Roosevelt
  • First Balkan War
  • Fourteen Points (Wilson)
  • Francisco Franco
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Gallipoli
  • Gestapo
  • Great Depression
  • Heinrich Himmler
  • Hermann Göring
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Hitler Jugend
  • Holocaust
  • Joseph Goebbels
  • Kellogg-Briand Pact
  • Kristallnacht
  • Lebensraum
  • Lenin
  • Manhattan Project
  • Marie Curie
  • Max von Planck
  • Mustard gas
  • Nazi Party/National Socialists
  • New Deal
  • North African Campaign (World War II)
  • Wilhelm Canaris
  • Nuremberg Trials
  • Otto von Bismarck
  • Potsdam Conference
  • Rudolf Hess
  • Russian Revolution (1917)
  • Serbia/Serbs
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Stalin
  • Three Emperor's League
  • Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
  • Treaty of Versailles (1918)
  • Trench warfare
  • Triple Alliance
  • Triple Entente
  • Trotsky
  • V1 and V2 rockets
  • Winston Churchill
  • World War I poetry
  • Yalta Conference
  • Zimmerman telegram

Thought Questions

  1. Describe the major causes of World War I, taking an international perspective. How did the "world map" change as a result of the war? Be sure to detail the complex system of political alliances that contributed to the war.
  2. 2. Describe the key points of the armistice agreements that ended World War I. Were these settlements too harsh in the treatment of the Central Powers? Why or why not? What were some of the immediate problems of the settlements? 
  3. Explain the concept of fascism and why the takeover of Europe by fascist powers eventually drew the US into World War II.
  4. How did advances in technology aid the war effort? Why did technology advance so rapidly in World War II? Give specific examples. 
  5. Describe the Allied initiative in the North African and European theater, giving specifics on battles and tactics. Be sure to note details on the Battle of Britain, the Allied invasions of Italy and France, and the final days of the war in Europe.
  6. How were the Nazis able to take such complete control of all culture in Germany, to the extent that those outside the Nazi party faced brutal treatment? How were the Nazis able to convince Germans and members of the Nazi party to commit such atrocities?
  7. Describe the key events of the Russian Revolution. What were the immediate political outcomes? What was the impact of the Bolshevik phase of the revolution? How did the Russian Revolution change Russia in World War I and the role of the Soviet Union in World War II?

Discussion Questions

  1. Read the World War I PowerPoint and focus on the poetry. Compare and contrast Rupert Brooke's work (he died in 1915) with that of Wilfred Owen (died in 1918) and Siegfried Sassoon (died in 1967). Why is Brooke's work more hopeful, while that of Owen and Sassoon is more grim and depressing? How do these poets use imagery to appeal to the senses?
  2. Read the Zimmerman Telegram (link in syllabus). Was it sufficient justification to involve the US in World War I? Explain why or why not, justifying your answer with clear examples.
  3. As explained in the Fourteen Points, what sort of post-war world did Wilson envision?
  4. Winston Churchill was renowned for the speeches he gave to rally and inspire the people of Great Britain. What does he say in "Their Finest Hour" that you would find inspiring if your country was inches away from falling into the hands of Nazi Germany?
  5. Consider the language Himmler uses in speaking of the "Final Solution" and the Holocaust. How did he frame the Jewish people in the context of his plans to eliminate them? Consider his language and metaphors in your answer. (The audio is frankly terrifying).
  6. What occurred during the “Rape of Nanking”? Were the behaviors of the Japanese soldiers towards the Chinese similar in some ways to how the Nazi soldiers treated the Jews? Explain your answer with several examples. 

Further Explorations

The following websites may be useful to you in finding terms, studying for exams, and expanding your knowledge of this lesson's content. 

World War I

World War II

NOTE: From time to time, these web pages may "disappear." Please send an email to if you find broken links, so they may be replaced.