(image source: Past & Present)Abstract:
Cultural history has dominated the study of the Great War for 25 years. Since all intellectual paradigms have a life-cycle, it seems important to ask whether this one can still innovate. Cultural history has achieved much. It has shown how the war was represented (by artists and intellectuals, ideologies and ‘war cultures’). It has gone further by making the recovery of the experiences of the war the core of its agenda. Cultural historians have revealed what the first mass event of the 20th century meant for soldiers, women and hitherto neglected groups such as prisoners and occupied populations. They have also re-situated the conflict in new ‘time frames’ and in the new spatial relationships intrinsic to a global war. The result, however, has been an analytically descriptive history that has played down the causal history emphasized by traditional political and military studies. Yet these kinds of history provide the ‘master narratives’ of the First World War. Should cultural history continue to operate in a semi-parallel universe? Renewal seems necessary, and to achieve this, cultural historians might engage more with other historical fields. Three short examples, in demographic and military history, illustrate how this could be done.Read the article on Oxford Scholarship.