New Bodleian History Books: November 2018 – WWI

Right on schedule for the Centenary of the First World War a number of exciting new history books on various interesting aspects of WWI have arrived at the Bodleian!

In Ypres Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel examine the small Belgian city which between 1914 and 1918 became the location of five major battles between the Allied troops and the Germans – battles which resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties, and placed Ypres at the heart of First World War battlefield tourism.

Opening his focus to the entirety of the Western Front rather a single battlefield, David T. Zabecki’s The generals’ war: operational level command on the Western Front in 1918 examines the plans and decisions of the senior-most German and Allied commanders, exploring the military strategies of those generals during the last year of the Great War.

And not from the generals’ view, but from the complete opposite side of the spectrum come Les carnets de guerre de Louis Barthas: 1914-1918. This is an edition of the 19 notebooks compiled by a French corporal who fought for four years in some of the most dangerous sectors of the front, including Verdun and the Somme. Into these notebooks Barthas transcribed his diary and letters, adding collected picture postcards, illustrations, and maps clipped from newspapers and magazines.

Unlike these first books which examine the war and WWI warfare proper, several of the newly arrived books focus on the social and cultural history of WWI. Laura Rowe writes on Morale and discipline in the Royal Navy during the First World War, and Roger L. Ransom examines the dark history of war profiteering in Gambling on war: confidence, fear, and the tragedy of the First World War

Along with socio-cultural history, gender studies are also gaining a foothold in war historiography – while all of the above monographs focus rather naturally on the (male) soldiers and their (male) commanders, the final pair of books I would like to present in this blog post take as their topic the often neglected “other half” of humanity involved in the Great War – the women.

Alison Fell’s Women as veterans in Britain and France after the First World War looks at former nurses, charity workers, secret service agents, members of resistance networks in occupied territory or of the British auxiliary corps. After the end of the war these women appropriated the cultural identity of “female war veteran” in order to have greater access to public life in a political climate in which women were rarely heard on the public stage.

Similarly, the women Stefania Bartoloni writes on in Donne di fronte alla guerra: pace, diritti e democrazia (1878-1918) demanded more rights and more democracy and called for women’s participation in decisions on national and international affairs. Beginning at the end of the 19th century but continuing through to the end of WWI, this group of feminists and suffragists critiqued the male power system in which men were the heads of governments and diplomacy who chose to settle conflicts between nations through the instrument of war.

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