Historical debates

100 years on from the outbreak of World War One, with all soldiers of the war now dead, the task of telling the story of the conflict falls to historians and our collective understanding. How have these views changed over time? What aspects are debated and what are the important debates of the coming years?

Banner for debate on the origins of the first world war article. Image is a painting of 5 hands grappling at a globe. Each sleeve has a flag ident on it.

The debate on the origins of World War One

Article by:
Annika Mombauer

Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Dr Annika Mombauer explores the opposing debates about the origins of World War One. Is it possible for historians to arrive at a consensus?

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Photograph of a tank on a road

Haig and British generalship during the war

Article by:
Laura Walker

Archivist and Curator Laura Walker compares and contrasts the historical responses to Sir Douglas Haig, a controversial figure who led the Somme and Passchendaele offensives and under whose leadership the war was won.

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Changing lives: gender expectations and roles during and after World War One

Article by:
Susan Grayzel

Considering the roles of both men and women during World War One, Susan R Grayzel asks to what extent the war challenged gender roles and to what degree society accepted them.

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Photographs of soldiers on a battlefield


Article by:
Stephen Badsey

From portraits of soldiers to official government images, Professor Stephen Badsey examines the private and public use of photography in World War One and its value as a historical source.

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Lone man sat deep inside a dug-out within a trench.

How did soldiers cope with war?

Article by:
Matthew Shaw

Curator Dr Matthew Shaw, explores notions of patriotism, social cohesion, routine and propaganda, to ask how soldiers of World War One were able to psychologically cope with the realities of combat.

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The Long Shadow of the ‘German Atrocities’ of 1914

Article by:
Sophie de Schaepdrijver

Associate Professor Sophie de Schaepdrijver considers how the ‘German atrocities’ have been represented during and after World War One by both the Allied countries and Germany.

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Historiography of World War One

Article by:
Yohann le Tallec

Ways of writing and thinking about World War One have developed and changed over the past 100 years. Yohann le Tallec examines these differences in historical research and writing, focusing on the broad move away from military history towards an approach that places human beings at its centre.

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Crop of map used in the Battle of the Somme, with lines showing the advance and defence

Fighting the First World War: Stalemate and attrition

Article by:
Jonathan Boff

For much of the First World War, the Western Front remained almost static, with each side killing many of the other’s men but otherwise making little progress. Dr Jonathan Boff investigates why the war developed in this way and whether later depictions of wartime strategy were fair.

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Further themes

Origins, outbreak and conclusions

How did World War One begin? Why did it escalate and what was the impact of both war and peace on the countries involved?

The war machine

How were the 65 million men who fought in World War One recruited, armed and organised?

Life as a soldier

What was life like for the millions of professional, conscripted or recruited soldiers?

Race, empire and colonial troops

Over four million non-white men served in World War One. Explore more about their lives and responsibilities.


What was life like for civilians, women, children and those displaced by the fighting?


How was propaganda used to inspire patriotism, dehumanise the enemy and change opinions?

Representation and memory

In addition to poetry, what were the other creative responses to the War? How have these affected our memory and understanding?

Wounding and medicine

How were soldiers injured in World War One and how did doctors, nurses and scientists treat them?

Historical debates

How have the views of historians and our understanding of World War One changed over time?