IDevice Icon


The "outbreak" of World War One in German and Swedish history magazines

The way the beginning of World War One is presented in popular history magazines



Author: Miriam Hannig, University of Augsburg


IDevice Icon

Basic Information

The unit shown deals with the start of World War One and its representation mainly in German and Swedish popular history magazines, which are examples introduced in the following. The focus is on pictures used for illustrating the assassination of Sarajevo both in textbooks and in magazines. Considering this, the central question is, how those pictures are selected and presented as historical sources. Furthermore, the unit tries to figure out, whether the question of the guilt of war is regarded to be multi-perspective or explicit.
The following exercises can be understood as suggestions for a closer approach to this topic along the chosen focuses. In addition, they can be seen as motivation for further analysis with other magazines (additional material). For this reason, there are surveys available considering the presentation of World War One´s start in respective national textbooks to contemplate national tendencies within the framework of this topic.



Reference to the curricula

In Bavarian history classrooms the subject “World War One“ is part of the curriculum of grade 8 (14-15 year old pupils). There is no explicit reference to the handling of popular history magazines, but all curricula require considering the “historical culture” as a part of pupils’ everyday life.
The topic lends itself to interdisciplinary teaching, by for example combining history with social studies, arts and German literature, which offers great chances for the use of popular history magazines in class.




Learning objectives

On the one hand the students extend their media critical competences and on the other hand they comparatively analyse European transnational perspectives on the topic.
They become more sensitive to the use of pictorial sources both in magazines and history textbooks and develop criteria for the critical evaluation of the use of those pictorial sources in general and particularly in commercial media.
By comparing popular history magazines and history textbooks the students learn to deal with different ways of presenting a historical topic and notice differences in the more or less scholarly or popular style in history magazines and textbooks.
By comparing textbooks and magazines from different European countries they learn to analyse and to compare the different ways of presenting the topic (in this learning object examples of Swedish and German magazines are used). Examples from magazines from other European countries can be found in the additional material; they can be used for broadening the comparison of different national points of views in Europe.


The way of presenting the "outbreak" of World War One in German textbooks

A closer look into curricula and textbooks is useful to get an idea of how the start of World War One is presented in German popular history magazines. In Bavaria, the start of World War One is always embedded within the complex of “Imperialism and WWI”, dealing with four major subjects:

1. Crisis in the Balkan, assassination of Sarajevo and the path to war

2. The industrialised war and how people experienced this war at the front and at home

3. The landmark year of 1917 and the Russian Revolution

4. End of war, Treaty of Versailles and consequences

Having covered this chapter, there is often a close link to the chapter of “The Weimar Republic”, ending in the collapse of the first German parliamentary democracy and the rise of National Socialism.
Principally, textbooks respond to the so-called “controversy of Fischer”. In 1961, historian Fritz Fischer introduced in his work “Germany's Aims in the First World War ” [Griff nach der Weltmacht. Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschlands 1914/1918, Düsseldorf] a thesis, stating that Imperial Germany had not “plunged” into World War One and there was no “outbreak” of World War One. Important parts of the social, political and military society had rather lead the German Reich deliberately into World War One, allegedly paying attention to not being the attacker. The thesis has been seriously criticized by German historians, because it would have confirmed belatedly the so-called German “guilt of war”, stated in article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles. However, in Germany, all social forces from left to right wing had been refusing to accept the accusations made in the Treaty of Versailles since 1919. Today, historians are of the opinion that there is no definite guilt of World War One´s start and above all that Germany cannot be held responsible exclusively for this outbreak, although they definitely acknowledge “plans of war” of certain parts of the German society and government.
Today, most of the textbooks consciously avoid formulations like “sliding into war” or “outbreak of the war”, using rather the more neutral terminology of “path to World War one”. Regarding the past and present significance of this question, it is important to clarify the implication of the choice of terminology (“plunge” vs. “outbreak” vs. “start”, etc.) and to encourage pupils to develop their own critical opinion.



EHISTO-team, Augsburg

The way of presenting the “outbreak” of World War One in Swedish textbooks

In Swedish textbooks World War One is primarily depicted as a matter of power balances, which are disrupted and this turned into a conflict; a total war of previously inconceivable magnitude, following a European era of relative peace and prosperity, not least due to industrialisation. Trying to explain the causes of World War One is a complex act. Politics in Europe were heavily affected by competition regarding power, economy and social status. The scramble for Africa was one matter of conflict and competition, and industrialisation was another. Europe as a whole was going through an era of social transformation, in which social groups of a new bourgeois era challenged traditional groups of power. The nationalism of the 19th century also affected the developments, not least in the Balkans, with a number of conflicts.



by Thomas Nygren, Dalarna University

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License