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Peer Review

The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century



Overall Numeric Rating:

4.75 stars
Content Quality: 4.75 stars
Effectiveness: 4.75 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Jun 24, 2008 by History Editorial Board
Overview: This is a companion website to the PBS TV series about World War I. The website explores the political, social, military, and cultural impact of the war as well as similarities between that conflict and more recent events. The war is covered in five chronological sections that have titles that correspond to the character of the military conflict at the time: (1) Prologue, (2) Explosion/Stalemate, (3) Total War/Slaughter, (4) Mutiny/Collapse, and (5) Hatred and Hunger. Within each section, PBS uses a variety of types of material to supplement the textual description and analysis of the war including silent archival videos, animated maps, comments from historians, timelines, quotes and poems from contemporaries, links to related web sites, and photographs. The site also provides bibliographies, a glossary, lesson plans, and a topical and name index to the web site.
Type of Material: A collection of primary documents,photos, video and audio files, and text.
Recommended Uses: An important visual source for any class that deals with WWI
Technical Requirements: Real Player
Identify Major Learning Goals: The causes and impact of WWI on military and civilian population of the countries involved. Specified teaching uses are offered in individual learning plans.
Target Student Population: College upper level classes, US and World History Surveys, High School and middle school students.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Basic knowlege of history of the 20th century.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: (1) The core text of the website provides a succinct, clear, accurate overview of the context within which the Great War occurred, the major events of the war, its impact, and some of the issues that have engaged historians. (2) PBS makes a good effort to fairly present different perspectives about particular aspects of the war. For example, it provides commentary about the battle at Gallopoli from two historians, Tuncoku writing about the Turkish perspective and Wilson writing about the Australian perspective More importantly, when talking about military strategy and maneuvers, PBS describes what the Central Powers did and why in the same tone and manner that it uses to describe what the Allies did and why. The focus is on understanding events rather than on taking sides. (3) The website covers a wide range of topics including (but not limited to) the causes of the war, military strategy, the unfolding of the most important of the specific battles, trench warfare, the Armenian genocide, art and images of the war, women and the war, weaponry, the Russian Revolution, Hitler and WWI, and the negative side of patriotism. (4) The use of animated maps to show military maneuvers is very effective. (5) PBS makes good use of other web sites to supplement the information and resources it provides on this website. (6) And the bibliographies are detailed and should be useful resources to those who want to do more research.
Concerns: The least satisfying part of this website is "The Shaping of the 21st Century" section in which historians provide brief comments comparing WWI and recent events such as the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the massacre in Rwanda. The comments are too brief and as a result, raise more questions than they answer. For example, is it really accurate or useful to talk about the assassination of a political figure as an act of terrorism and compare it to the murder of 3000 civilians at the Pentagon and World Trade Center?

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: PBS provides eight lesson plans that explore different facets of the war. Each lesson plan clearly sets forth objectives. And the teaching strategies do suggest potentially effective ways of generating discussion. The content is fantastic because it is presented in a manner to enhance any class dealing with World War I. It is easy to understand and can be used at many levels with little difficulty.
Concerns: Most of the lesson plans involve work with secondary materials rather than primary sources. That's not necessarily bad, but just a limitation. In addition, most of the lessons have students drawing upon information from other web sites as well as this PBS web site. Some of the links to those other web sites are dead.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: PBS does a good job of organizing a lot of information and resources. There is a logic to the organization of the website, which one should take time to figure out before using the site extensively. Individual pages are well-designed, with an appropriate balance of text, photographs, and other material. They also share a consistent design, so users know where to look for particular information within each section. Download times, including for the archival video footage, are negligible, even if one uses a dial-up modem. And the website index is a great resource.
Concerns: None

Other Issues and Comments: I really like the way all sides are represeted. It would be difficult for either the Germans and French to quibble about the content even though it was produced by British and American agencies. The site provides a well-written overview of World War I.