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a conference on the Great War

Books + Ideas, — September 2014

I spent the weekend at a conference "The Meaning of 1914", organised by the New York Review of Books to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, but held at St Antony's College here in Oxford. There were six sessions, each with three panelists and a moderator, and an insanely distinguished array of participants, drawn from Oxford but also more broadly: Christopher Clark (Iron Kingdom and Sleepwalkers), Michael Howard, Neil MacGregor (director of the British Museum), Nicholas Rodger (A Naval History of Britain), Hew Strachan (To Arms), and so forth. Full details (and apparently videos of the talks at some point).

The result was an excellent conference: the speakers stuck to their assigned fifteen minutes and the questions following the talks were to the point, with no rambling rants or embarassingly unsophisticated questions (perhaps because the seventy or so attendees were mostly the other participants and academics and graduate students and ex-ambassadors and suchlike). The contributions ranged from the internal politics of the Liberal party and how critical the invasion of Belgium was to Britain entering the war (Vernon Bogdanor) to very broad "wheat and coal" economics (Avner Offer), from intervention by the Kaiser in art in pre-war Germany (Neil MacGregor) to the Great Depression and Hyman Minsky (Simon Head), and offered a range of perspectives on the changing historiography on the War.

The entire event was free — with tea and coffee — and seems like much better value than any of the continuing education courses on the First World War. (This holds more broadly. Undergraduate lectures at Oxford can only be attended by members of the university, but pretty much all research seminars - and some larger scale conferences like this - are open to anyone.)


  1. One hundred years on, we all know about the cause(s) of the Great War. Right?

    Comment by DL — September 2014
  2. Actually the causes of the Great War are still debated, and it's not clear that there's as much of a consensus there as there is about (say) the causes of the Second World War.

    Comment by danny — October 2014

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