Review: Documenting History World War I

by Ross Grainger
by Ross Grainger

Documenting History: World War I by Philip Steele

Philip Steele’s World War I is a great way to introduce 11-14 year olds to the Great War. Part of Wayland’s Documenting History series, World War I offers balanced, clear and uncluttered perspectives on every major aspect of the conflict and its origins and aftermath.

Documenting History World War IThe war is presented in eight chapters. Here as in every book in the series, students learn that history is based on evidence. On every page there are ‘cuttings’ stamped with ‘SOURCE.’ The evidence ranges from paintings, poems and songs to newspaper articles, speeches, letters, posters and memoirs.

Any hint of a British slant is tempered by the descriptions of the institutionalised racism that meant Caribbeans, Africans and Asians fighting for the British Empire were not given the credit or respect they deserved. The text is always neutral; Steele merely poses the important questions. He also offers that other crucial history lesson: everything is connected. The conflicts raging in the Middle East today can be traced back to the Great War. Even the American war against North Vietnam began at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 when the European powers snubbed their Vietnamese counterparts from French-controlled Indochina. Japan, who had fought against Germany in the Asian theatre, was treated in a similar fashion.

The writing is brisk, but not patronising; Steele explains potentially difficult words as he goes. Though the horror is never far away, Steele is not gratuitous with it; he piques without upsetting.

Such a monumental topic could easily daunt a secondary school student, but this book breaks it down into clear and manageable — and interesting — chunks.

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