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World War I ended 100 years ago. But do you know why it began?


Yale offers a free online course examining the tensions in Europe leading to “The Great War.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. In the lead-up to November 11, Veteran’s Day, the day on which the armistice was signed in 1918, there’s bound to be lots of discussion on the origins and causes of the war, and debate over how the way it was resolved led to World War II.

Now’s the time to start boning up on history, so you can join the discussion.

One resource is Prof. John Merriman’s free online course “European Civilization, 1648-1945,” presented by Open Yale Courses. With Merriman’s help, you will be well prepared to respond to the friend who says, “World War I was started by some crazy guy in Sarajevo who shot the Archduke Ferdinand.”

“Ah, there’s more to it than that, my friend,” you can say.

The fate of the Alsace-Lorraine region, which Germany won in a war with France in 1870, played a big role in the gathering storms preceding the war. At the same time, Russia’s interest in the Balkans, seeking to protect its Slavic Orthodox peoples, contributed to the tension.

Merriman, the Charles Seymour Professor of History at Yale, recorded the course in the Fall semester of 2008. He is the author of A History of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present. The segment of his course dealing with the “Coming of the Great War” requires close attention, and perhaps a couple of hearings, but it’s sure to give the viewer a better appreciation for why Europe found itself engulfed in conflict.


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