Causes of World War One: problems of evidence. Why is it so difficult to work out who caused the First World War? Smart Task

This is a very short 5 minute warm-up activity to help students get a feel for the partisan sources that historians have to wrestle with when trying to work out the causes of the First World War.

Introduce the task by explaining that over 25,000 books and articles have been written about the causes of the First World War. Not only are the sources numerous, they are also partisan or problematic in other ways. We have at least 6 main countries’ versions of events. In Christopher Clarke’s Sleepwalkers he calls this a world war of documents. Even when we know what was written, and why, we still don’t always know who really made the decisions.

To start with, see if students can work some ideas out for themselves in pairs. Do they think that German sources are all likely to be neutral, for instance.

Then give them a quick ‘heads and tails’ activity to add more information and consolidate their understanding.

Match the country to the statement.

Serbia, France, Russia, Germany

1.The documents from this country were written with a view to counter-balancing the German view.
2.The documents from this country tried to discredit the Tsar saying the war

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