Interwar worlds: the cultural consequences of the First World War

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Dina Gusejnova room SAR M.14


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics and History. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.

Course content

A political catastrophe of global proportions, the First World War also had a transformative impact on cultural life worldwide throughout the interwar period. Trenchcoats, jazz, shellshock, avantgarde, aerial photography, radio news, spotlights – these wartime notions also represent a profound impact on cultural practices in the postwar era. This course will examine how technological, social, and political changes brought about cultural change in postwar societies, principally focusing on the transnational and global circulation of commodities, ideas, population groups, and cultural fashions between Europe and the world. Technological advancements spurned by military needs, such as radio, telephony, and photography, became available to postwar populations on a new scale. The representation of war atrocities and their impact on the human psyche created a need for new, hybrid, multilingual, and multimedia communication. Wartime disruption and change to education continued to have an impact on schools and universities in the postwar years, intensifying the global circulation of ideas. The increase in contact between previously disconnected communities, mediated as well as direct in places like prisoner of war camps, increased the exposure to different ideas, sights and sound, leading to the emergence of increasingly global cultural fashions such as jazz. Nonetheless, this globalisation of culture also went hand in hand with the growth of new forms of racist caricature and the drawing of new frontiers. The role of international and humanitarian organisations such as the Red Cross or YMCA in wartime changed the relationship between states and societies by introducing a transnational dimension to cultural provision, yet it is noteworthy that this new internationalism was neither disinterested nor did it lie ‘beyond’ ideology.

Did the war create a new, hybrid global culture? Or did it increase the global hegemony of European culture? How did America’s entry into the war affect the place of American culture in the postwar period? To what extent did the war give greater resonance to previously marginal cultural movements? What was the relationship between cultural change and political revolutions? How did gender norms change as a result of the permeation of military culture into what used to be the home front? Interwar culture is often associated with urban and metropolitan communities, but how did it develop in rural or distant settings? How did the new exposure to previously unfamiliar populations change ideas of friends and enemies? Which earlier myths or historical memories were mobilised in order to cope with the war experience? The course will be organised around the close reading and interpretation of key artefacts, ideas, or works of intellectual history, whose analysis will facilitate a nuanced understanding both of the scale and the depth of cultural change brought about by the war. Some of these materials will include original artwork accessible in London institutions such as Tate Britain, as well as local archival collections.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay and 1 other piece of coursework in the MT.

Formative essay or annotated research bibliography on a subject of choice 1,500 - 2,000 words

Formative source analysis exercise, 500 words

Indicative reading

Richard Bessell, ‘Post-War Societies [Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain and Ireland, Greece, Ottoman Empire, Poland, Serbia, USA, Ukraine, West Africa, Yugoslavia]’, n.d., https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/post-war_societies

Nur Bilge Criss, ‘Post-War Societies (Turkey)’, n.d., https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/post-war_societies_turkey.

Simon Featherstone, ‘Colonial Poetry of the First World War’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Poetry of the First World War, ed. Santanu Das (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 173–84, https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139087520.018

James Fox, British Art and the First World War, 1914-1924, Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Murray Frame et al., eds., Russian Culture in War and Revolution, 1914-22, Russia’s Great War and Revolution, v. 1 (Bloomington, Indiana: Slavica Publishers, 2014)

Martin Kerby, Margaret Baguley, and Janet McDonald, The Palgrave Handbook of Artistic and Cultural Responses to War Since 1914 The British Isles, the United States and Australasia. (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2018), http://public.eblib.com/choice/PublicFullRecord.aspx?p=5611425

Kama Maclean, A Revolutionary History of Interwar India: Violence, Image, Voice and Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Karen Petrone, The Great War in Russian Memory, Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011)

David Reynolds, Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century, 2015

Aviel Roshwald and Richard Stites, eds., European Culture in the Great War: The Arts, Entertainment, and Propaganda, 1914 - 1918, 1. paperback ed, Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare 6 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002)

Priya Satia, Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010)

Peter N Stearns, Olivia Amanda O’Neill, and Jack Richard Censer, Cultural Change in Modern World History, 2019

D. Stevenson, 1917: War, Peace, and Revolution, First edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)

J. Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931 (London: Penguin, 2015)

Lisa R. Williams, ‘A Furious Battleground: World War I and the Development of Jazz in American Popular Culture’, Jazz Perspectives 8, no. 2 (4 May 2014): 153–84, https://doi.org/10.1080/17494060.2015.1039147

Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107589087.


Essay (35%, 3500 words) and source analysis (15%) in the LT.
Essay (50%, 5000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills