The First World War in Perspective (Online)


The First World War is widely regarded as the defining event of the twentieth century, and continues to fascinate and appal in equal measure. This course seeks to explain why and how the war was fought, and to understand why its legacy remains relevant more than a century after it ended.

As the centenary of its outbreak approaches, the First World War still attracts undiminished interest and evokes intense emotions. The carnage of the trenches and the suspicion of futility continue to exert a terrible fascination for commentators both academic and popular. Indeed, the flow of publications and media outputs about the war shows no sign of abating. This course, while not overlooking fundamental moral or ideological dilemmas posed by the First World War, focuses on examining the claim that it was the first genuinely global, total and modern war. The course therefore studies all major participants and campaign theatres - not only the Western Front - and explores the war’s transformative impact on technology, diplomacy, national economies, relations between states and their citizens, and cultural creativity. Finally, it seeks to appreciate how what happened between 1914 and 1918 shaped the years that followed, and why the ‘Great War' retains its title.

Listen to Sheila Tremlett talking about the course:

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

Unit One: Introduction and Origins of the War

  • Introduction: some perspectives on the ‘Great War’
  • Origins of the First World War: an overview
  • The July 1914 crisis and the Fischer debate

Unit Two: The war in Europe - Western Front (Part 1)

  • Life in the trenches
  • Strategy, tactics and technological innovations in coalition warfare
  • The British army on the Western Front – a ‘learning curve’?

Unit Three: The war in Europe – Western Front (Part 2)

  • Mobilisation and war plans
  • Case studies: Verdun and the Somme campaigns
  • US entry into the war

Unit Four: The war in Europe – Eastern and Southern Fronts

  • Search for new allies
  • Russian, Austrian and Balkan fronts
  • Russian withdrawal from the war

Unit Five: The war outside Europe

  • The war in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East
  • The Arab Revolt – a ‘sideshow’?
  • The war at sea

Unit Six: Diplomacy – war aims and peace initiatives

  • War aims of Allied and Central Powers
  • Principal peace initiatives (1916-1917)
  • Impacts of Russian Revolution, US intervention and the ‘Fourteen Points’

Unit Seven: Total war – economic mobilisation

  • Relations between government, industry and labour
  • Women and war work
  • Economics as a tool of warfare

Unit Eight: Total war – social mobilisation

  • Challenges of mobilising consent and state control of the home fronts
  • The British experience: conscription debate, conscientious objection, DORA
  • Opposition to the war: strikes, mutinies, revolutions (1917-1918)

Unit Nine: Culture and Propaganda

  • War posters – ‘weapons of mass communication’
  • Popular and élite cultures
  • Modernism and the visual arts

Unit Ten: Legacy of the ‘Great War’

  • Armistice, 1918
  • Aftermath – political, economic, social, international
  • Cultural legacy and memory of the ‘Great War’

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £324.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Mr Carl Wade

Carl Wade originally studied history at Jesus College, Cambridge. He has written and taught courses for OUDCE since 2004 in modern European and German history.

Course aims

This course aims to:
Study the First World War from a variety of perspectives – military, political, economic, social and cultural. It will introduce students to the debates surrounding the War as the first global, total and modern conflict, and analyse the meaning of these concepts. It will also endeavour to examine the ongoing legacy of the Great War.

Course Objectives:
This course will enable participants to:

  • Gain basic information about – and some understanding of – the War’s origins, overall development and outcomes.
  • Appreciate the various dimensions of the conflict (economic/social/cultural as well as military/diplomatic) and the perspectives of a cross-section of its participants.
  • Examine the significance of the terms ‘global’, ‘total’ and ‘modern’, as applied to the First World War, and analyse the debates surrounding these concepts.
  • Develop skills of historical analysis through the study of primary sources, and evaluation of a range of scholarly debates and interpretations.

Teaching methods

Guided reading of texts and internet resources
Group discussions (both structured and informal) of particular issues
Research topics with student feedback
Set questions on primary sources
Online quizzes

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:
• Why the First World War occurred and became a global conflict, and the ways in which it was both similar to, and different from, previous wars between major states.
• The impact of the War on the economies, societies and cultures of the various belligerents, as well as on their military establishments.
• The practical and psychological legacy of ‘The Great War’ for the rest of the twentieth - and in to the twenty-first – centuries.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:
• The ability to assess critically a range of historical sources on the First World War - both primary and secondary – and to utilise these effectively in presenting their own arguments.
• The ability to engage with other students in informed debates regarding the relative merits of different scholarly interpretations of the First World War.
• The ability to view and analyse the First World War from a range of different perspectives, beyond those with which they may already be familiar from their own particular academic or national background.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.