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Beyond the Trenches: Globalizing the Great War

An anonymous African artist’s illustration of General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck surrendering his forces to the British at Abercon (present-day Mbala) in Northern Rhodesia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I remember first learning about the Great War in high school, and all my teacher talked about was trench warfare. And for many years, my mental picture of the First World War was trench warfare and a few Western European countries. I remember the first time I read a history of the modern Middle East being shocked to discover that World War I had also taken place there. And coincidentally I saw Lawrence of Arabia shortly afterwards, and I really got curious. (For all the Orientalist fantasies in that movie, it’s still unbelievable to watch on the big screen.)

This page is going to be a place where I maintain links to some of my favorite resources for understanding the Great War beyond trench warfare and the military encounter in Western Europe.

Last updated: 18 November 2018

Articles and Websites

Indians in the trenches: voices of forgotten army are finally to be heard – Short article about the involvement of Indian soldiers in the First World War

The Forgotten Soldiers: India And Pakistan In the Great War – Good Wilson Quarterly resource focusing on South Asian soldiers.

Remember the world as well as the war – A British council website that “explores people’s perceptions and knowledge about the First World War and highlights the truly global nature of the conflict and its lasting legacy.”

How Colonial Violence Came Home: the Ugly Truth of the First World War – A challenging interpretation of the war by Pankaj Mishra in which he argues that the war simply made people in Europe fully aware of the violence already being inflicted on colonized peoples around the world.

The Forgotten Army of the First World War: How Chinese Labourers helped shape Europe – Great resource from the South China Morning Post telling the story of Chinese workers in the war. Lots of visuals included.

Why women’s peace activism in World War I matters now – Anya Jabour discusses the role of the women’s peace movement in the United States.

Influenza: How the Great War helped create the greatest pandemic ever known – a good relatively short article looking at the relationship between the war and the influenza outbreak of 1918-1919.

World War I: What happened in Africa should not stay in Africa – a short article calling for greater engagement with Africa’s involvement in the war.

Propaganda in the Colonies (Africa) – excellent overview of how war propaganda related to and engaged Africa.

Putting the World in WWI – some great resources from Eric Beckman‘s blog.

Primary Sources

W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The African Roots of War” – a great short article from Du Bois on the role of colonialism, especially in Africa, as the real cause of the war.

Emma Goldman’s Preparedness, the Road to Universal Slaughter – a powerful essay by the anarchist Emma Goldman challenging the call for “preparedness” being offered by some American politicians in 1915.

Self-Determination for India – A pamphlet published by the India Home Rule League of America (IHRLA) in December 1918. The IHRLA was founded by the Indian Lala Lajpat Rai in 1917, and it also published a monthly journal Young India. The introduction is a great overview of how many Indians viewed the rhetoric of nationalism and freedom associated with the First World War.

World War I in Photos: Global Conflict – good collection of photos from around the world.


Erez Manela’s The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism – Excellent book that completely reframes the discussion of natioanlism in the First World War and how peoples in India, China, Korea, and Egypt were challenging Western leaders to live up to their rhetoric during the war.

Keith Jeffery’s 1916: A Global History – an engaging read that focus on a particular global event each month from different parts of the world. Using events such as the Easter Rebellion in Dublin or the Battle of Gallipoli, Jeffery explores the global scope of the war.

William Kelleher Stoney’s The First World War: A Concise Global History – a more traditional narrative of the First World War, but one that genuinely integrates, rather than appends, the history of non-Western regions into the story of the war.

Eugene Rogan’s The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East – Focused on the events in the Middle East.

Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World – a comprehensive and engaging overview of the origins and spread of the 1918-1919 influenza outbreak.


15 Minute History: The Legacy of WWI in the Balkans and Middle East – A good discussion among a few historians considering how the Balkans and the Middle East became involved in the First World War and legacies of that involvement down to the present.

African Experiences in World War I with John Akomfrah – Dan Snow interviews John Akomfrah about the role of Africans in the war and the new Mimesis: African Soldier exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Ottoman History Podcast: The Frontiers of the First World War: Historiographical Developments and Trajectories – a discussion of new directions in research on the First World War.

Chinese Labour Corps in WWI with Wenlan Peng – Dan Snow interviews Wenlan Peng about the role of Chinese Labourers in Britain and France during the war.

A Wordly War: Battle Experiences through the Eyes of African Cultures – Podcast with Josephine Niala about African involvement in the war.

The Indian Sepoy in the First World War – Podcast with Santanu Das about the role of Indian soldiers in the war.

Videos and Documentaries

A Global Guide to the First World War – a collection of short video clips from ten different historians from ten different countries discussing the war.