In the Footsteps of WWI

A British cannon and me
Your author, with a British artillery piece from WWI, at the Imperial War Museum

A year from now my colleague Sam Mulberry and I will lead a group of twenty Bethel University students on a three-week journey that will take us from London to Paris to Munich, plus a few days on the ground of what was, from August 1914 to November 1918, the Western Front of World War I. In preparation for this new travel course on the history of the First World War, I spent the first two weeks of 2012 scouting museums, memorials, and battle sites and meeting European guides.

Over the next week or two, I plan to share some photos and reflections from my trip. This will be a companion series to the one I wrote last summer, “Over There,” in which I thought through the course, day by day.

Before I preview what’s coming up as the series starts, let me thank a few people:

First, Vincent Peters, Bethel’s dean for international studies, who was kind enough to make this scouting trip possible and has been nothing but encouraging during the planning of this course.

Second, Wade Neiwert and Trey Maddox, two of Bethel’s extraordinary science professors, who were leading nearly thirty students on their History of Science in Europe trip when we crossed paths in Munich. They not only invited my wife and me along on their afternoon trip to the concentration camp memorial at Dachau (which is where I plan to end the WWI trip), but let me sit in on their morning discussion with students and shared all sorts of good advice about how to lead these kinds of travel courses.

Third, Ginny Kerovpyan and her family, for having us over to their Paris apartment for lunch and talking about their Armenian heritage and culture, the genocide that began in 1915, the diaspora that followed it, and the history of that community in France and elsewhere in recent years. I’m very hopeful that my students will get a chance to meet them next year and hear from an Armenian scholar about the connections between the genocide, the diaspora, and the war. (Here’s a link to the cultural center they help run — in French.)

Western Front Signage
Signage from the Western Front, displayed at the Imperial War Museum

And finally, our tour guide on the battlefields of Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and the Somme, the immensely knowledgeable and personable Carl Ooghe. Carl leads a couple hundred tours each year, though mostly on bike (see his website for more on this kind of WWI travel) and rarely in January. So we appreciated his willingness to drive us around the Belgian and French countryside, where he helped us understand the geography of trench warfare and showed how the war in that part of the world has been commemorated.

And that last topic will be where I start the series tomorrow:

How did the people of Belgium, France, Germany, and Britain and its empire commemorate an event that killed over 9 million soldiers for purposes that seemed, at best, elusive?

Polygon Wood Cemetery
The Commonwealth cemetery (and, in background, New Zealand memorial) at Polygon Wood, outside Ypres

Read the next entry in this series>>

3 thoughts on “In the Footsteps of WWI

  1. Just wanted to make you aware of an uncataloged collection of WWI pamphlets at the University of Minnesota, Andersen Library, in the Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts unit. The collection comprises approximately 4,100 items published worldwide, in all the major languages of the world. The pamphlets treat a broad spectrum of subjects: war, peace, social, political and ethical issues, economic and military concerns, legislation, relief organizations, army training, returning vetrans, neutrality. It includes such formats as maps, journals, posters, and scrap books. The pamphlets are written by organizations as varied as the American Library Association, the Catholic Church, the Red Cross, the National War Garden Commission, the New York Public Library and the League of Nations. Individuals as diverse as Cristabel Pankhurst, Clarence Seward Darrow, Leon Trotskii, Rudyard Kipling, Jan Christian Smuts and Lord Asquith are represented.

    Even though it is uncataloged we’ve created an online alphabetical list. We’re still working on updating the list by adding volumes numbers. The collection does have a corresponding card file; its the card file that we’ve been converting to the online list. The online list may be found at

      1. Chris, here’s something else that you (and your students) can check out online: a collection of WWI and WWII posters and postcards. The link is: The posters are from the U of M and Hennepin County Library collections. I think most of the postcards are from the U of M Special Collections/Rare Books.

        If you can sneak away for a day let me know. We can do lunch in between.

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