Looking back on WWI in Real Time

After a few weeks of reflection following a semester of teaching World War I in Real Time—which, by the way, was insanely fun—I figured that a few broader observations about the course, as opposed to the war itself, were in order. It was, after all, a unique experience for me as a teacher.

  1. The topic itself [just part of one war? in real time? what was I thinking?] might’ve seemed narrow, but the sheer breadth of theories of politics we covered was actually pretty remarkable; the war was overflowing with puzzles to be solved. Collective action, bargaining and war (several variants thereof), coordination problems, coalition- and alliance-building, international law, state-society bargaining, war expansion and duration…the list went on. And I think that the history of a single event provided a sufficiently common substantive vocabulary in the room that teaching a wider range of theories was *easier* than it would’ve otherwise been.

  2. At the same time, it’s always a bit staggering that we can use so few strategic problems to explain or gain insight into so many questions about politics.

  3. Also, the right draw of students can do a lot for the quality of the course.

  4. Blogging a course wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected, but it’s surely a grind. Still, whether I wrote the posts right before a lecture or right after, I found that I almost always got something out of it. Teaching two grad courses this spring, I’m not sure just how much of the same style of blogging I’ll be doing, but I do hope that I can keep up the habit.

  5. I firmed up some ideas about what it looks like when I’m at my best in the classroom, largely because (a) the blogging forced me to put some structure to lectures I otherwise might not have and (b) I was seeking out a new question to ask, a new puzzle to solve, in class nearly every week. It even carried over to the other course I was teaching at the same time.

Of course, there’s still one question left to ask: would I teach this course again? Absolutely. In fact, it’s in the queue for Fall 2015. Sure, it’ll look a bit different, and maybe only the last third will be straight-up fall 1915 events “in real time,” *but* the selection of material from 1914 that opens the course will be pretty lean and pretty damned mean. (Of course, holding on to the best of that set of lectures will also cut down on new stuff to prep—and that’s tough to complain about.)

Until then, we’ll see just how reliable I can be about blogging the teaching of a grad course on Research in International Relations…

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Teaching WWI in real time (a hundred years later)

I’m developing a new undergraduate course for the fall, one that, in a very real way, can only be taught in the fall of 2014: The First World War in Real Time (A Hundred Years Later). I came to this idea a few months ago after spending, as anyone aware of my social media presence knows, a lot of time reading about the war over the last year or two. The plan is, after starting with The July Crisis and the outbreak of the war, the topics of the course will be dictated by what, exactly, had been happening that same week (roughly) one hundred years before: from Tannenberg and the Battle of the Frontiers to First Marne, from the strains of coalition warfare to the setting of war aims, and from the link between war and diplomacy to the domestic politics of mobilization and popular support. And that’s not even getting into all the alliance politics, logics of preventive war, decisions about war expansion, and the politics of the laws of neutrality, etc. that the course just begins with.

Can you tell I’m excited about this?

You might also notice that I’m posting about it well in advance. Part of the motivation here is to blog about my progress in preparing the course, to share ideas about the war, to work out possible paper topics that come out of it (War and Peace in East Asia, after all, did lead to my latest stuff on the laws of neutrality), and to get used to blogging regularly enough that I can maintain the commitment throughout the semester. So I’m hoping that these posts will be about teaching, research, the link between the two, prepping and developing courses, and, as well, a way to do something useful with my fascination for The Great War. If it works, there are certainly follow-on courses—1915 and the stabilization of the Western Front, 1916 and the Battles of Verdun and the Somme, 1917 with Russian implosion and American intervention, 1918 and war termination…you get the picture.

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So I’m embarking on this project a little publicly, and hopefully it won’t just be me promoting a class about a war that most of my friends are probably (and rightly) tired of hearing me go on and on about. Should be fun.