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Understanding the Great War

Issue 17: The Paris Peace Conference

The end of fighting wasn't the end of the story of World War I.

The negotiations for peace were lengthy and complicated, leading to reparations, resentment, new national borders and further global conflict, including the effects in the modern Middle East.

In this issue of Understanding the Great War we look into the Treaty of Versailles and other peace treaties, and how those decisions shaped our world today.

“This morning at 11 a.m., the bells & whistles all proclaimed Peace. It did sound good. Tell us all about how it affects you & what the people there did! Will you soon be home now? Well, if you are, you’ll have to have a new supply of socks for one thing.”

 — Lida Kent, in a June 28, 1919 letter to her son Sgt. Phillip Franklin Kent, in Coblenz, Germany.

Aftermath of World War One

British Library

In this article, Professor David Stevenson explains how the Treaty of Versailles, the Treaties of Saint-Germain and Trianon and the Treaties of Neuilly and Sèvres re-drew Europe's post-war boundaries.

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners  
Format: Online Article

World War I: Treaties and Reparations

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The five treaties that ended WWI dramatically redrew the map of Europe and imposed harsh demands on the Central Powers. This article explores the terms of the treaties and how the Nazi Party was able to use dissatisfaction of the Treaty of Versailles to aid their rise to power.

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Article, Digital Video

Continuing Conflict: Europe After the First World War

Imperial War Museums

While the Armistice officially ended fighting on the Western Front, peace was not achieved on all fronts until 1923. This article from IWM highlights the surprising number of post-war conflicts, including civil wars, uprisings and territorial disputes between newly formed countries.

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners  
Format: Online Article

Clemenceau, Wilson and Lloyd George leaving Palace of Versailles after signing peace treaty

League of Nations Fishbowl Debate

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

In this lesson from Roger Leaming at the Truman Library, students debate the question: Should the United States have ratified the Treaty of Versailles and joined the League of Nations?

Recommended Grade Levels: High School
Format: Lesson Plan

The Difficult Road To Peace

The Great War YouTube Channel

Host Indy Neidell takes a deep dive into how the changing, turbulent post-war world affected the peace process in 1919.   

Recommended Grade Levels: All Levels
Format: Digital Video (YouTube, 11 minutes)

“The bells were ringing, 404 gun shots were fired and the crowd did not cease cheering. There was something solemn & sacred in the ringing of the bells mixed to the gun shots. Everybody was deeply moved.”

 — Leontine Heyart, a French girl, writing to her pen pal in the United States, Clara Ozment, on July 9, 1919.

Journalists pose for a group photograph during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Colonial Empires after the War/Decolonization

1914-1918 Online

European colonies mobilized to assist with the war effort. After the Armistice, many colonists took hope from Woodrow Wilson’s idea of “self-determination” from his Fourteen Points. This article explores the anti-colonial nationalist challenges that developed after the Treaty of Versailles.

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Article

Document Based Question: Peace Talks and Self-Determination

National WWI Museum and Memorial

In his Fourteen Points proposal, President Woodrow Wilson advocated for self-determination and the interests of the populations of colonial territories, but who exactly did Wilson intended to receive rights of self-determination? Students are asked to evaluate an historian’s arguments with review of related primary documents, highlighting the experience of post-WWI colonies.

Recommended Grade Levels: High School
Format: Lesson Plan (PDF format)

The Surprisingly Important Role China Played in WWI

Smithsonian Magazine

At the turn of the 20th Century, China was no longer the most powerful Asian nation with its influence lost to Russia and Japan as well as European “spheres of influence.” China joined the Allies to regain lost territory and ensure they had a seat during the peace talks. This article explores how China contributed to the Great War and how their treatment as an inferior nation at the Paris Peace Conference had an enormous influence on their future.

Recommended Grade Levels: All Levels
Format: Digital Video (YouTube, 11 minutes)

World War I Through Arab Eyes: Episode 3

Al Jazeera English

This video series tells the story of the First World War from an Arab perspective. Episode three discusses how the secret Sykes-Picot agreement carved up the former Ottoman Empire, regardless of the interests and rights of the residents in the Arab world.

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Videos (45 minutes per episode)

Fractured Lands:

How the Arab World Came Apart

In the aftermath of WWI, the Ottoman Empire was divided into “artificial states” under the influence of Western nations. The seemingly-random borders created tensions and complicated traditional divisions. This lesson plan and New York Times Magazine article take an in-depth look at the modern conflicts in the Middle East with a focus on the Iraq War, Arab Spring and rise of ISIS.

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Article and Lesson Plan (please note: the Article is behind a soft paywall)

Need for a reading list for an advanced high school or college course?

Consider these books, recommended by our historians:

The United States World War One Centennial Commission and the National WWI Museum and Memorial are dedicated to educating the public about the causes, events, and consequences of the conflict and we encourage the use of these resources to better understand the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.

Partners on this project include:

 Pritzker Military Museum and Library    National Archives    The Great War YouTube Channel    MacArthur Memorial    National History Day    American Battle Monuments Commission    Stanford History Education Group    Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Arizona    HISTORY®    AFS Intercultural Programs    Library of Congress    New York State Archives Partnership Trust / New York State Archives    Aberdeen Proving Ground    The Map as History    International Baccalaureate    College Board    Villanova University    Facing History and Ourselves    Mission du centenaire de la Première Guerre mondiale    Virginia Cooperative Extension 4-H   Google Arts & Culture    Scholastic  

The Pritzker Military Museum and Library is a founding sponsor of the United States World War One Centennial Commission.