||Research is a tricky business. And,
when you’re dealing with a topic as emotionally and politically charged
as the Great War, it’s downright confusing. Why? Because different types
of people and different countries, organizations or governments can have divergent
and sometimes opposing views of the same issues and events.
Take the armistice
at the end of the war. Was it fair to Germany? Did it sow the seeds of the Second
World War? Were the right players at the table? British, Canadian and German
historians all have different takes on these important questions.
line? When researching this – or any – topic, you need
to look at multiple sources, and not just online sources. Make sure you get out
to your local library or military museum. If you can, read first-person accounts,
talk to your grandparents and look into your own family history. If you look
back far enough, all Canadians were touched by the Great War. This is our history
and it changed all of us.
Here are some of the tips, resources and approaches
we used to research this website.
Tip #1 - At first, go wide
A topic like World War I seems overwhelming at first. There’s so much detail
and the scope is so vast. Where do you start? The best place is always with context.
The only way to make any sense of an important historical event is to place it
in the broader context of history.
Online, a good place to start doing that is
Wikipedia (http://wikipedia.com), where there is an excellent overview piece
on World War I. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I). Your teachers have
probably warned you – correctly – that Wikipedia
is not a scholarly journal and they may not let you quote it in papers. Fair
enough, but it is a great online resource for giving you the broad strokes and
geographic, historical and political context of the conflict. So, it's a good
One of the great things about Wikipedia (and the web in general) is
that you can dig deeper into concepts, terms and ideas you don’t know much about.
What are the Balkans? Is mustard gas the same as chlorine gas? (No, it’s
not.) Et cetera.
But, it’s also easy to get to sidetracked. When we researched this site
we gave ourselves some time to swim broadly and disappear down a few side channels.
But we also always kept our eye on the bigger goal: to understand World War I.
Not to become experts on gas warfare, tanks or Bosnian factions.
Tip #2 - Start Simple
Don’t be afraid to use simple sources. If you’re finding the ideas,
language or politics too complicated, head to the library and look for basic
texts that will help you. Ask your local librarian for assistance. We did just
that when we were looking for specific books about military training camps in
Canada. The librarian found us the exact book we needed. Librarians are trained
professionals who can save you tons of time.
Tip #3 - Be Skeptical
War, perhaps chief among human undertakings, is full of errors, regrets, stupidity
and lack of forethought. It’s also full of stories of individual heroism,
bravery and virtue. Any balanced accounting of the war needs to consider both.
When you read reports that are heavy on language like “valour,” “gallantry,” “patriotic
duty,” “decisive action” and “victorious” your
antennae should go up. Is the source, book or site you’re looking at trying
to promote the military or militarism? Is it overplaying one country’s
point of view? Be skeptical.
Likewise, if you read sources that constantly denigrate soldiers, call into
question their motives and courage and depict officers only as foolish, selfish
braggarts be skeptical then, too. Look for sources that use moderate language
and try to balance the bad and the good.
Tip #4 -
Look for Authoritative Sources
We’ll provide some of those sources below, but you should develop your
good source-detection skills, too. There are thousands of websites out there
about wars. Many are created by military historians with incredible knowledge
of the war in minute detail. Others are produced by folks interested in selling
memorabilia, a particular point of view or their book or video. Still others,
by folks with more enthusiasm than knowledge. Pay attention to the motivation
of the site creators. Are they providing information only as a means of selling
you something else? Do they have credentials to support them (history degrees,
military service, etc.). Are they providing original content or just acting as
a link list to other people’s work? Do they show up high in Google? (This
often means other sites on the same topic consider them worth paying attention
Tip #5 - Search creatively
When you search for sources online it’s easy to miss good ones because
you didn’t use the exact search terms you need. For example, World War
I is also referred to as the Great War and WWI. Germany and the other countries
that fought against the Allies are known as the Central Powers. The Austro-Hungarian
Empire is also called the Austria-Hungarian Empire, the Dual Monarchy, or simply
Austria, depending on the context and the historian writing. That’s one
of the reasons it’s so important to get a sense of context first, otherwise
you’d miss articles and sites that mention exactly what you’re looking
for because you didn’t know the alternative name.
Sources We Like
Here are a few of the sources we used when researching this site. Don’t
restrict yourself to just these, though. Do your own careful exploration.
of links about WWI
perspective on WWI
Heritage Military Project
overview of WWI (non-Canadian perspective)
in The Great War Timeline
Website for excellent
documentary For King and Empire
Radio feature on the science of WWI
and the First World War at warmuseum.ca
of Canadian Biography
on Canada’s First Division
Veterans Affairs Canada
and the Great War (complete book online)
and Archives Canada
and the Great War
Canadian Military Heritage Project on rootsweb
and Military Museum
Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum
Documentaries Worth Watching
King and Empire - Breakthrough Films and Television
Army - Norflicks Productions
Berton, Pierre. Vimy. McLelland and Stewart, 1986.
Bird, Will R. Ghosts Have Warm
Hands: A Memoir of The Great War 1916-1919. CEF Books, 1997.
Chajkowsky, William E. The History of Camp Borden, 1916-1918:
Land of Sand, Sin and Sorrow. Station Press, 1983.
Christie, N.M. Slaughter in the Mud: The
Canadians at Passchendaele, 1917. The Access to History Series, Number 4. CEF
Cook, Tim. At the Sharp
End: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1914-1916. Volume One. Viking Canada,
Cowley, Robert, ed. The Great War: Perspectives
on the First World War. Random House, 2003.
Dancocks, Daniel G. Spearhead to Victory: Canada and the Great War.
Hurtig Publishers, 1987.
Freeman, Bill and Richard Nielsen. Far From Home: Canadians
in the First World War. McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1999.
Granatstein, J.L. Hell's Corner: An Illustrated
History of Canada's Great War 1914-1918. Douglas & McIntyre, 2004.
Granatstein, J.L. and Desmond Morton.
Canada and the Two World Wars. Key Porter Books, 2003.
The Grolier Library of World War I. The Aftermath of the War. Grolier
Howard, Michael. The First World War. Oxford University Press, 2002.
Fight or Pay: Soldiers' Families in the Great War. UBC Press, 2004.
Messenger, Charles. World War I in Colour: The Definitive Illustrated History
with over 200 Remarkable Full Colour Photographs. Ebury Press, 2003.
John. Canada and the First World War. The Ryerson Press, 1969.
Philip. Passchendaele: The Story Behind the Tragic Victory of 1917. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987.
Willmott, H.P. World War I. DK Publishing, 2007.
The World Book Encylopedia, Volume
20. Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1967.