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MT Week 3_The German War - Historiographical Essay 1914 The...

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European History Quarterly 2014, Vol. 44(3) 395–418 ! The Author(s) 2014 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0265691414534821 ehq.sagepub.com Historiographical Essay 1914: The German War? Keith Neilson Royal Military College of Canada, Canada Abstract In the one hundred years that have passed since July 1914 the origins of the First World War have been continuously contested. This article reviews the debate and takes stock of the recent literature. Its first part outlines how the various explanations for the occurrence of the war came about and sketches the main contentions of these inter- pretations. The second part of the article considers the historical writing that provides the contextual foundations for the work on the origins of the war itself. The arms races, alliances and foreign policies of the powers involved are outlined and their relevance for the assumptions about the origins of the war is assessed. The article reviews the more prominent recent work on the July crisis in this context and evaluates the contrasting new interpretations. The essay concludes with suggestions as to what is required in further scholarship dealing with the topic. Keywords 1914, historiographical debate, July crisis, origins of the First World War It is one hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War. Given the nature of publishing and the fact that the conflict is widely seen as key to an understanding of the twentieth century, it is not surprising that there has been an outpouring of material dealing with what A. J. P. Taylor famously termed ‘the struggle for mastery in Europe’, the competition between the European powers for continental supremacy leading up to 1914. 1 What follows is an attempt to assess some of the new work, to put it in context of the existing literature and to point out some of the problems that remain. Echoing Taylor’s title, Brendan Simms has recently extended the temporal framework of analysis of the competition among the European states back five centuries, beginning with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and continuing to the Corresponding author: Keith Neilson, Royal Military College of Canada, 893 Percy Crescent, Kingston, ON K7M 4P3, Canada. Email: [email protected] at London School of Economics & Political Sciences on October 24, 2016 ehq.sagepub.com Downloaded from
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present. 2 Covering such a wide range of time requires a thread on which to hang the narrative. For Simms, this thread is a German one. He argues that the ‘Holy Roman Empire, and its successor states, lay at the heart of the European balance of power and the global system it spawned’, giving Germany a particular place of prominence in his study. 3 This last assertion gives Simms licence to argue that the attempt by European states to dominate the German-speaking areas determined (and continues to determine) the shape of global politics to the present day, despite the relative decline of Europe in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.
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