HST6072: Voices of the Great War: Gender, Experience and Violence in Great Britain and Germany, 1914-1918

Spanish War Children (restored)

15 credits (Semester 2019-20: Spring)

Module Leader: Professor Benjamin Ziemann

Module Summary

‘The First World War complicated and challenged established gender roles and practices. While men at the front encountered forms of trauma that were described as 'effeminate', women acquired new roles as breadwinners for the family. The experiences of war and violence were gendered, and they were communicated and registered through myriad acts of communication between men and women. We will discuss the impact of the Great War in Germany and the UK through the lens of primary evidence that sheds light on these experiences.' Professor Benjamin Ziemann

This module is focused on the gendered nature of the war experiences from 1914 to 1918. Both men and women were affected by the turmoil and the violence of the Great War, either through their front line service or through their roles as mothers, wives or carers of soldiers, as nurses in military hospitals or as victims of atrocities against civilians. The module will take a comparative approach, analysing German and British examples. Special attention will be paid to the analysis of primary sources (letters, diaries, images) which shed light on these experiences, and to the methodological consideration of their possibilities, advantages and pitfalls.

Module aims

This module aims to provide an in-depth study of the connections between gender, violence and experience during the Great War in Britain and Germany. It will assess how the experience of violence shaped perceptions of gender, relations between men and women and individual and collective emotional regimes. You will be introduced to a specialist literature and selected primary sources, discussion of which will form the basis for each seminar; the classes thus aim to expose you to current historiographical debates in the field. Particular emphasis will be placed on the connection between conceptual debates in gender history and the empirical research on specific topics. Another focus will be the discussion of the specific merits and interpretive problems of key primary source genres such as diaries, war letters and court-martial records. The topic is based on the extensive research track record of the staff member responsible for its teaching and classes will draw on his own expertise in the field.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you should be able to demonstrate:

  1. The ability to identify major topics and historiographical debates in the history of gender, war and violence in Britain and Germany 1914-1918, and their significance for an understanding of wider issues of the history of violence in twentieth-century European history;
  2. The ability to assess critically key concepts in gender history and in the history of violence and their significance with regard to the history of the Great War;
  3. The ability to manipulate, weigh and assess primary sources from the First World War, particularly ego-documents such as letters and diaries;
  4. The ability to formulate and articulate historical arguments both orally, before the members of the seminar, and in written form in assessed work.


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour classes. Each will focus on a particular theme (for example: rape, gender and German atrocities in 1914; nurses as the 'sisters' of soldiers; maternalism and paternalism in the Great War; front line soldiers – a hegemonic masculinity?; the effeminacy of disobedient soldiers) and be located around its discussion in the historical literature (LO1), considered in comparative perspective. Classes will enable you to share knowledge, scrutinise primary sources (LO3), debate conceptual issues in gender history and the history of violence (LO2) and to listen and respond to the views of others in a structured environment (LO4). You will, in addition, have an individual tutorial with the module tutor in which to discuss the work you will write for assessment for this module.



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a short paper (not more than 3,000 words) which demonstrates an ability to handle bibliographical resources and which explores one of the key themes raised by an in-depth study of gender and violence during the Great War in Britain and Germany (LOs 1, 2, 3, 4).


Selected reading

  • Becker, Annette/Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, 14-18, Understanding the Great War (New York, 2003)
  • Bourke, Joanna, Dismembering the Male: Men's Bodies, Britain & the Great War (Chicago. London, 1996)
  • Daniel, Ute, The War from Within. German Working Class Women in the First World War (Oxford, 1997)
  • Grayzel, Susan R., Women's identities at war. Gender, motherhood, and politics in Britain and France during the First World War (Chapel Hill. London 1999)
  • Roper, Michael, The Secret Battle. Emotional Survival in the Great War (Manchester 2009) 
  • Grayzel, Susan R., Women and the First World War (Harlow, 2002)
  • Ziemann, Benjamin, War Experiences in Rural Germany, 1914-1923 (Oxford, 2007)
  • Bernd Ulrich and Benjamin Ziemann (eds.), The German Soldiers of the Great War. Letters and Eyewitness Accounts (Barnsley, 2010)



*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.