Far From the Western Front…

November 24, 2014

Just over a century ago, shots fired in Sarajevo became the pretext for a global war that mobilized soldiers from points near and far, engaged civilians as well as combatants, killed and wounded millions, transformed the way Europe looked, and led many Europeans to question their most basic assumptions about what it meant to be civilized and modern. Among those directly involved in and affected by the war were millions of east Europeans, people who lived under Ottoman, Habsburg, German, and Russian imperial rule in 1914 but by 1918 had gained–or regained, in most cases–sovereign states of their own. Like their counterparts in western Europe, they fought in armies, labored on the home front to support the war effort, suffered under occupation, and carried on in the ways people do during peace and war, by living their day to day lives, planning for a better future, and balancing the mundane with the divine and sublime.

As centennial commemorations have unfolded over the past months, one of the things that’s become clear is how small a role east Europeans play in the English-language history and memory of World War I. Our goal with this site is to help fill that gap.

Each of the postings on this site  addresses World War I as an experience that was set in eastern Europe and that directly involved and impacted east European people. The postings might best be described as “narrative bibliographies”: in each of them, the author has compiled a set of secondary and primary sources that tell a story about the war in eastern Europe. These are not completed research projects; rather, they are source-driven narratives designed to guide you and encourage you to explore for yourself what the war meant for people in eastern Europe.

Each of the authors is a student in the fall 2014 section of HIST 373, a William & Mary undergraduate course on the history of modern eastern Europe. The course covers the history of territories that include today’s Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia (FYROM), Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. Among key course themes are identity, agency, and memory, and many of the postings here touch on one or more of these themes.

We hope you’ll enjoy reading these posts and learning more about World War I in Europe’s east. The people who lived there may have been far from the western front, but their experiences were just as much a part of, and just as deeply shaped by, this global conflict and calamity.

Laurie Koloski
Associate Professor of History
College of William & Mary