What is the Lasting Impact of World War I? | PBS Education
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What is the Lasting Impact of World War I? | PBS Education

World War I is not just about trench warfare and poison gas. It’s a story of boys, airmen, ambulance drivers, red cross workers, hello-girls, yeomen, donut dollies, farmers, war production workers, suffragettes, and pacifists. it is a fascinating era that, despite its deep and far-reaching impact, seems to have become too inaccessible to students. How often have you heard the phrase, “why do we have to learn these things?” As an educator, I believe it is essential that we find ways to engage students and help them understand the impact of the great war on politics, technology, and culture. To help start this conversation in your class, consider trying this activity.

activity instructionsDivide the class into four groups of 6-8 students. Distribute four sets of images described below. Since this stage of the activity is intended for brainstorming, I suggest setting rules so that students don’t google the answer ahead of time.

Reading: How does ww1 connect to ww2

  • group a: a male wristwatch; oil rig; prosthetic limb; canned food, preferably beef stew or spaghetti (note: these should be current images if possible).
  • group b: a person who does pilates; a woman voting; vegetarian sausage pack; copy of a standardized test, perhaps a sat or act (note: these should be current images if possible).
  • group c: images of wwii, vietnam, berlin wall, euros of the european union
  • group d: president truman; Douglas MacArthur (Korean War Image); Jeanette Rankin (her 1940 congressional photo); president eisenhower

Ask each group to try to find a connection between the pictures. the answer, of course, will be the first world war.

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How do each of these pieces connect to World War I?

group to:

  • a men’s wristwatch: At the beginning of the First World War, a wristwatch was recognized as a piece of women’s jewelry; but a year after the trench warfare, the impractical male pocket watch was replaced by the wristwatch and its protective “cage” over glass and radio dials for night use. a wristwatch was necessary to synchronize maneuvers and deliver supplies at the right time. today’s wristwatch is not just a watch, but also a minicomputer.
  • oil rig: although the first world war may have started with coal power, in the end of the war was oil-powered with the internal fuel engine powering planes, tanks, supply trucks, and mechanized infantry. At the end of the war, the question, which continues to haunt us today, became: who will control the oil fields in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and Persia (present-day Iran)? today when something happens in iraq or syria the price of gasoline goes up almost overnight.
  • Prosthetic Limb: Prostheses were needed in such large numbers during the First World War that the UK resorted to standardization for mass production. aluminum alloy was introduced as the main material for prostheses instead of wood. today’s prostheses are designed for the individual, and many contain microchips and robotics. they work more like a natural limb than ever before.
  • canned food: canned food was not new in the first world war; however, it was not commonly eaten until the need arose for easy-to-mass-produce food that could be quickly delivered to the front lines. after the war, mass food production industries focused their advertising on troops who had grown accustomed to their front-line meals and food they couldn’t get at home. therefore, these canned foods made their way into the home.
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group b:

  • pilates: While spending time in a British internment camp during World War I, German boxer and bodybuilder joseph hubertus pilates motivated his fellow inmates, including those bedridden in bed, with exercise programs that promoted movement and health. after the war, he and his wife developed their exercise philosophy, which is still popular today.
  • a woman voting: the suffrage movement in britain and the united states began before the first world war broke out. while many suffragettes put aside their activism to work outside the home to support the war effort, some suffragettes continued their civil disobedience, willing to be imprisoned for their beliefs. however, by the end of the war, women throughout the Western world had proven their importance in the war effort and were rewarded with the vote in many countries during the first half of the 20th century.
  • vegetarian sausages: Due to early food shortages, particularly meat, some Germans ate a cheap alternative to meat: vegetarian sausages. these rather bland sausages were made from soybeans, flour, corn, barley, and ground rice. Although not incredibly popular at the time, tasty versions of these sausages have found their way into vegetarian diets today.
  • Standardized Testing: During 1917 and 1918, the Army tested more than 1.5 million men to determine what kind of soldier someone might be . although one test (alpha) measured such things as numerical and verbal skills, another version was typically used for recruits and volunteers who were illiterate or did not speak English. after the war, higher education institutions relied on the alpha test to determine class placement for students, perhaps eventually leading to the use of law or sit in college placement.
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group c:

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