Welcome to

ISP 3160

World War I

An Interdisciplinary Perspective


"History: Read it and weep!"—Kurt Vonnegut



Course Reference #: 25220                            Credits: 4


Time & Place: Monday, 6:00-9:40 p.m., 0507 Oakland Center

This syllabus, a few WWI links, and a few class readings, can be accessed at: http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/wwi/wwi.htm



Instructor’s Work Address (but please use e-mail or my home address below—I’ll get it faster this way): Interdisciplinary Studies Program, Rm. 2134, 2nd floor, 5700 Cass, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202

Home Address: 28645 Briar Hill, Farmington Hills, MI 48336

E-Mail: moti.nissani@wayne.edu

Tel.: 248.427.1957 (h) (2 p.m.-10 p.m. every day)

Internet Homepage: http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/

Class Internet Address: : http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/WWI/wwi.htm

Office hours: Oakland Center, 5-6 pm (call or e-mail the day before, and I’ll be there)


General Education Requirements: Wayne State is committed to imparting well-rounded education to all its undergraduates. As part of this goal, the university created a set of requirements (e.g., mathematical proficiency, a minimum of one course in the life sciences), that each undergraduate must meet. ISP 3160 satisfies the Historical Studies (HS) requirement.


Grading: 75% of your grade will be based on written projects, oral presentations, and quizzes; 25% on attendance.


Makeups: Written assignments must be submitted on time and oral assignments must be presented on the scheduled date.  Written work may be either submitted by e-mail before class or on the due date as a hard copy.


To pass the class, you need to submit all assignments.  No late assignments will be accepted (assignments will be discussed in class on the due date, so submission on the same topic is meaningless). If you fail to submit an assignment on time, or if you wish to make up for a missed class (in order to improve your attendance grade), you have at least two options:

·        Work out an equivalent assignment with class instructor

·        Take an exam during finals week on the material you missed


Textbook:  The only required text will be sold in class ($14).

Special Needs Students: If you are disabled, I shall be eager and happy to help you in any way I can.  In addition, the Office of Educational Accessibility Services serves as an advocate for disabled students and helps to secure accommodations.  The Office is at the Student Center Building, Room 583, phone: 313-577-1851; Voice: 313-577-3365 (TTY). 

Inclement Weather Policy: 313-577-5345 or major radio and television stations for WSU closings (that is, cancellation of classes).  If in doubt, call me.

A note about computers: If you don’t have a computer already, seriously think about getting a laptop (or a desktop). A used computer in good condition (with a 6-month total warranty) will pay for itself in a few months—in time saved, in higher grades, in spelling checks, in library trips, newspaper subscriptions, consumer information . . . Likewise, I can’t overemphasize the usefulness of e-mail. I check my e-mail almost daily, so you can speed up your progress in this class immensely by having an e-mail account. Without e-mails, weeks pass by between writing an assignment and getting my input; with e-mail, the entire process can be condensed into hours.


Instructional Philosophy: I cannot, to my great regret, make this class enjoyable. WWI is a tragedy of enormous proportions.  In this war,  millions of people like you and I were brainwashed, manipulated, exploited, slaughtered, maimed, blinded, silenced, and jailed.  Except for camaraderie in the trenches and a victory for the more democratic side, there are almost no other bright spots in that history.  WWI is a story of evil, and stupidity, and greed, and genocide, and betrayal.  It’s the story of the men in the shadows, the 100 or so old, white, bankers and oilmen who controlled this planet then, and of their grandsons and protégés who still control it now.  It’s a story of good people, but too afraid to resist the fever of fervent nationalism.  I shall try to make the topic interesting, but I can't make it enjoyable.  I wish it could be otherwise.  My only defense is that all this really happened, that it changed the world, and that knowing the truth is the best armor against a replay, in a democracy like ours, of any such folly. 


Despite this, I want you to look back on this class, five years down the road, and say to yourself, "Yes, I really learned something then." This will only happen if we make this class interesting enough for you to actually look forward to our Monday evenings together. I spent a good part of this past summer trying to achieve this end (and I do hope I am not kidding myself!). Likewise, learning will only take place if you work hard too; I can only give you your money’s worth by asking you to come to every class or appointment and to submit or present your work on time. Moreover, learning often involves open-mindedly considering (but not always accepting) viewpoints other than your own, on any subject under the sun. So, if you are willing to work hard and question everything, you’ll not be bored in this class and learn a lot.




Highlight: Recurring Class Activities

Besides other scheduled activities, each class may contain one or more or more of the following:

I. Lessons from the Past

·         Are there any contemporary lessons that can be drawn from today’s discussion? Has what you’ve learned today any bearing on such questions as America’s Sept. 3, 2007 withdrawal from the Durban Conference on Racism? On its steadfast refusal to atone for its crime of slavery?  On this month’s premature deaths of 1,000 Iraqi children? On the so-called tax rebates? 

·         Are there any personal lessons to be drawn from what you have learned so far? Any connections you can make to your own life? Will you be more or less inclined in the future to support wars, nuclear weapons, handguns? Have you added anything important today to your store of knowledge? Are you seeing familiar things in a new light as a result of being here today?

II. Book on Tape: All Quiet on the Western Front.

III. Show & Tell (participants’ contribution—1 to 3 contributions per participant throughout the term—teach us a WWI song, tell us something about your great-grandparents during the Great War, share with us an internet article on WWI, etc).

IV. A Song (followed by class discussion.)


What else can I expect?

Don’t expect me to hold to any fixed program of instruction, nor to follow our daily schedule (which often involves wishful thinking on my part, anyway).  One of my most cherished rules is: there is no instruction without improvisation. The syllabus lists a variety of topics for each class, but these are mere possibilities:  we may talk about something else, entirely, and we shall certainly not be able to cover all these topics.  If we get a fascinating discussion going with everyone all red in the face, we shall set the schedule aside, period.  So, there is no fixed agenda for this class. My chief goal is to help you and myself improve our minds, become better writers, readers, teachers, critical thinkers, human beings. WWI, or anything else I teach, is merely a means to achieve this larger goal. The way I judge my own instructional success is not by how much ground we covered or how closely we adhered to our "schedule," but by such things active involvement of all participants (this takes much "valuable" time), by your success in restructuring your views about the world in which you live. The ideal class, for me, is one that could go on forever and ever talking about WWI, because it never manages to complete what it set out to do.

Along the same lines: this syllabus goes up only to session 4. The remainder of the term will only be worked out after I receive your feedback on the first 4 weeks.

If you don’t know yet what interdisciplinarity is, you will know when this class is over. History is usually taught as if it is divorced from other aspects of the human experience. It’s this that contributes to the preconception that history is boring, and it is this (as well as the career-mindedness of most historians) that explains the shocking state of 21st century historical scholarship.  In contrast, this class takes it for granted that novelists, psychologists, biologists, song writers, and everyone else in fact, have something important to tell us about history. Only by listening to all of these specialists and merging their insights can we begin to understand the past. If you have taken history classes before, you may find this interdisciplinary approach a bit peculiar. In comparison to disciplinary classes, interdisciplinary ones appear at first disjointed, strange, disorganized.  But in this they mimic history itself and thus come closer to unraveling its secrets. So, despite the inherent lack of organization, you may learn to love history, interdisciplinary style.  To learn more about interdisciplinarity itself, go to: http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/20302005/ispessay.htm


Highlight: Why Books on Tape?


My colleagues show lots of videos in this class, and in some ways they are right—videos are more powerful than books.  Yet, in this class, we’ll try listening to books on tape instead. This is an experiment; I have only tried this once before. If, after three weeks, most people wish to continue, we will; if not, we’ll stop and do something else. My reasons for trying this approach are:

·        I’m addicted to this habit, and, like all addicts, I get a kick from spreading my addiction around. It’s pretty distressing, really, to go to the library and find out so many unchecked books (on tape or otherwise).

·        I want you to use your imagination, not Steven Spielberg’s.

·        I also happen to teach writing and media classes, and I want to introduce you to books on tape as the single most convenient way of improving your English. Movies will not improve your English, but tapes will. I want you to become hooked on this habit, and listen to tapes when you drive, jog, wash the dishes, garden . . .

·        Another reason for listening to tapes is to introduce you to good literature.

·        Still another reason is for you to have something to look forward to when coming to class—I want you to wonder: What’s going to happen next? (so, please, don’t read the novel on your own).

·        In this century, our government and media brainwashed us to believe that our "enemies" were not really human. It’s our government who taught us to call them by such awful names as gooks or Huns. It’s easier to rape squaws and savages, to kill chinamen, to nuke japs, to enslave niggers, than to commit atrocities against fellow human beings. The book we’ll be listening to will dispel that notion in a hurry—Germans and Austrians are just as human as you and I are, just as much victims of cynical, greedy, and stupid businessmen and politicians. Moreover, as you will see later, in their shoes, most of us would have acted exactly the same.

·        Finally, we can talk endlessly about the horrors of war, but only a work of fiction comes close to capturing its reality.

Text Box: Highlight: Literature of the War 
Source (and a great deal more war-related writings): http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWliterature.htm
Siegfried Sassoon, Suicide in the Trenches (1917)
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy, 
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, 
And whistled early with the lark. 

In winter trenches, cowed and glum, 
With crumps and lice and lack of rum, 
He put a bullet through his brain. 
No one spoke of him again. 
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye 
Who cheer when soldier lads march by, 
Sneak home and pray you'll never know 
The hell where youth and laughter go.


 Week 1  (January 8, 2007)

Note:  This is neither an agenda nor a fixed schedule--just a tentative list of possible topics.  Our discussion will not be limited to these topics, nor will it cover all of them.  

Introduction to course, syllabus, schedule, website, requirements, personal information sheets, procrastination, plagiarism, should I take this class (remember January 22).

A Riddle: One fine evening in New York City, Art Bragg chewed off his friends’ ears about his grandfather’s exploits in World War I. Right after one heroic battle, Bragg told them, his grandfather was given a sword bearing the inscription: To Captain Bragg for Bravery, Daring, and Leadership, World War One.--From the men of Battalion 8.  What’s wrong with this story?

World History Since Time Began. With a little help from our friends, we shall try to paint, in broad outline, the turbulent, bloody, yet impressive, history of our young species since time began.

Same, but now asking: What Do We Know about WWI?

John Lennon: Imagine (class discussion)

A Case Study in Historical Scholarship: What Can a Casualty Table Tell Us? (Langer, Mosier)

A Tribute to Martin Luther King

Discussion of Columbus, Clinton, Bush, and January 29’s assignment


Assignments for the Week of January 22, 2007:

àClosed Book Rule:  All Assignments must be written with closed books, closed internet, closed everything.  An assignment that quotes anyone, Even if it credits its source, will be returned unreadß

I. Read: World War I (pp. 226-50) OR The World at Arms (pp. 6-39). Write: For me, the five most significant points about this reading were . . . (Each point should consist of 2-6 sentences, explaining to someone who knows nothing about WWI the point you are referring to and its significance to you).

II. Begin preparing a presentation/paper.  This paper, and your presentation of same, are due January 29. You will be able to do most of the research for this assignment on January 22, when we hopefully will be able to spend some time at a computer lab.  Your presentation should be 5-10 minutes in length, while your paper should convince the reader that at least one of the sides you cite is interested in manipulating us, not educating us..

Topic of your presentation/paper: Two Pictures of the Reality (of anything you choose):  The Corporate Media, Corporate Schools, Government vs. Some Other Source

One example of the basic idea is provided by our MLK tribute.  Two other examples are available here: http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/media/contemporaryLies.htm

For still another example, consider the 2 following, seemingly innocuous, presidential proclamations:

First, William II:  (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=52099):



Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 12, 1996




Throughout our history, America has been inspired by the courage and daring of Christopher Columbus. Like him, we are a people who dare to dream, to chart a bold course, and to surmount formidable obstacles to reach new horizons.

Columbus' arrival in North America not only confirmed his beliefs about our planet, but also initiated an epic struggle between the Old and New Worlds. Yet out of that triumphant voyage and the meeting of many peoples developed a Nation and a way of life vastly unlike those Columbus left behind. 

The expedition that Columbus -- an Italian supported by the Spanish Crown -- began more than 500 years ago, continues today as we experience and celebrate the vibrant influences of varied civilizations, not only from Europe, but also from around the world. America is stronger because of this diversity, and the democracy we cherish flourishes in the great mosaic we have created since 1492. Americans of Italian and Spanish heritage can be particularly proud, not only of Columbus' achievements, but also of their own contributions to our country. 


As we honor and remember Christopher Columbus, let us use his example as a beacon to help guide us into the 21st century. His life, his voyages, and -- above all -- his vision can inspire us as we prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. Let us remember that all of us, regardless of our origins, are important participants in that journey, and that our uncertainty about what lies over the horizon should not shake our faith that, together, we will succeed. 


In recognition of Columbus' epic achievement, the Congress, by joint resolution of April 30, 1934 (48 Stat. 657), and an Act of June 28, 1968 (82 Stat. 250), has requested the President to proclaim the second Monday in October of each year as "Columbus Day." 


NOW, THEREFORE, I, WILLIAM J. CLINTON, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October 14, 1996, as Columbus Day. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also direct that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of Christopher Columbus. 


IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eleventh day of October, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-first.



Now, George III: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/10/print/20061005-7.html

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 5, 2006

Columbus Day, 2006
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

More than five centuries ago, Christopher Columbus boldly set out on a long and challenging journey across the Atlantic that led the way for exploration of the Americas. On Columbus Day, we celebrate the historic voyages of the Italian explorer and honor his life, heritage, and lasting legacy.

Columbus' brave expeditions expanded the horizons of human knowledge and inspired generations of risk-takers and pioneers in America and around the world. Our Nation is built on the efforts of men and women who possess both the vision to see beyond what is and the desire to pursue what might be. Today, the same passion for discovery that drove Columbus is leading bold visionaries to explore the frontiers of space, find new energy sources, and solve our most difficult medical challenges.

Columbus Day is also an opportunity to celebrate the heritage we share with the legendary explorer, the important relationship between the United States and Italy, and the proud Italian Americans who call our Nation home. Italian Americans have strengthened our country and enriched our culture, and through service in our Armed Forces, many have defended our Nation with courage and helped lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.

In commemoration of Columbus' journey, the Congress, by joint resolution of April 30, 1934, and modified in 1968 (36 U.S.C. 107), as amended, has requested that the President proclaim the second Monday of October of each year as "Columbus Day."

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October 9, 2006, as Columbus Day. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also direct that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of Christopher Columbus.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


Can you detect something mighty curious here?  Can you explain it?

We shall analyze this additional example in class either this week or the next.  Now, your assignment, due on January 29, 2007, involves finding another such example of two versions of reality, and analyzing that example (that is: What are the differences between the two versions?  Who is nearer the truth?  Why are they lying to us?)

Text Box: Week x: January 15, MLK Day, no Class

àMonday, January 22, 2006: Census Day: Last day to officially withdraw from classes and receive 100% tuition refund.  If you withdraw a day later, you get nothing back.






Week 2 (January 22, 2007)

1.  Class Discussion: Highlights of “World War I” and “World at Arms.” 

2.  Review: Chronology and Basic Events of WWI.

3.  Small group discussion, followed by class discussion. Adolph Hitler’s pal, Detroit’s own Henry Ford, said that "history is bunk." The better-educated George Santayana said: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it." Who is more nearly correct, in your opinion, Ford or Santayana?

4.  This leads to the next question: Why Study History?

5.  Information retrieval tutorial (if computer lab is available).

6.  With the help of instructor/fellow students, researching and preparing your next week’s paper/presentation.


a.   Your presentation/paper of one lie of our times is due next week.

b.  Read: The Outbreak of the War (Gilbert).



Week 3 (January 29, 2007)

Class discussion: Outbreak of War

Film: Guns of August

Student Presentations 

Phil Ochs’ Ain’t Marching Anymore

Assignments for Next Week:

Read: War as Ironic Action. Write (>one page): I found this third account of WWI informative (or uninformative) because . . .

Optional Assignment—a MINDTRAP riddle:

Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria was shot on June 28, 1914. When the attendants rushed over to him, they could not get him out of his uniform. Consequently, he bled to death. The problem they had encountered was that they could not unbutton or unzip his uniform. Why?


Week 4 (February 5, 2007)

Class discussion: War as Ironic Action.

Student presentations (cont.)

Assignments for next week (3 hard copies— Submit one copy to class instructor and share the other two copies with group members):

Class divides into 5 groups, with each choosing one of the following written assignment:

1. Summarize the Story: The Sound of Thunder

2. What’s the point (=message, interpretation) of Sound of Thunder

3. Summarize, in plain English, Complexity in Ecology.

4. What’s the point of including Complexity in Ecology in a WWI class?

5. Interview 5 people over 40. Ask each to look back on the 20th century and provide and summarize its meaning in just one sentence! Write these 5 sentences down, submit them to me, and be prepared to share them in class.

 Go to WWI: An Interdisciplinary Perspective