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The Open University

World War 1: Trauma, Memory, Controversy

The Open University via FutureLearn


More than a hundred years after it ended, the First World War has lost none of its fascination. It was a war of unprecedented scale and brutality, with countless casualties. It also left a poisonous legacy for the twentieth century and beyond. Many of the issues that were left unresolved in 1918 would lead to another world war in 1939.

In this free online course, you will study the social, cultural, medical and diplomatic history of the First World War. Topics range from physical and mental trauma suffered by combatants to the traumatic experiences of civilians in wartime.

We will investigate the difficulties historians face in establishing accurate figures for war losses. We will explore expressions of grief and trauma through art and literature. We will ask why some nations remember the dead with poppies and why there are certain sites of remembrance that we still turn to today. And we will explore the contested origins of the First World War.

While studying this course, you will learn to conduct your own research into First World War casualty statistics and explore different sources to help you evaluate their usefulness and accuracy. And you will be able to discuss your thoughts with other learners on an online platform (if you choose to do so).

Welcome to our course.

This course is suitable for anyone with an interest in finding out about the effects of the First World War (1914–1918) on societies. It is not necessary to have prior knowledge of the subject. Teachers might particularly benefit from studying this course.


  • Physical and mental casualties
    • Physical casualties
    • Shell shock and mental trauma
  • Civilian war experiences
    • Atrocities
    • Hunger
  • Trauma, grief and bereavement
    • Grief in art and literature
    • From shell shock to PTSD
  • The origins of the war
    • From crisis to wartime: what caused the outbreak of war in 1914?
    • The Armistice and Versailles: what happened after the First World War?
    • Responding to Versailles: what happened after the First World War?

Taught by

Annika Mombauer


4.7 rating, based on 9 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at FutureLearn based on 189 ratings

Start your review of World War 1: Trauma, Memory, Controversy

  • I spent longer on the course each week than the estimated time because course content lead me to follow up with additional research/viewing of my own. A very thought-provoking course with information about unfamiliar aspects of WW1. However, I had expected something about the way in which memory of WW1 changed over time (and in different countries), and this I did not find in the course.
  • Anonymous
    The only criticism I have of this course is that at just three weeks long, I would have liked more. The content itself was interesting, informative and t challenged my preconceptions and thinking on a number of occasions. I found that the use of video/audio presentations helped my understanding considerably as did the suggested links that were provided to extend my studies.
  • I did not want this course to end! It was so engrossing and full of personal stories, the mental effects of war and how these people were treated once they returned home.
  • Frequently sad and even painful. The course made it apparent just how ill-prepared combatant nations were for the consequences and effects of modern war.
  • Erika Laurent
  • Aana
  • Profile image for Zeynep K.
    Zeynep K.

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