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University of Birmingham: First World War Studies

Institution University of Birmingham View institution profile
Department Department of History
Telephone +44 (0)121 414 3597
Study type Taught


The First World War, or Great War, has been described as 'the defining event of the twentieth century'.

In Britain the war is often regarded as the worst event in our history. The dominant perception is still captured by A.J.P. Taylor’s famous phrase: 'brave, helpless soldiers; blundering, obstinate generals; nothing achieved'.

Taught on Saturdays at the National Army Museum in the heart of London, this programme is unique in its focus on the Great War. It provides an opportunity to study in depth this most compelling and controversial conflict in partnership with the National Army Museum - a leading authority on the British Army and its impact on society past and present.

It focuses on the challenges posed by the war to the states, militaries, and societies, and on the evolving ways in which these challenges were met – or not met.

The purpose, conduct and outcome of the First World War are inevitably compared to its disadvantage with those of the Second World War, what Studs Terkel called 'the good war', the inevitable and heroic struggle against evil and tyranny, a morality tale with a happy ending.

At the root of these perceptions are, of course, the unprecedented scale of the First World War's casualties. It is the casualties that make the war so fascinating and appalling. Even before the guns ceased firing, there were attempts to explain how such a human catastrophe came about and why the scale of loss was so great. Popular explanations have often seemed content with blaming the quality of military leadership. This MA programme rests on the belief that a tragedy as great as the First World War deserves less superficial analysis, and requires detailed study. The main focus of the programme is on Britain, although there are ample opportunities to see the war from a truly transnational perspective, involving Europe and the wider world.

Why study this course? - Our collaboration with the National Army Museum – as well as teaching taking place at the Museum in the heart of London, the collaboration offers students opportunities to explore the Museum’s collections and archives, literally getting 'hands-on' with the stuff of history.

  • Taught by experts – You will have the opportunity to explore compelling and controversial areas within a rich and diverse environment. Our academics are all experts in their fields, which include military history and social and cultural history, so you will benefit from their professional knowledge.

  • Excellent research reputation – You will study alongside some of the finest minds in History. Times Higher Education ranked the Department of History eighth in the country in the Research Excellence Framework exercise 2021 based on Grade Point Average.

  • Access to a wide range of services – As a postgraduate student you will have access to services such as the Academic Writing Advisory Service and the Bank of Assessed Work. You will be supported throughout your time at Birmingham – aiding your transition from undergraduate to postgraduate level, or back into academia after a time away, and making sure you develop the skills to research and write to professional academic standards.

  • Be a part of an exciting department – you will join a lively postgraduate community with opportunities to enhance your learning through events and research seminars.


University of Birmingham


The University of Birmingham is a truly vibrant, global community of staff, students and researchers. As a founding Russell Group member and consistent top 100 university, Birmingham is recognised internationally for excellence in teaching and research and provides the best possible teaching, research facilities and support services to ensure postgraduates reach the peak of their potential.

With over 600 taught programmes and a wealth of research opportunities to choose from, Birmingham has one of the most extensive postgraduate course portfolios in the UK enabling you to work and study alongside world-leading academics in a diverse, multicultural community …

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