German Empires: War, Leadership, and Propaganda (LS-EU-515)

Breaks and continuities

As history teachers, we aim to teach our students to see connections between major events. Some of the key terms of the Scottish philosopher David Hume can be useful here: contiguity (or nearness in space), semblance, and causation. We can ask:

  • How near in time are the moments in which these events happened?
  • How similar are these events to each other?
  • Is one the cause or consequence of the other?

The learning scenario German Empires: War, Leadership, and Propaganda seeks to raise such questions concerning the two World Wars and Germany’s role in them.

It would be ideal to use the activity outlined in the learning scenario either after a consideration of the First World War or following discussions of the Second. In the first scenario, the activity would serve as a review of World War I and an introduction to the second; in the latter option, the learning scenario would constitute an opportunity to take a look back at both major events in order to allow students to find and see for themselves continuities and breaks, points of comparison, and causal links.

At any rate, in both instances, students are allowed the time to gather, organize, and use the information on the most significant German leaders, policies, and actions leading up to and during the two Great Wars.

Copy of a photograph taken from a German Officer showing Kaiser, Hindenburg and Ludendorff at G.H.Q., Spa, Belgium. n.a. 1916-1918. National Library of Scotland. CC-BY-NC-SA.
Nazi Hierarchy: Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Hess; The Desperate Years p143. 1933?/1934?. National Archives and Records Administration/Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. PD

Images of war, leadership, and propaganda

In this lesson, students are asked to study side by side two images:

  • one is of the top German military leadership during World War I (see above), which can be found on Europeana;
  • one photograph showing key members of the Nazi hierarchy, an image that is on Wikimedia Commons.

Using what they have learned in class discussions and from assigned readings, as well as drawing upon their own research, students are challenged to compare the pictures in terms of aspects of the two German regimes and their war aims, policies, strategies, and efforts. Students can bring in not only facts about the course and outcomes of the wars, but also stories of the rise of both regimes, the personalities behind them, domestic policy and propaganda, and so on.

Distance learning

The learning scenario would be suitable in a distance learning situation. As instructions and resources can easily be placed on an online platform, students are given the time to work independently. Also, as students can deliver their work in writing or as short presentations in a video call.

Would you like to know more about this learning scenario? You can download it below :


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CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana Collections and provided by the Wellcome Collection.

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