, Pages 568-573
, California State University, Long Beach
This paper provides an historical account of the American consumer experience during World War II. It begins with a brief review of the consumption context established in the 1920s and 1930s. Subsequent sections describe price controls and rationing, government poster campaigns and commercial war advertising, the role of women as war consumption managers, neighborhood stores and shopping, and product and packaging changes. The concluding section examines some implications of this era for the history of American consumer culture.
Twice in their history, American consumers have significantly and collectively altered their purchasing patterns to achieve patriotic ends. In the 1760s and 1770s, colonists organized mass boycotts of British goods in order to force Parliament to rescind objectionable taxes. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and many other patriots urged their fellows to forego imported "superfluities" and, instead, to be frugal and produce their own goods. Such views were aired at town meetings and widely disseminated via letters reprinted in colonial newspapers. This "nonimportation movement" was successful in that the many onerous taxes, such as the Stamp Act and most of the Townshend Duties, were repealed, but it took six years of fighting to finally settle the political dispute with Great Britain. In effect, the American Revolution was abetted by a consumer revolution (Breen 1988; Witkowski 1989).
The second major episode of American patriotic consumption ocurred during the World War II. The bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent declarations of war required a great mobilization of American society, directed and financed by the federal government and conducted through businesses, the media, and numerous local institutions. The War Production Board allocated scarce materials and stopped or limited the production of civilian goods, while the Office of Price Administration imposed price freezes and forced housewives to learn and live with a complex system of rationing. People were bombarded with messages asking them to be frugal, to recycle, and to produce at home more of what they consumed. "Produce and Conserve, Share and Play Square" exhorted one War Food Administration slogan. Finally, gasoline shortages forced consumers to shop closer to home, helping small grocers, and wartime scarcity necessitated changes in product and packaging materials, forms, and colors (Marchand 1994; Sitikoff 1994; Ward 1994).
The past fifteen years have witnessed a surge of interest in the field of American consumer history. Major studies have been conducted by historians, material culture scholars, and consumer researchers. Examples of the latter work include studies of colonial consumers (Witkowski 1989), the Mormon migration (Belk 1992), the creation of the soap opera in the 1930s (Lavin 1995), 20th century advertising themes (Belk and Pollay 1985), and consumer historiography (Smith and Lux 1993). Unfortunately, consumer researchers have neglected the history of the World War II consumer home front. This paper attempts to fill the gap with a brief narrative that addresses the major events of the period as well as some of their antecedent conditions and legacies for postwar consumers.
The story of American consumers between 1941 and 1945 is fascinating and clearly worth retelling for its own sake. All consumer researchers should know some substantive history of their subject matter as well as some intellectual history of their scholarly field. The World War II period is especially relevant to studies of macro-level consumption and to public policy and environmental analysis because it provides an example of how government can organize various private and public interests to persuade consumers to voluntarily make changes in their shopping habits, rate and duration of product use, and recycling behavior.
The writing of consumer history has more than just academic significance. The factors that create brand equity, for example, have an historical dimension and can be investigated with historical methods (Low and Fullerton 1994). Major companies, such as Levi Strauss and Wells Fargo, incorporate their heritage into corporate and brand images. Some brands have become national icons that resist reformulation as Coca-Cola discovered in the 1980s when it launched "New Coke." Computer technology has enabled advertisers to bring late celebrities like Fred Astaire and Marilyn Monroe back to life as endorsers in current TV ad campaigns. Finally, as a variety of "living history" museums have learned, there is a broad market eager to sample past lifestyles (Leon and Piatt 1989). History itself is a very marketable commodity.
THE CONSUMPTION CONTEXT, 1920-1940
By 1920, many American marketing institutions and managerial practices had attained what might be termed their "modern" form. Manufacturer brands, fixed pricing, and department and chain stores had come of age in the late 19th century (Leach 1984; Low and Fullerton 1994; Strasser 1989), and the first self-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, had just opened in 1916 (Boorstin 1973). As the automobile became increasingly common, its use encouraged new service institutions including drive-in restaurants, the first of which, Royce Haileys "Pig Stand," opening in Dallas in 1921 (Green 1992). Direct-mail catalogs had become a great success through the attentive customer service of A. Montgomery Ward an the promotional genius of Richard Warren Sears (Boorstin 1973). Advertising agencies had evolved into something close to their present form during the first decade of the century and would reach the height of their influence during the twenties (Fox 1984; Pope 1983). Newspapers featured large display ads placed by department stores and national magazines carried full page ads, many in color, for national brands (Norris 1990; Presbrey 1929). The first radio station commenced broadcasting in 1920 (Barnow 1975) and radio would become a mass advertising medium a few years later, in 1928, when equipment and transmission problems were overcome, the audience reached a critical mass, commercial sponsorship was accepted, and programming formats suitable for advertising were developed (Spalding 1963/64).
Innovations in marketing management undoubtedly had a great impact on American consumers in the 1920s, but perhaps just as important was the flood of new products first introduced and/or mass produced during this period (see Table 1). The electrification of household technologies, such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, irons, and toasters created wonderful labor saving devices that, ironically, did not reduce womens work since standards of cleanliness also rose (Cowan 1983; Lupton 1993). Encouraged by admen, who Marchand (1985) calls the "apostles of modernity," American consumers were learning to have faith in these and other technologies including commercial canning and frozen foods.
U.S. FAMILIES WITH ELECTRICITY AND APPLIANCES, 1920-1950
U.S.HOUSEHOLDS WITH INSIDE TOILETS, 1920-1950
Such consumerism did not diffuse throughout American society as completely as it would in the 1950s and thereafter. Mass consumption attitudes and participation were most characteristic of the urban, middle and upper classes. As shown in Table 2, farmers lagged in the acquisition of basic conveniences, such as the inside flush toilet, while the slower pace of rural electrification restrained demand for new many household appliances. Most national advertising in the 1920s and 1930s was pitched to the middle and upper classes, depicted sophisticated characters and lifestyles, and was written by admen who came from these same backgrounds (Marchand 1985).
The 1930s presented a serious challenge to mass consumption. With the economy mired in a Great Depression and unemployment rates averaging 17.9 percent from 1930 to 1940, many people were forced to greatly lower their material expectations and to scrimp wherever they could (Hill, Hirschman and Bauman 1997). Advertising fear appeals played upon peoples anxieties (Marchand 1985). Although the 1930s saw increases in the percentage of U.S. households with inside flush toilets (see Table 2) and electric lighting and appliances (see Table 1), not every family could acquire a thoroughly modern consumer infrastructure.
Thirty-three percent of all Americans had no running water in 1940, 67 percent had no central heat, 47 percent had no built-in bathing apparatus in their homes, 48 percent had no interior access to automatic or other washing machines, 48 percent had no refrigerator, and 33 percent cooked with wood or coal (Green 1992, pp. 7-8).
In 1942, 58% of all U.S. families owned at least one automobile (55% urban v. 69% farm), a percentage about the same as in 1930 (60%) and more than double the 1920 figure (26%) (Lebergott 1993). The 1930s did see continual development of mass audiences for radio, the movies, and professional sports whose stars were lionized by the mass media (Green 1992).
By 1940, American consumers were beginning to feel a rekindled sense of security and optimism. Although still quite high at 14.6 percent, unemployment had dropped as the economy gained momentum and began shifting to a wartime footing. Planning for the future was the theme of the 1939 New York Worlds Fair with its slogan, "The World of Tomorrow," and symbol, the Trylon and Perisphere. Some Americans remained somewhat ambivalent about all this futurism and throughout the 1920s and 1930s they expressed a deepseated historical yearning. Henry Ford (Greenfield Village), Henry Francis du Pont (Winterthur Museum), and the Rockefellars (Colonial Williamsburg) assembled great collections of early Americana, while middle-class consumers favored colonial-style furnishings and architecture purchased in stores or through mail-order catalogs (Green 1992; Marling 1988). Within American consumer culture of the time, science, technology, and modernism competed with nostalgic visions of the past.
PRICE CONTROLS AND RATIONING
World War II brought full employment and prosperity to America. The gross national product leaped from $91 billion in 1939 to $166 billion in 1945 and the economy created 17 million new jobs (Blum 1976). Family incomes soared and grew even faster for African-Americans and for households at lower economic levels than for the population as a whole. Even taking into account a 25 percent inflation during this period, total purchases of all goods and services were about 10 percent higher in the first quarter of 1943 than in the first quarter of 1940. As the large inventories at the end of 1941 were depleted, however, the sale of durable goods at retail dropped 33 percent from 1941 to 1942 and an additional 50 percent from 1942 to 1943 (Williams 1972/orig. 1943). The most crucial shortages were in the areas of housing and medical services. Consumers began spending more on entertainment and recreation.
Immediately after Pearl Harbor, some Americans began to hoard consumer goods (Blum 1976). The Office of Price Administration (OPA), created in April, 1941 in anticipation of a coming war economy, soon froze many consumer prices and rationed common items such as gasoline, coffee, butter, shoes, sugar, and meat. Rationing was an extremely complex and far-reaching endeavor that required the concerted efforts of the OPA and its 93 district offices, a multitude of volunteer boards, public school systems, local newspapers and radio stations, and, above all, countless retail grocers. There were four different rationing programs. Certificate rationing, which began in January 1942, permitted, on the basis of need, the purchase of single items such as automobiles or tires. Differential Coupon Rationing allowed some people like physicians to have more commodities, such as fuel oil or gasoline, than others. Uniform Coupon Rationing, used for shoes, sugar, coffee, and other items, applied the principle that everyone should share alike. Point Rationing, the final program which began in February 1943, was based on the British model and gave every person his or her own individual coupon book. Consumers could then choose food according to individual preferences (Ward 1994). The government enlisted the aid of the media and private business to help consumers learn these changing rationing systems. These programs were very successful. After rising 12 percent in 1941 and 1942, food prices increased just four percent over the remainder of the war.
Material allocations, price controls, and rationing frequently led to compliance problems and varying degrees of black market activities. Business Week reported how some department stores played their own game of rationing by first filling the orders of their best charge customers (Casdorph 1989). In 1944, the OPA investigated several thousand businesses and found that 57 percent were violating price controls. Black markets for consumer goods became widespread, but most transactions were between private individuals rather than large-scale dealing. People traded straight pins, radio tubes, cooking utensils, garbage can lids, and used vacuum cleaners. Wrist watches sold for as much as $50 above ceiling prices (Casdorph 1989). Nevertheless, the awareness that millions of American service men and women were risking their lives overseas kept illicit buying and selling from getting too far out of hand. In the 1943 RKO movie, Tender Comrade, star Ginger Rogers lambased a woman who bragged about her hoarding skills and joined other women in denouncing a black market butcher in their neighborhood (Fyne 1994).
Other government agencies controlled discretionary spending through new income taxes and constant appeals to buy War bonds. To save tires and gas, a 35 miles per hour national speed limit called "Victory Speed" was imposed and, in January 1945, even horse- and dog-racing tracks were closed (Fussell 1989). By the Fall of 1944, however, OPA officials had concluded that military production was so great, and the stockpile already so large, that metals and other strategic materials could be released temporarily for civilian use. "Reconversion" began in earnest in May, 1945, and on V-J Day the OPA issued 184 price decontrol orders. Fears that suspending price controls would cause runaway inflation did not materialize and all price controls were finally lifted in November, 1946 (Ward 1994).
POSTER CAMPAIGNS AND WAR ADVERTISING
Several different agencies of the U.S. government sponsored poster campaigns to achieve both mandated as well as voluntary compliance with their programs for mobilizing the consumer home front. A variety of sizes, from car cards to billboards, were printed in runs of 75,000 to 170,000 and widely distributed in public areas. More than 8000 artists, who belonged to "Artists for Victory," designed posters. A realistic, three-dimensional style replaced the flat, abstract images typical of the First World War. Unlike the earlier propaganda, which inspired fear and hatred of the enemy, President Roosevelt preferred more positive imagery that involved Americans and personalized the war effort (Crawford 1979; Nelson 1991).
Poster campaigns usually stressed one of five major consumption themes. First, some posters carefully explained the rationing system, while others urged compliance with ceiling prices as in "Keep the Home Front Pledge" (1942) from the War Food Administration (WFA) and the "Seven Keys to Victory" (1943) from the Office of Economic Stabilization. Second, numerous campaigns encouraged recycling such as "Save Your Cans" (1941-42) from the War Production Board, Salvage Division, "Dont Burn Waste Paper" (ca. 1942) from the Division of Information, Office of Emergency Management, and "Save Waste Fats for Explosives" (1943) from the Office of War Information (OWI). Third, still other posters stressed frugal consumption such as "Food Is a Weapon, Dont Waste It!," "Use It Up-Wear It Out-Make It Do!," and "Is Your Trip Necessary?," all published by the OWI in 1943. Fourth, still more campaigns encouraged home food production and canning. Examples include "Grow More... Can More ... in 44" by the War Food Program and "Your Victory Garden Counts More Than Ever!" (1945) by the WFA. A final group of posters asked Americans to forego immediate consumption and instead to buy War Bonds.
At the onset of the Second World War, the American advertising business was saddled with a poor image. As the mouthpiece of capitalism, advertising was associated with the business failures of the Great Depression (Marchand 1994). The persistant use of grossly exaggerated advertising appeals, such as the fraudulent health claims made by Fleischmanns Yeast (Fox 1984) and various cigarette brands (Witkowski 1991), had handed the consumer movement a potent issue and Congress additional reason to pass, in 1938, the Wheeler-Lea Amendment that strengthened the Federal Trade Commission. To make matters worse, poor business judgment during the first years of the war created a public relations disaster. In the face of product shortages and conservation campaigns, some advertisers went on selling as if nothing were amiss. Others boasted about their contribution to the national effort or even traded shamefully upon tragedy. General Electric, for example, boasted that one its "Mazda" light bulbs had survived the sinking of the battleship Oklahoma and a New York radio station "allowed the advertising of funeral parlors and burial plots after news broadcasts of heavy casualties" (Fox 1975, p. 34). By 1942, there was serious talk of banning advertising outright or, nearly as bad, eliminating advertisings cost deductibility (Fox 1975).
The ad industry responded by forming a War Advertising Council comprised of representatives from advertisers, ad agencies, and the media. The agencies, which held the balance of decision-making power in the Council, gave their artists and copywriters leave to work on public service campaigns for the war effort. The media donated time and space, while the advertisers supplied additional financial backing.
By wars end, the Advertising Council could look back on some impressive achievements. Eight hundred million dollars in war bonds had been issued; fifty million victory gardens had been planted . . . Five Hundred thrity-eight million pounds of waste fats, twenty-three million tons of paper, and eight hundred million pounds of tin had been salvaged; and all goals set by the Red Cross and National War Fund had been reached and exceeded (Fox 1975, p. 54).
The appearance of selfless public service shored up the ad industrys image with a sometimes hostile public. However, the rhetoric of war advertising went a step further. It repeatedly stressed that the war was being fought to preserve the American way of life and that it was being won by the American way. Ultimately, the message was that free enterprise, and the freedom to advertise, should not be questioned (Fox 1975).
WOMEN AS WAR CONSUMPTION MANAGERS
Women had accounted for 80 to 85 percent of all purchases in the United States as early as the First World War (Leach 1984), and had become the target of much product development and consumer advertising in the 1920s and 1930s (Marchand 1985). In the 1930s, most housewives practiced frugal consumption. To save money, they relearned traditional domestic arts and how to make do with what they had (Hill, Hirschman, and Bauman 1997). "When the nation went to war, the rhetoric changed. Concern for family was replaced with a call to enlist in a great national effort" (McFeely 1994, p. 106). Women were thus assigned the responsibility for managing the nations home front consumption.
Women needed to understand rationing programs and cope with their restrictions, to shop different stores in search of scarce supplies, to prepare meals in the face of meat, sugar, and butter shortages, and to recycle tin, rubber, and kitchen fat (to make glycerine for explosives). Since the military had priority, the federal government promoted "meatless days" for civilians, but in the 1940s, few Americans knew any vegetarian recipes beyond macaroni and cheese. Advice was abundant. In addition to government information programs, corporations distributed meal planning guides and included helpful tips in advertisements. Magazines, such as Womans Day, newspapers, and radio programs kept audiences informed.
Jessie Young, the "radio homemaker" of Iowa station KMA, broadcasting from her own kitchen, suggested recipes like Marbled Macaroni with tomato sauce and Spam, and Mock Hamburgers made of oatmeal and eggs flavored with onions and sage and cooked in tomato juice. Billie Burke, better known as the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz," played a point-perplexed housewife talking to guest authorities from government and industry about the latest food information on a weekly radio program called "Fashions in Rations" (McFeely 1994, pp. 112-113).
Consumption and production roles blurred as women took war job, tended Victory Gardens, and learned the almost-forgotten art of home canning. Because of a shortage of workers, laundry and dry cleaning services became scarcer and women had to wash more clothes at home (Williams 1972/orig. 1943). Housewives who had always relied on paid help for child-care and cooking, now had to do these jobs themselves. Indeed, millions of women had to run their households alone and tens of thousands had to do so terribly burdened by the anguish of having lost a loved one.
The War affected womens dress. Manufacturers used rayon for hosiery after silk and nylon were removed from domestic use. When rayon also became scarce in the fall of 1942, women complained about the lack of hosiery. In order to economize on fabric, womens hats became smaller, skirts shorter, and many items of clothing simpler and more informal (Williams 1972/orig. 1943). Swimwear companies replaced the billowing bathing skirts of the 1930s with fabric saving one- and two-piece outfits (Blum 1976). The "turbans" women wrapped around their hair for safety while working in defense plants (see Daniel 1995, p. 557), started to be worn as an article of fashion. Interestingly, the men in Washington did not repeal Order L85, the ban on long skirts, until October 19, 1946 or more than a year after the Japanese surrender.
NEIGHBORHOOD STORES AND SHOPPING
World War II rationing and price controls put neighborhood grocery stores into close, often onerous contact with federal agencies which deluged them with requests to promote the most plentiful food commodities, educate their customers about changing rules, and administer price ceilings and ration coupon redemption. Grocers were also held responsible for recycling waste fats. On the other hand, the war brought a temporary edge in the fierce competition from national and regional chains and the emerging supermarkets (Marchand 1994). During the 1920s, chains had accounted for over a third of all grocery sales and, despite the passage of some anti-chain legislation during the depression, this figure increased to 38 percent in 1940 and 1941. While retail food sales surged 70 percent during the war years, chain store market share slipped to 33 percent from 1943 to 1945.
Wartime restrictions on automobile usage curtailed home delivery and kept shoppers in their own neighborhoods and the disappearance of new refrigerators necessitated frequent trips rather than weekly excursions to the supermarket. Shortages of food and paperboard obviated the need for elaborate displays that had been giving a promotional edge to supermarkets. Meanwhile, the local stores regularly accepted sales on credit (the larger stores did not), catered to children who often made small purchases for their families, and, as live-in businesses, offered the convenience of extended hours. Small, independent retailers found an unlikely ally in national food advertisers. The grocers enjoyed high margins when selling branded items and the large corporations gained favorable public relations by associating themselves with Norman Rockwell images of small business. By the end of the war, however, the advertising tableaux of these same corporations emphasized a futuristic world-of-tomorrow (Fox 1975; Marchand 1994) that seemed inimical to the quaint, crowded ambience of the local market.
PRODUCT AND PACKAGING CHANGES
Because of material shortages mandated by the War Production Board and other agencies, consumers had to become accustomed to new types and styles of products and product and packaging materials. For example, zinc replaced copper in pennies and half and half got its start as "wartime cream." Shoppers resisted buying magarine as a butter substitute because, thanks to the dairy lobby, it ws subject to a ten percent federal tax if colored to look like butter (McFeely 1994). When naphtha, a petroleum-based ingredient used in soap products was needed for fuel, Procter and Gamble had to reformulate its P and G "White Naphtha" laundry soap and explain the reasons on the package.
Since tin was in short supply, companies switched from metal cans to glass jars and paperboard lids. For example, Procter and Gambles Crisco started the war in a tin can wrapped in paper. Then the wrapping shrank and soon thereafter a glass jar replaced the tin. Finally, a milk-bottle type paper cap substituted for the metal cap (Ward 1994). Consumers discovered that some brands could be packaged in more than one way at a time. To help shoppers recognize its package, Boraxo printed a picture of its familiar metal can on the front of its wartime paperboard carton (Ward 1994). In addition, conservation messages were printed on much packaging and childrens toys, games, and advertising were infused with patriotic symbols and characters. American Tobacco even used purported wartime demands for camouflage paint as an excuse to change the color of its Lucky Strike package from dark green to white and to proclaim that "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War!". This was a brilliant advertising campaign. Lucky seemed to making a real sacrifice for the war effort and, as previous company research had shown, the dark green pack had never been very appealing anyway (Sobel 1978).
Before the war, plastics boasted something of a luxury image. Bakelite, the trade name for phenol formaldehyde, was used to make stylish radio cabinets and streamlined, Moderne-style irons and electric shavers (Katz 1984). "Plastics were considered up-to-date, and they had an aura of affordable glamour" (Hine 1994, p. 143). They were also deemed expendible and, in an effort to ready the nation for war, the federal government issued a materials-limitation order in November, 1941 that could have stopped production of plastic packaging. An alarmed industry had the order overturned and soon was working with the military to create a multitude of new packaging materials and applications that eventually were adapted for civilian life. For example, Stoppette deodorant introduced the first mass-marketed, plastic squeeze bottle shortly before the bombing of Hiroshima (Hine 1994). These technological advances expanded the plastics business tremendously, but also imparted a down-market image to the material that persists to this day.
SOME IMPLICATIONS AND POSTWAR CONTINUITIES
World War II was a signal event in the history of American consumer culture. Above all, it ended the Great Depression and created an affluent society. War jobs enabled lower income groups and African-Americans to participate more fully in the consumer mass market than they had in the 1920s. The War effort necessitated the movement of millions of people and, in so doing, subsumed regional differences and created the more unified national market that companies would so successfully address in the 1950s. Price controls and rationing proved to effective, at least during the war years, but were unpopular enough to ensure very sparing use by postwar policy-makers. On the other hand, government poster programs set a precedent for later attempts to reduce smoking, drug use, and energy consumption via mass media campaigns. The War Advertising Council changed its name to the Ad Council and maintained the tradition of industry-sponsored public service advertising. Scarce resources stimulated innovation in the use of plastics for products and packaging, a development that would in time greatly transform the everyday material dimension of consumer culture.
This history provides a lesson for our own time on how the federal government can take advantage of local institutions to implement its programs. The rationing system required the cooperation of retail grocers, public schools, nd the local media. Recycling depended upon local businesses, schools, and scout troops. "Never again would the grass-roots organizations of the United States be so effectively mobilized in one cause. Never again would big government reach down to individuals with such a personal touch" (Ward 1994, p. 101). Of course, the harsh reality of a major war insured the success of these initiatives. Yet, given the American penchant for personal liberty, it is remarkable how stoically most people accepted such control over their lives. Perhaps individualism had become less pronounced because other cultural values, such as collective/communal action and self-sufficient modes of production, had been evoked during depression-era "consumer survival" (Hill, Hirschman, and Bauman 1997). These values were in retreat by the 1950s as frugal consumption gave way to an acceptance of planned obsolescence and a throwaway mentality. How ironic that the wartime economy of shortages engendered a sense of purpose and sharing among consumers, while todays economy of plenty seems to drive many people further and further into fragmented, self-centered consumption.
Although delineating all the legacies of World War II for American consumers is beyond the scope of this paper, it is fitting to conclude by examining two postwar continuities: one institutional and the other artifactual. First, postwar consumerism turned against neighborhood grocery stores. Families moved to the suburbs where open land for development served by an automobile friendly infrastructure suited the construction of large supermarkets which today dominate the food trade. However, independently-owned small-scale stores, whether one-of-a-kind or franchises like 7-Eleven and Stop 'N Go, continue to flourish in reasonably large numbers. Although tied to the automobile and stocked with products (lottery tickets, videos, and condoms) never sold in the 1940s, they still offer convenience at high prices and, like many neighborhood groceries of the past, cater to a largely working class clientele.
The productivity of American industry had been so prodigious that by the wars end the government had amassed an enormous stockpile of surplus military property worth $34 billion (Chiles 1995). The War Assets Administration launched a vigorous and highly creative marketing campaign to sell this stuff. It distributed promotional brochures around the world, but much of the government effort was directed, once again, at the American consumer whose material sacrifices had made the abundance of war supplies possible in the first place. Barrage ballons were cut up and made into tents, tarps, and raincoats. Gas masks, aircraft tubing, and tank periscopes were recycled as parts in childrens toys (Chiles 1995). Army-Navy surplus stores opened across the country and stayed in business for years. The amphibious vehicles known as DUKWs (or Ducks), still carry tourists through the forests and waters in and around Wisconsin Dells. Other surplus materiel has entered the collectors market where it is still being bought and sold, displayed and even cherished.
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This unit forms part of the World War One materials at ActiveHistory:
Causes of World War One
Life in the Trenches in World War One
Causes for Germany's Defeat in World War One
Remembrance Day: Activities for all Year Groups
Battlefields Trip: itinerary, workpack and follow-up activities
Origins of WW1 and WW2: Comparisons and Contrasts
In this unit, students will have the opportunity to research the origins of both World War One, and World War Two, in considerable depth. The unit is structured so that the factor to be researched are directly comparable. One group of students will focus on the First World War, and one on the Second World War. They will present their findings to each other, and then conduct follow-up activities based around some of the big historiographical debates (e.g. the Fischer Controversy, the Structuralist/Intentionalist debate, the Taylor/Trevor-Roper clash - pictured - about whether Hitler was a 'Gambler' or a 'Planner'). Finally, they will be in a position to compare and contrast the origins of both wars and produce a detailed and sophisticated essay.
This unit is best followed by the "Origins of War Historiography Project" that can also be found on ActiveHistory.
Stage 1: Researching each war in depth
Historiographical Overview: This information sheet outlines the essential historiographical debate - namely, the Fischer Thesis, which suggested that both World Wars were essentially caused by the same consistent factor - namely, German aggression. The task of students will be to decide how far they agree with this idea.
Research Template: Students are then presented with a research template which has NINE key causes of each World War listed within it. "Divide these causes between the members of the group.Research your allocated factor(s) with relation to your particular war. Produce a one-slide presentation which will summarise your findings for the rest of the class".
Additional resources for students researching the Origins of World War One
Additional resources for students researching the Origins of World War Two
Stage 2: Presentations
Overview of the procedure: This handout explains how the group working on World War One will present their findings first, and that this will be followed by a whole-class exercise linking the factors together and some historiography work (below). The same format is repeated with relation to World War Two.
Historiography of World War One: Follow-up work after the presentations and linkage of factors
- Introductory video clip: AJP Taylor outlines his "railway timetable" theory - do we find it convincing?
- Main Task: Historiography through events management: Design a Seating Plan for these 18 Historians! (pictured)
"Here are 18 historians with different viewpoints about the Origins of World War One. Your job is to cut up these cards, read each one carefully, and arrange a dinner party reception designed to ensure that nobody ends up sitting adjacent to anybody that they will argue with too much, but will instead sit adjacent next to somebody or several people that they broadly agree with! Work alone at first, then compare your ideas with a partner and with the class. Stick down your cards on sugar paper when you are happy with your seating plan, and provide a key to explain why each ‘table’ has been arranged in that particular way".
Discussion points: (a) Where would you seat yourself, and why? (b) If a fight was to break out between two tables of people - or two key individuals - which would they be, and why? (sample piece of work shown below)
- Factual test on WW1
This factual test could be taken by students at this stage to test their knowledge and understanding of the topic by this stage. Questions are divided into chronological, thematic and historiographical categories (30 questions in total).
Historiography of World War Two: Follow-up work after the presentations and linkage of factors
Stage 3: Comparing and contrasting both wars
Introductory video clip: AJP Taylor outlines the "Fischer Controversy"
With both wars now considered separately, we are in a position to judge whether the "Fischer Thesis" (that both wars can primarily be explained through reference to a consistently aggressive German foreign policy) is accurate.
Main Task: Was Hitler's foreign policy traditional, or unprecedented?
In this activity students use extracts from the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, an Interview with Hitler, Mein Kampf and the September Programme to decide where they stand in regard to the Fischer controversy.
Model Essay by RJ Tarr (note: teacher password required)
At this point, students should return to their original research template to complete the final column, which asks them to make some observations about whether the various factors for each war are areas of comparison and contrast. This can then be used as the basis for an essay on the causes of either war, or an essay comparing them both. The model essay provided here was written by the author of this website in timed conditions and could be given to students for extra stimulus after they have finished their own work.
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