Caught in the net

6th June 1997 at 01:00
The assassination in Sarajevo of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, on June 28, 1914, is remembered as the spark that ignited the First World War.

How, in the summer of 1914, Europe found itself sitting on the powder keg of war has long been a set-piece history exam question, with generations of essay writers required to understand the military alliances, social tensions and diplomatic ambitions that propelled the continent into conflict.

In an attempt to bring life to the complex chain of events in which war spilled out from the Balkans to involve all of EuropeOs leading powers, multimedia publishers, YITM, and Teesside Tertiary College are running an interactive history day for A-level history students on the Internet.

From 10am on June 30, a specially-designed site will publish news bulletinsO, designed to convey the narrative of the events of June to August 1914, as tension mounted in the capitals of Europe, followed by a series of declarations of war.

As well as giving a stronger sense of the origins of the First World War, the project is being designed to involve students, with an on-line discussion area and an invitation to write in comments, newspaper articles and cartoons. As well as having a chance to win a prize of a history CD-Rom, a selection of contributions from students will be published on the site. After the interactive history day is over, all the material broadcast on the Internet will be available as a database for future reference.

The Internet is a surprisingly rich source of information for studying the First World War. One of the most comprehensive is the World War One Document Archive, a compendious collection of documents relating to the war, including military documents, personal memoirs and official treaties.

If you dip into the collection of documents for 1914, there are fascinating transcriptions of speeches, eyewitness accounts, official documents and telegrams recording the outbreak of war and the first months of conflict. Here you can read Lord KitchenerOs address to British troops about to depart for France: In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must entirely resist both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.

What is most fascinating in this kind of archive is finding history in its un edited form, with the full text rather than simply the sound-bites. For example, as war broke out between Germany and Russia, the House of Commons met on August 3 to consider the deteriorating international position. Sir Edward Grey's lengthy speech to the House, reporting the slide into war and Britain's obligations to her allies and her own security, is reproduced in full in this archive, giving a fascinating insight into the strategic thinking of the age, particularly BritainOs sensitivity to any threat to her naval supremacy. The archive includes translations of documents from Germany, France and Russia, providing an image of how all the combatants represented themselves as fighting a just war.

Among the Russian documents, there are indications almost as soon as war had broken out of the problems lying ahead for the Tsar's armies, with reports from 1914 of the chaos and appalling conditions in which the Russian wounded were being treated. For anyone seeking original material, beyond the usual quotes and speeches, this archive could be of great value.

For details of First World War sites on the Internet, try the index at: War_I

For details of the YITM interactive history day, the address is: http:www.yitm.comyitmww1 Schools wanting to take part in the event need to register in advance, so that they can receive a resource pack and information about how to make the most of the day.

The World War One Document Archive is at rdhwwi

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