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  • University of Leeds

World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism

Learn how the war moved us away from traditional views of heroism and created new kinds of heroes and heroines.

14,808 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Did World War 1 make heroism meaningless or was it the conflict that gave it the most meaning? We’ve designed this course in partnership with the BBC to help you explore, discuss and challenge the ways in which World War 1 heroism has been remembered. Our experts will take you through the changing British, French and German views of heroism and discuss important similarities and differences.

Through discussion and analysis of art, literature, film and television, guided by our experts, you will explore the portrayals of heroism before, during and after the war. Drawing on rarely seen archive, you will be curating a mini exhibition, exploring a war memorial and writing a review of a representation of war.

Together we will examine the changing faces of heroism, from distant figureheads and brave warriors to the ordinary “Tommy” and front-line nurses. The emergence of alternative hero figures, including anti-war campaigners and vulnerable, shell shocked soldiers, is also covered. We hope you will join the University of Leeds and the BBC in a fascinating reflection on the place of heroism, in the centenary commemorations of World War 1.

This course is part of a series designed in partnership with the BBC to commemorate the war.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds I’m Alison Fell. I’m with four colleagues who have designed this course to help you explore, discuss, and challenge the ways in which First World War heroism has been remembered. Through this course, the learner will go on a journey into historic understandings of heroism, looking at how heroism was understood from beginning of the war right up to the present, not only through time across the 20th century, but also across the continent of Europe.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds Looking at the way each nation deals with the concept of heroism 100 years on gives us an interesting and important insight into how they see themselves and their role in the world today. The First World War is a kind of key moment in our collective understanding of European history. What I’m particularly interested in is the way the First World War is being memorialised today on film, not just in Britain, but across Europe. We’ll also look at the questions of gender, how heroes were defined by their gender, or not defined by their gender in some cases. Heroism is also very important in propaganda.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 seconds You will that propaganda posters make a lot of use of the idea of the hero and of heroic deeds in order to recruit people, keep morale up, and also to make people engage with the war effort. When looking at heroism, it can be very uncomfortable, even 100 years later, because what you’re celebrating, really, is their success in killing soldiers on the other side. We’re asking whether the First World War made heroism meaningless, or whether in fact, it was the conflict that gave it the most meaning. Drawing on rarely seen archive, you will be curating a mini exhibition, exploring a war memorial, and writing a review of a representation of war.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds We hope you will join the University of Leeds and the BBC in a fascinating reflection on the place of heroism in the centenary commemorations of the First World War.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

Who is the course for?

No previous knowledge or experience is required, just an interest in the war and how it has shaped culture and society in Britain, France and Germany over the last hundred years. You could be at school or college, working or retired. The course is designed to be flexible so you can study at a time and place convenient to you.

Who will you learn with?

A Professor of French Cultural History, my research focuses on French and British women and WW1. I lead a WW1 Centenary project called Legacies of War: arts.leeds.ac.uk/legaciesofwar

Who developed the course?

University of Leeds

As one of the UK’s largest research-based universities, the University of Leeds is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre of excellence for teaching.

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