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Beyond the common knowledge of World War I

By Jeff Stoffer
via the American Legion web site

Dr. Jennifer D. Keene of Chapman UniversityDr. Jennifer D. Keene of Chapman UniversityOne of the nation’s foremost World War I scholars, Dr. Jennifer D. Keene of Chapman University in Orange, Calif., says educators want deeper understanding of a pivotal time in U.S. history too often defined by four long-studied phenomena:

- The 1915 German U-boat sinking of the British cruise ship Lusitania that killed 1,198, including 128 Americans.

- The intercepted and British-decoded prewar “Zimmermann telegram” proposing an alliance between Germany and Mexico against the United States.

- The horrors of trench warfare.

- America’s political impasse over the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles after the war.

“That’s the common knowledge,” Keene said in a recent interview. “Except for that, how do you fill in the gaps? How do you get people to really understand the significance of this period of history?”

Keene is among the scholars and master teachers lined up to address the challenge of filling those gaps as a participant in the United States World War One Centennial Commission Teacher Professional Education Program sponsored in part by an American Legion grant. The program kicked off Oct. 21 in Louisville, Ky., and continued Nov. 4 in Anchorage, Alaska. Dr. Keene is the master scholar presenting at the Albuquerque, N.M., Public Schools City Center on Dec. 4, with master teacher Angelina Moore. Future sessions include San Diego on March 6; Detroit on March 17 at the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency; and a spring date yet to be announced in Providence, R.I.

Author of "Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America," along with other books and articles on U.S. history, the war and its effects, Dr. Keene recently spoke with The American Legion Magazine.

What drove your interest in World War I?

“I was interested in progressivism and the idea that this group of reformers saw a lot of social problems and wanted to figure out solutions. I did my first project by looking at reformers who went into training camps in the First World War to teach soldiers how to behave appropriately, have good morals and healthy living habits. I got really interested in these soldiers. But I only studied them in the training camp and never knew what happened to them afterward. I thought and thought about them and wanted to understand what they were thinking, what they were going through, what happened to them in France. That was 20 years ago, and nobody was asking those questions then. So, in a sense, I had the field to myself.”

Read the whole article on the American Legion web site.

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