After a year’s break, the Old School History Museum restarted its Sunday at the Museum lecture series.
“This is our first big event in over a year. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you, to see familiar faces and new faces. We missed you,” OSHM director Sandra Rosseter said in her welcoming speech also thanking everybody for helping them follow the CDC guidelines by wearing masks and using the hand sanitizer at the entrance. She explained that OSHM remained busy throughout the year putting in new story panels and new displays.
“Best of all, we have a new web site,” Rosseter said. “Each month we send out a monthly newsletter. It’s full of museum information and great stories.”
The topic of the lecture was “A World Gone Mad: The Path to WWI” presented by Eric Tenbus, a professor of history and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. Tenbus holds a BA in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University; MA in Communications, MA in History, and PhD in British history from Florida State University. He is a published author and contributor to scholarly publications.
The lecture explained the complex historical forces that led up to the Great War – that’s the way WW1 was referred to at the time – the war that far surpassed previous conflicts in cost and brutality.
“It was excellent,” said Doug Romine in response to how he liked the lecture. “You could tell that (Tenbus) has mastered this part of history because he’s taught it for years. We benefited from his years of teaching at the college level. He did a great job. His slide presentation helped his lecture. It was wonderful.”
“I thought it was very interesting,” said Judy Greer. “I knew that archduke (Franz Ferdinand) was assassinated, but I didn’t know about all the other countries and how it all came to be. And about the relationship between Nicolas II and Wilhelm II. The lecturer did a very good job. I enjoyed it.”
Tenbus started his lecture from walking the listeners through the interpretations of the causes of WW1 that emerged during or soon after the WW1 and discredited each because they offered one-sided, “single-bullet” explanations of the causes and giving his own, “Tenbus” interpretation, which offered a multi-faucet approach.
“You cannot say, ‘Oh, that’s the cause.’ History isn’t like that,” said Tenbus. “History is messy. It’s not black-and-white. History is very gray. The most important lesson of WWI is historical causation. It’s real. History is not simple. It’s very complex. Things just don’t happen randomly. There are several causes happening all at once and historical causes that reach back in history.”
At first, the war arose tremendous enthusiasm. The recruitment centers were overwhelmed with volunteers. The picture of that time showed people of working and upper classes in London (where class was everything) waiting in the same line, and 750,000 volunteers were enlisted instead of desired 100,000 in just a few days.
Letters from British soldiers expressed the idea that the war was at first viewed as something fun. They wanted to see some action. On the lips of everybody was, ‘We’ll be back home by Christmas.’
“What they didn’t know was that men who left in Aug. 1914 would be long dead before this war would end,” said Tenbus. They were home by Christmas, only of 1918. “Enthusiasm for war quickly grew into despair, death, and involvement of the next generation of soldiers.”
Answering a question from the audience about the impact of the Spanish flu pandemic, Tenbus explained that the Spanish got tagged unfairly. According to him, some recent reinterpretations state that the Spanish flu virus originated in Asia and was carried to the U.S. by the soldiers or diplomats who came to the U.S. through Canada to meet with Americans.
“Seeing images of last year of field hospitals in big tents was very reminiscent of the photographs of 1918,” he said. “The Central Park in New York City. That resonates back in our minds very quickly from what happened last year, especially at the onset of Covid.”
He also mentioned that 50 million died from the Spanish flu worldwide.
Answering the other questions from the audience, Tenbus revealed some interesting facts about the relations of European monarchs of the time. Wilhelm II was a grandson of English Queen Victoria. Edward VII was his uncle and George V was his cousin. Wilhelm II marched down the streets of London wearing a British uniform. He spent summers at his grandmother’s house and had a very strong affection toward his British relations.
Another cousin of George V and Wilhelm was Nicolas II, the Tsar of Russia.
“They used to write letters back and forth, even on the precedence of the war appealing to each other, ‘Please, don’t lead us into this war,’” said Tenbus. “There is a famous picture of George V and Nicolas II standing next to each other. They look like twins.”
Responding to a comment that the relations didn’t mean much in the alliances, Tenbus said that a lot of matches of kids and grandkids was often done for political or commercial reasons.
“In this case, it didn’t ultimately work out,” he said.
Part of the reason was that Queen Victoria had nine children and 42 grandchildren.
“They ran out of people to marry them out to,” Tenbus said. “It was inevitable that even with all these marriages across Europe somebody is going to be upset, somebody is going to go to war, and that the grandchildren of Victoria will ultimately find themselves in a war just because of the sheer volume of grandchildren who had to be married into the different royal families.”
The OSHM is now open for self-guided tours. It is planned to open it for guided tours in June. Through May 28, WWI exhibit in the hallway outside the museum will be available for review. It has been loaned by the Kennesaw State University.
The next activity OSHM, a partnership with the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society, is the Archaeology Day on Saturday, Aug. 7. The event is free, family-friendly and open to the public. For more information, please visit www.oldschoolhistorymuseum.org or facebook.com/OSHMuseum.