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Historian Sean McMeekin to speak on beginning of World War I

Thursday, January 23, 2014

LAWRENCE — Sean McMeekin, author of "July 1914: Countdown to War," will speak at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, in the Lied Center Pavilion. His lecture will focus on his recent publication, in which he alleges that Russia and France were largely responsible for the outbreak of World War I. The event is free and open to the public. McMeekin is hosted by the Hall Center for the Humanities, with the support of European Studies and Germanic Languages & Literatures. A reception and book signing will follow the lecture.

When a Serbian-backed assassin gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914, the world seemed unmoved. Even Ferdinand’s own uncle, Franz Josef I, was notably ambivalent about the death of the Hapsburg heir, saying simply, “It is God’s will.” Certainly, there was nothing to suggest that the episode would lead to conflict—much less a world war of such massive and horrific proportions that it would fundamentally reshape the course of human events.

As acclaimed historian McMeekin reveals in "July 1914," World War I might have been avoided entirely had it not been for a small group of statesmen who, in the month after the assassination, plotted to use Ferdinand’s murder as the trigger for a long-awaited showdown in Europe. The primary culprits, moreover, have long escaped blame.

While most accounts of the war’s outbreak place the bulk of responsibility on German and Austro-Hungarian militarism, McMeekin draws on surprising new evidence from archives across Europe to show that the worst offenders were actually to be found in Russia and France, whose belligerence and duplicity ensured that war was inevitable.

The lecture is part of a campuswide collaboration to commemorate the centennial of World War I. Look for more events sponsored by the Hall Center, other campus units, and community partners over the next four years as KU and the surrounding community explore the war and its impact.