Photo: Jacob Thielen

“Academic rock star” visits home to commemorate 100 years since WW1

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By Caterina Amaral

Ryerson’s International Issues Discussion series began their first lecture in winter term with former professor and renowned historian, Margaret MacMillan.

MacMillan was a professor at Ryerson for 25 years before her current position as professor at the University of Toronto. The topic of the Jan. 22 lecture was up to  MacMillan who was given the decision on what to focus on to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

MacMillan focused on how the outbreak of the war could have been prevented. Claiming there is a misconception that war was inevitable.

“People were hopeful,” she said. “They thought possibly humanity was moving beyond settling disputes through war.”

MacMillan also argued that the peace movements lead by people from churches and universities in Europe could have stopped the war.There was support for international organizations and NGOs like Red Cross, which was created shortly before the war.

At the same time, the working class became increasingly organized and more people began to join into unions. MacMillan also put forth that when two countries had a dispute they would hand over the conflict for a third party to decide the solution.

The problem, she said, was that in the summer of 1914 there were so many overlapping causes from a short and long period of time building up from fear, conditioned hate, and pride.

The outbreak of the First World War is a particular favourite among the students in attendance.

“We all know how it ended. Nothing in history is inevitable.” said Laura Dyer, a fourth-year history student.

MacMillan puts in simple terms that the war began with the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungry by Serbian terrorist, Gavrilo Princip. But people did not take the assignation seriously because it was not unusual. If there were a crisis people thought it would end with a talk.

By this time people believed it was too late to have a war because winter was approaching, and most European conflicts began in June and lasted six weeks.To much surprise, Austria-Hungary did not back down worried that they needed to be seen as a strong power.

MacMillan said the First World War has always engaged her while teaching at Ryerson and still does. She didn’t know she liked to teach until the end of her first semester there.

“I owe a lot to students here and also to my colleagues. I had and still keep in

touch with, some very nice colleagues indeed,” she said. “But it was the students who taught me how to explain history to people.”

“Academic rock star,”  summed up third-year history student  Michal Fetsum.

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