Nationalism as a cause of World War I Facts & Worksheets

Nationalism as a cause of World War I facts and information activity worksheet pack and fact file. Includes 5 activities aimed at students 11-14 years old (KS3) & 5 activities aimed at students 14-16 year old (GCSE). Great for home study or to use within the classroom environment.

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    • The concept of nationalism and how it led to the outbreak of World War I.
    • The rise of nationalism in Europe, including Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, and the Balkan Peninsula.

    Key Facts And Information

    Let us know more about the concept of Nationalism!

    • Nationalism can be defined as a deep sense of patriotism. Nationalists hold their country in high regard and place its interests above those of other nations.
    • Pre-war nationalism was fueled by imperialism, both political and economical, and pop culture present in the works of penny press novelists. Nationalism was also experienced in parts of Southern Europe where some ethnic minorities wanted autonomy and independence.
    • Scholars agree that one of the fundamental reasons behind the outbreak of World War I was the growth of nationalism in Europe. Such an idea was a result of Enlightenment thinking on equality,, freedom, and democracy.
    • Nationalism was very common in early 20th-century Europe and is considered as a significant cause of World War I. Before the war, most Europeans believed in having some sort of cultural, economic, and military supremacy and dominance over other nations.
    • This was fueled by provocative speeches, utterances, or press reports. Front pages of newspapers were often headlined by nationalist rhetoric and exaggerated stories, such as rumours about rival nations and their horrible intentions.
    • Nationalism was also significantly present in pop culture as it influenced literature, theatre, and music. Leaders in power (royal families, politicians, and diplomats) made no attempt to stop this trend and some even actively contributed to it.
    • These trends of nationalism also gave citizens overconfidence in their nation, governments, and the military strength. It gave them a false sense of fairness and righteousness. It demonised rival nations, portraying them as aggressive, shrewd, deceitful, barbaric, and uncivilised.
    • Citizens now considered rival nations as threats who were plotting and scheming against them. This was mainly done by emphasising the negatives brought about by imperialism. Nationalists were convinced that if a war between rivals ever broke out, they would be victorious. Imperialism, militarism, and nationalism contributed to the continental delusion that a European war seemed winnable.

    Rise of nationalism across Europe

      • In 1871, after years of political and military struggles, the King of Prussia created the German Empire that united smaller German states and principalities. As new nation-states, the German language was used as a unifying force in Central Europe. Under the rule of Otto von Bismarck, Germans especially Prussian aristocrats, understood the significance of military power and industrial strength.
      • Due to his focus on German industrialisation, Otto von Bismarck became known as ‘Iron Chancellor’. He led Germany to industrial booms in steel, coal, and machinery as part of building great military and strengthening nationalism.
      • The Germans had confidence in Prussian military efficiency and precision, their growing industrial base, new armaments, and an expanding fleet of battleships and submarines.
      • Germany, compared to the likes of Britain, was a young nation. It was formed in 1871 through the unification of 26 German-speaking states and territories.
      • German nationalism and xenophobia were no less intense, but they came from different sources. Pan-Germanism (German nationalism) was the political factor that bound these different ethnic states together.
      • After unification, the leaders of Germany relied on these nationalist sentiments to consolidate and strengthen their newly formed nation and to gain public support. Through the poetry of Goethe and the music of Richard Wagner, German culture was promoted and celebrated. German militarism greatly backed their nationalism.
      • The strength of the nation was purely defined and reflected by the strength of its military forces. The new Kaiser (leader of the German nation) was synonymous with his country. He was young, enthusiastic, nationalistic, and obsessed with military power and imperial expansion, which was what the country wanted. Wilhelm II was proud of Germany’s achievements, but uncertain about its future.
      • Though he thought the British were avaricious and hypocritical, he envied the power they possessed and was desperate for national success. The main obstacle in his mind was Britain’s expansion.
      • Prior to unification, Italy was divided amongst papal states and city-states. Under the French support, Italians united against the Austrian-Hungarian Empire to take back Italian-speaking territories, including Venice.
      • The process began in 1815, with the Congress of Vienna acting as a detonator, and was completed in 1871 when Rome became the capital. However, the last Italian territories under foreign rule did not join the Kingdom of Italy until 1918, after Italy finally defeated Austria-Hungary in World War I. The situation of Italy after unification can best be described after the statement of professor Serge Hughes: “Now that we have made Italy, we must make Italians.”
      • Most European powers had grown almost drunk with patriotism and nationalism by the late 1800s. Britain, for example, had by this time enjoyed two centuries of imperial, commercial, and naval dominance.
      • The British Empire spanned one-quarter of the globe, mainly through the colonies it had set up all over the world. They believed that they could never be slaves to anyone. The British had also been shrewd, as London had spent the 19th century advancing her imperial and commercial interests and had been avoiding wars at all costs.
      • However, the unification of Germany in 1871, the speed of German armament, and the self-righteousness of Kaiser Wilhelm II caused concern among British nationalists.
      • Controlled by nationalists, England’s ‘penny press’ fueled this rivalry by publishing incredible fictions about foreign intrigues, espionage, future wars, and invasions by the Germans.
      • A great example is the Battle of Dorking in 1871, which was a form of ‘invasion literature.’ It was a wildly detailed tale about how
      • German forces would take over England.
      • By 1910, the streets of London were filled with dozens of tawdry novellas warning of German, Russian, or French aggression using racial stereotyping and innuendo.
      • Germans were depicted as cold, cruel, and calculating, Russians as uncultured barbarians, the French as leisure-seeking layabouts, and the Chinese as a race of murderous, opium-smoking savages.
      • The rulers of these countries were mocked by penny novelists, cartoonists, and satirists. Two of the most popular targets were the German kaiser and the Russian tsar; both ridiculed for their arrogance and ambition.
      • The British soon became a popular target for the German press and Britain was painted as expansionist, selfish, greedy, and obsessed with money. This only got worse as anti-British sentiments intensified during the Boer War of 1899-1902, Britain’s war against farmer-settlers for control of South Africa.
      • A different form of nationalism emerged, which was not about supremacy or military power, but about the right of ethnic groups to be independent, autonomous, and self-governed. This came about because the world was divided into spheres of influence and large empires.
      • Many regions, races, and religious groups wanted to be free from imperialism. A case in point, in Russia, more than 80 ethnic groups in Eastern Europe and Asia were forced to speak Russian, recognise the Russian tsar as their leader, and practice the Russian religion. This eventually led to the Russian Revolution, which ended the reign of the royal family and tsars.
      • The nationalist movement that had the biggest impact was the outbreak of war by Slavic groups in the Balkans. Pan-Slavism was the belief that the Slavic people of Eastern Europe should be independent and have their own nation, and that they were a powerful force in the region. It was predominantly in Serbia where it had risen significantly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pan-Slavism was mainly opposed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the control and influence it had over the region.
      • Discontent was on a high and young Serbs joined radical nationalist groups like the ‘Black Hand’ because of Vienna’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Groups like the ‘Black Hand’ wanted to drive Austria-Hungary from the Balkans to form a nation called The Greater Serbia.
      • It was this intensified form of nationalism that led to the start of World War I through the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914.