Could something like the First World War ever happen in the 21st century? There are signs: rising populism, a backlash against modernity and multiculturalism, international tensions, and powers prepared to breach the normal conventions of international relations.

Such was the stark warning issued by Professor Margaret MacMillan during her Stephen Roskill Memorial Lecture at Churchill College on Wednesday 31 January 2018. In just 45 minutes she managed to summarise a huge literature and to convey the complexity and nuance of the ongoing historical debates about the causes and legacies of the 1914–1918 war; a conflict that destroyed empires, gave birth to revolutions, unleashed nationalisms and irrevocably changed the societies of all the major combatants.

Her message was clear: while history does not repeat itself, there is much we can learn from studying how the supposedly civilised and sophisticated European powers allowed themselves to be dragged into such a catastrophe.

Margaret MacMillan standing with Churchill Archives Centre staff and looking at a display of items related to the 1st world war.

 The speaker inspecting the Churchill Archives Centre display and looking at key documents relating to the conclusion and legacy of the First World War, as selected by Julia Schmidt.

— Allen Packwood, Director.

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