Teaching International series kicks off with the origins of World War I

Associate professor of history Douglas M. Charles presented a lecture, ?It Started with an Assassination: the First World War, the End of Empire, and Self-Determination,? as part of the Teaching International program at Penn State Greater Allegheny on Sept. 22. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the origins of World War I.

Nearly 200 high school students attended the presentation and stayed at the campus for lunch afterward. ?This was a great opportunity for high school students to experience a college lecture. We hope that by exposing them to higher education activities, these students will be more likely to go to college and become interested in Penn State Greater Allegheny,? said Director of Academic Affairs Margaret Signorella.

Charles discussed how, until the First World War, many of the different ethnic people who make up the Balkans were not independent but a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. These included Slovenians, Slovaks, Croatians, Bosnians and some ethnic Serbs. According to Charles, prior to the First World War (known at the time as the Great War) these different ethnicities didn?t always get along, but were forced to live in the same empire. They didn?t have the same religions, holidays or even alphabets. European countries were bound economically, but had no formal, peaceful way to overcome problems.

Everything changed after the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife at the hand of a 19-year-old Serbian student in 1914, which sparked the First World War. That war saw the end of 19th century-style empires in Europe and an attempt to redraw the ethnic borders of European countries. It brought on self-determination, a concept suggested by President Woodrow Wilson in which ethnic groups decide on their own futures. The effects of empire and self-determination continue to have effects in the Balkans even today.

Charles holds a doctorate from Scotland's Edinburgh University. He has published two books: "J. Edgar Hoover and the Anti-interventionists" and "The FBI's Obscene File." His third book exploring the FBI and gays has recently been completed. Charles has appeared on NPR's "On Point," on the History Channel and his work was recently referenced in The New York Times.

The Teaching International program at Penn State Greater Allegheny has been in place since 2004. Its goal is to educate students about world trends by studying different regions and issues of global importance. This year's focuses are on the Balkans and gender.