3.1 Overview 2

Should nations pursue national interest?

Personal Beliefs and Context

A variety of perspectives are introduced in the study of history in Social Studies. As such, you must use caution in your research, analysis, and presentations, especially given the historical context.

"Context" is the circumstances and background of an event or issue that help us understand an event given its time and place in history.

When you're aware of the specific contexts of events or historical materials, you will be able to form your personal views and come to understand the views of the writers and/or researchers who have the job to relay and analyze events in history.
Depending on the event being described, the context or intention may seem out of sync with today's climate. When you encounter materials that seem to have a limited perspective (a view which is narrow, biased, prejudiced, or simple), you should

  • take note of when the material was created (date, year),
  • identify the target audience (who will use the information and what are their goals/motives?),
  • consider the intended result of the communication (was it to inform, persuade, educate?) and,
  • identify the source of the material (is it from a legitimate source? A nation's government?).

In Social Studies students are expected to take a position on a variety of issues. BUT, any position needs to be defended with facts and logic, and you will need to show that you have considered many sources of information before identifying your position on an issue (review the tutorials How to Detect Bias and Fake News and How to Read Critically). Especially when analyzing a major event such as World War I, you must consider what it must have been like to be a citizen in the involved countries during that time. Knowing the circumstances and national interests during WWI will help provide the context of each nation's priorities, which in turn will help you frame your position.

Perspective and Context

During World War I, posters were often used in public places to help in the recruitment of men into the armed forces.

Examine the two World War I posters below, each showing a different perspective of the conflict.

© Library of Congress

The British poster above shows Justice (the woman) in the foreground with a sinking British ship in the background. The ship has most likely been attacked by a German "U Boat", a submarine.

Justice is reaching out with a raised fist and offering the sword as an instrument of revenge, as if to say, "join the fight to bring these evildoers to justice and to stop this from happening again".

Although difficult to see at this size, bodies are floating in the water between Justice and the sinking ship. To the right of Justice, a hand reaches out of the water.

The German poster above shows Justice in full armour with an iron cross, which is a Germanic symbol to inspire nationalism. Justice is holding the German flag with her left arm, another image to inspire nationalism and to indicate the German cause is the right one to support. In wearing a medieval knight's armor, Justice is a symbol of honour and valour.

Justice holds her shield with her right arm over the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, protecting him because he is righteous. The wounded soldier is looking up at them for inspiration in this noble fight. The soldier with his arm raised is ready to join the fight.

Both posters use Justice as a female figure, whose origins go back to ancient Roman and Greek mythology. Over time, Justice became associated with scales to represent impartiality and a sword to symbolize power. But in both cases, Justice is a symbol to further a country's national interests during war time.


After examining both posters, write down your thoughts to the following questions.

  • What is the overall message of the British poster?
  • What is the overall message of the German poster?
  • How did these posters appeal to the nationalism of their respective nations?

Your examination of these two WWI posters, as well as the posters on the previous page, should have identified a key component of your national identity, which is what you believe about Canada and its role in the world. Your perspective is an active part of positions or opinions you will eventually take. It is an important part of who you are and the way in which you approach issues.

Remember, in Social Studies you must base opinions on careful research and thought. Sometimes, this will be uncomfortable because your beliefs or opinions may be challenged as you examine our history. Don't worry! This is a common feeling when studying history in Social Studies.

"...too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."
John F. Kennedy