Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lusitania beyond lecture

Background: During World War One (1914-1918), the German Navy was adept at using their U-Boat submarines to attack Allied shipping.  For a short read on the background of U-Boats in WW One, click on this link:

the most famous ship sunk by the Germans during World War One was the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania (RMS=Royal Mail Ship).  It went down on 7 May 1915 with the loss of over 1000 lives, including 128 Americans. The link below is an animated recreation of the 1915 event shown in (silent) theaters in 1918. This is worth showing in class.
Silent Movie Era Movie shown in Theaters in 1918. Click below:

Questions to ask after viewing the 1918 animation: 1) What information in the movie agrees with or contradicts the historic record of events surrounding the Lusitania sinking as we know them today. 2) Did the video fairly portray the actions of the Germans? 3)Was the movie fair to the Allies?
German Warnings
Was it fair for the Germans to sink this ship? Well, for students to consider this question, they should consider the advertisement taken out in newspapers warning passengers and potential passengers about its dangers. With any important images, I always attempt to project it on a large screen and take a minute or two to brainstorm with students, aloud, and point out and discover details, WITH THEM.
Have students do Point of View and Point of View Analysis; Point of View and POINT of Analysis are two different things. This is a great image to have students express Point of View AND Point of View Analysis.  What is point of view? Expressing Point of view is simply when the student takes the time to express what opinion or viewpoint the image or document was advancing. Was there bias found in the document based on religious, social political or personal attitudes? Point of View Analysis is taking it a step further by adding one of two things: 1) the student should convey the opinion(s) of those people or groups who would AGREE or DISAGREE with this message found in the document or image. They should look for clues using the 5ws:  WHO, What, Where, When, WHY.  Who wrote it and who was its intended audience, when did he or she write it, what was going on at this time, where was written, why was it composed? Etc.  2) Assess the RELIABILITY of the facts within the document or image: was it in a personal diary? Was it in an official proclamation? Was it in a correspondence? Was it published in a newspaper? Was the motive propaganda for one group or another?

The Karl Goetz Medal
After the sinking of the ship, Munich metalworker Karl Gotz or Goetz (I’ve seen it spelled both ways) had cast about 100 medals that appeared to be a celebration of the sinking of the ship. This worried the German government because they did not want to anger the United States into entering the war on the Allied side. When later questioned by a German investigave committee, Goetz asserted that “. . . he was a satirist and that the medals he cast were . . . intended to be allegorical. He was not celebrating the sinking but condemning the cynicism of Cunard [the shipping company that owned Lusitania] in enticing innocent people on board an armed ship carrying contraband.” Excerpted from the book “Lusitania” by Diana Preston.
The British seized upon the medal as an opportunity to stoke anti-German feelings in Great Britain and the United States. The medal had two sides.
On one side showed an image of a sinking ship crammed with munitions spilling over its sides as it slips into the ocean. On the top it reads “No Contraband Goods” and on the bottom says “The liner Lusitania sunk by a German submarine 5 May 1915” Goetz at first mistakenly had the date incorrect by two days. The British pointed to this, later corrected by Goetz, as proof of German premeditation to the attack.
The second side shows a skeleton figure selling tickets to passengers. At the top of this side it says “Business Above All.” Looking closely you can see one man reading a newspaper that says “U Boat Danger.” The bearded figure wagging his finger in warning towards the passenger is a German diplomat reinforcing the idea that the Germans were trying to avoid needless bloodshed.      
British Propagandists and the Lusitania Sinking
The British sponsored creation of 200,000 plus copies of the medal to be sold worldwide for a shilling a piece. This exact copy came in its own memorial box with a document outlining the details to the history, origin, and purpose of the medal, from the BRITISH point of view. I have scanned in the box and document for you from my own collection.  
outside of the box from the British replica
From the inside lid of the British replica box

The document was inside the box for the British version of the Goetz medal

It is up to you, teacher, to decide how you wish your students to analyze these items. However, the Point of View and Point of View writing analysis exercises are excellent practices.
Some LUSITANIA inspired WW I imagery


  1. Did the British ever admit to the fact that the Lusitania was carrying war supplies? (Either during the war or later.)

    This is a great exercise with excellent images.