CUP Undergraduate Research


At the End of the World: An Exploration of World War I and the Poetry that Witnessed It

Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Access Thesis


College of Theology, Arts, & Sciences



Degree Name

History, BA

First Advisor

Dr. Joel Davis


The following work is an exploration of the First World War as a social, cultural, and existential turning point in history. The nature of this paradigm shift is examined in several ways. First, in the study of modernism as a cultural movement that emerged in the early Twentieth century prior to World War I. These shifts mark the beginning of a movement away from traditional thought and allowed for rapid change in perspective to occur as a result of the realities of the war. The second aspect delves into the unique nature of the First World War as a meeting place of old and new worlds to find evidence of a shift towards a modern perspective. The nature of total war created a distinct atmosphere of upheaval in all areas of society, both external and internal.

The third and fourth sections seek to explore the literature of this time period and the unique ability of literature to mirror the shifts that are occurring historically. This emerges organically in the poetry of the soldiers of the First World War; as they are engulfed in this explosive change. They have the unique opportunity of expressing this not as an objective study but as a projection of the fundamental nature of their reality. The meeting place of all these elements occurs in T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land. Eliot seeks, through both content and structure, to document the shift in paradigms that the war was a catalyst for, and that the war poets witnessed. In this way, Eliot creates one of the first truly “modern” poems.

This exploration of the relationship between history and literature defines history not as a list of isolated incidents, but as a web of human interaction. This means uniting not just modernism, World War I, and poetry, but also seeking the forms of our own reality as we look into both the past and the future.

Honors: Thesis with Distinction Award

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