First World War
The M-A-I-N Causes

Questions to ask yourself:

How does government use its power?

Some other sub-questions we will cover:

How could war have been avoided, or what was the single most significant cause that resulted in WW1? How did political alliances and geographic and cultural factors influence the start and continuation of WW1? How do individuals experience war, and how do those efforts affect the outcomes of wars? Why were certain historical events “significant”?

What you will be able to do:

Indicate the MAIN causes of the First World War


"The First World War of 1914–1918 was the bloodiest conflict in Canadian history, taking the lives of more than 60,000 Canadians. It erased romantic notions of war, introducing slaughter on a massive scale, and instilled a fear of foreign military involvement that would last until the Second World War." (Source: First World War Timeline)

M-A-I-N Causes

"The M-A-I-N acronym is often used to analyse the war – militarism, alliances, imperialism and nationalism. It’s simplistic but provides a useful framework." (Source: 4 M-A-I-N Causes Of World War One)

Exploration Tasks: View overview video then paraphrase the MAIN causes of the First World War.

As a class, watch an overview video to introduce the concepts. Here are a few you can choose from:

In groups access a website/article from the list of “M-A-I-N causes - Articles and overviews” provided. Write simple summaries of the four main causes described in the videos and on those pages. Use an organizer with way to add other “causes” as they become apparent, or a google slide that can be copied like this one. Then as a group, write a summary statement in simple language to describe the meaning of each of the 4 MAIN causes. Discuss and do the same if you feel there should be another cause listed.


"Militarism is a belief or system where the military is exalted and its needs and considerations are given excessive importance or priority. Militarism was a powerful force in 19th and early 20th century Europe. While militarism alone did not start World War I, it fuelled a potent arms race and undermined the role of diplomacy as a means of resolving disputes."
(Source and more on the philosophy of Militarism: MILITARISM AS A CAUSE OF WORLD WAR I ➦

New Weaponry 📄

Guns like the Maxim Gun, the Lewis Machine Gun and the Vickers machine gun pictured at right, were relatively new inventions that proved to be among the "Deadliest Weapons Of The First World War". However, “the pre-1914 armaments race was a product of broader technological forces at work in Europe since the mid-1800s, and this wave of new technologies and the weapons it spawned were themselves products of a war-oriented culture embedded much more deeply in European history.” (Source)

Source: via Wikimedia under Public Domain. Originally from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Rivals in Europe over strength of armies and navies 📄

"As the world entered the 20th century, an arms race had begun. By 1914, Germany had the greatest increase in military buildup. Great Britain and Germany both greatly increased their navies in this time period. Further, in Germany and Russia particularly, the military establishment began to have a greater influence on public policy. This increase in militarism helped push the countries involved into war." (Source: WORLD WAR I RESOURCES )

Source: Belligerents and Participants in World War One: The German Empire pt1

Army sizes of the combatant nations in 1914. 📄

“Of all the initial belligerent nations, only Great Britain had a volunteer army, and this was quite small at the start of the war. The other nations had much larger conscript armies that required three to four years of service from able-bodied males of military age, to be followed by several years in reserve formations. Military strength on land was counted in terms of divisions composed of 12,000–20,000 officers and men. Two or more divisions made up an army corps, and two or more corps made up an army. An army could thus comprise anywhere from 50,000 to 250,000 men.”
(Source: World War I - Forces and resources of the combatant nations in 1914)

Source: Public Domain

Navy Buildup 📄
German Navy vs British Navy: The Public Wanted “battleships” !
"In addition to the arms race, there was also a competitive naval race between Britain and Germany in the years leading up to World War I. Britain had the largest navy in the world at the time, which it needed to maintain its vast colonial empire. Germany viewed the British navy as a threat and sought to develop its own navy to match the powerful British navy. Mostly Germany needed a strong navy to challenge British ships in the North Sea. The North Sea was Germany's only coastal access but was difficult for Germany since the North Sea was connected to Britain and the British navy dominated the area. Also related to the naval race was the development of the dreadnought. Britain developed and launched the dreadnought in 1906 which was the first battleship to be developed in the 20th century. The British dreadnought was notable for having larger caliber guns and for being faster on open water than any other earlier battleships. In response, Germany developed its own version of the dreadnought and worked to challenge the power of the British. By the outbreak of war in 1914, Britain had 29 dreadnoughts and Germany had 17"

Source: Public Domain A fleet of German U-boats ca. 1910

Wikimedia Commons/Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-61-20 / CC-BY-SA

Click for Photo location in Cartograf map

Investigation and Creation Tasks Describe and Situate on a Map Important Alliances & Key Events

Examine documents and online sources, to establish facts and events related to the formation of alliances leading up to World War One. Then on a blank map (use Cartograf or Google My Maps) outline, describe and situate the Alliances that led up to WW1. Also, when appropriate, map and describe key events and people to locations, explaining their significance. For example, students can indicate and describe two or three key Alliances that formed before world war one:

  • Use Zones (polygon shapes and lines) to trace countries and/or alliances. In Cartograf there is then a place within each of these items to write descriptions and even to attach images.e

  • Using Points of Interest to locate, then include descriptions and even appropriate images: Students could identify 5 to 10 key locations, what “significant” event occurred there, and/or who was involved. For each location, students could also explain why they chose to locate their point in that exact spot.

Under Construction

Teachers note that additional tasks and our curation of online documents is being built at