Public Program: World War I Films

All QuietA series of major films about World War I begins in January and continues into May. Showings will be on Sunday afternoons, at the San Francisco Main Library on the dates indicated below. Each film will be introduced by an Institute member, and there will be time for discussion afterwards. The series is co-sponsored by The Institute and by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Mark these dates in your calendars!

January 4, 2015 1:00 p.m.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930; 130 minutes)

Based on the novel of the same name by German author Erich Maria Remarque, “All Quiet on the Western Front” depicts the experiences of a young German recruit whose initial patriotism is severely tested by the harsh realities of trench warfare. Enormously popular in the United States, the film won Best Picture and several other awards in the 1930 Academy Awards. It was never as popular in Europe and would be banned in Nazi Germany.

February 22 1:00 p.m.
“La Grande Illusion” (1937; 117 minutes; subtitles)

Directed by Jean Renoir (son of the artist), “La Grande Illusion” is considered to be one of the great films of all time. It takes us away from trench warfare to a prisoner-of-war camp. Three French prisoners, all officers, are plotting an escape from a German prison camp. One is an aristocrat; the others are a working class Parisian and a wealthy Jew. The German director of the prison camp and the aristocratic French officer find they have much in common including family and friends, as well as a gentlemanly code of conduct.

March 8 1:00 p.m.
“Paths of Glory” (1957; 86 minutes)

The novel on which this film was based was inspired by true events in 1915, when French soldiers who refused to participate in a suicidal charge from the trenches were tried for cowardice. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, “Paths of Glory” shows the indifference of commanding officers to the lives of enlisted men—a common theme in writings and films about World War I. Made at the height of our Cold War, the film was a strong anti-war statement. A critic notes that it has “lost none of its power in the years since it was made.”

April 19 12:30 p.m.
“Lawrence of Arabia” (1962; 216 minutes)

Set in the Middle East during World War I, “Lawrence of Arabia” is regarded as a great modern epic. The combat depicted is glamorous: instead of tanks, there are camels; instead of trenches, there are vast expanses of sand. The enigmatic character of T. E. Lawrence is at the center of a story of competing political interests. Arabic nationalists are in revolt against what remains of the Ottoman Empire (an ally of Germany and Austria). Western allies (Britain, France) seek to protect and control the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. After they defeat the Ottomans, they also plan to control what is now Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq. Lawrence’s sympathies are with the Arabs, but he is also testing himself, physically and psychologically. The outstanding cast includes Peter O’Toole (as Lawrence), Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, and Omar Sharif.

May 17 1 p.m.
“Regeneration” (1997; 114 minutes)

Released in the U.S. as “Behind the Lines”, this film is based on Pat Barker’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of British officers of World War I sent to an asylum in Scotland for emotional troubles, then called “shell shock”, now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Two of the men meeting there are Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, two of England’s most important WW I poets. The themes addressed are the meaning of masculinity, of the responsibility of officers to the men they lead into battle, and how mental disorders should be treated. In this film, as in many others, class differences play an important role.

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California and the West Events

Summer 2019: Reading of Judith Offer's play, Scenes from the Life of Julia Morgan
Saturday, July 27, 10:30 a.m.
Berkeley History Center
Veterans Memorial Building, 1931 Center St., Berkeley (1-1/2 blocks from Downtown Berkeley BART)

Fall 2018: Public Program, "South Asians in the South Bay: The Privileged Immigrants"

Spring 2018: Excursion to Niles area of Fremont with historic train ride and silent film museum

Spring 2018: The California and the West study group initiated the two public programs on "The Future of the Past in the Digital Age" and Benjamin Madley's talk on An American GenocideThe United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873.

Fall 2017: Martinez Adobe Fandango; Public Program: “Siberia and California: Connections During the Russian Revolution and Civil War”

Fall 2016: Amador County

Summer 2016: San Francisco Presidio

Winter 2016: Berkeley History Center

Spring 2015: Sonoma Plaza

Winter 2015: San Francisco Public Library

Summer 2014:  Red Oak Victory and World War II Homefront National Historic Park, Richmond

Spring 2014:  Los Gatos History Museum, "American Bohemia: The Cats Estate in Los Gatos”

Winter 2014:  Tour of California Historical Society exhibition on Juana Briones, January 25

Summer 2013:  Green Gulch Farm Zen Center visit, August 15

Spring 2013: Visits to Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the McCune Collection at the Vallejo Public Library, April 13

Play Readers Upcoming Meeting

Tuesday, August 20, 1 pm:  We will finish The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett.

The group welcomes new members.  If you wish to be placed on our email list and receive announcements, contact Joanne Lafler.

Writers Group Upcoming Meetings

Sunday, August 11,  1:30 pm, at the home of Jim Gasperini in Kensington. Dan Kohanski will present a chapter from his work, a secular review of the history of religion.

Public Programs

Public programs have included panel discussions, individual presentations, and film series. Programs are co-sponsored with other institutions, including public libraries, universities, museums, and archives. Read More...

Next World History Meeting:

Please contact Lyn Reese for information.  

About Us

The Institute for Historical Study is a community of researchers, writers, and artists. Our common bond is a devotion to history in its many forms. Through wide-ranging programs, we share research, ideas, and practical advice and provide a public forum for the discussion of history. 


We Promote:

  •  the study and discussion of history outside the traditional classroom setting
  •  research, writing, performances, exhibitions, and other expressions of historical study
  •  non-traditional and interdisciplinary areas of study as well as traditional approaches to history



Member News

Congratulations to Our 2018 Mini-Grant Recipients:

Jim Gasperini, for editing and other expenses in preparation of a book manuscript with the working title Fire in the Mind: How We Imagined the Non-Living Relative that Gave Us Control of the World.
Richard Hurley, to revise and reprint panels of a traveling exhibit, California in the Civil War.
Joe Miller, for research, editing and illustrations for an article, “Wild Women Suffragists and the Sex Scandals that Almost Sank the Movement.”

New Members, Fall 2018:

Dana Bernstein has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin and has taught in several lecturer/adjunct positions at the University of San Francisco, San Francisco State, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount University among others. Her research topic has been the criminal code in Colonial India. A new career in public history is her aim.

Susan Nuernberg, retired professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, is a Jack London scholar and editor of three books and author of several articles on the California writer. She is currently working on a scholarly biography of Charmian Kittredge London, Jack London’s second wife and curator of his legend.

Amy Elizabeth Robinson’s Ph.D. is from Stanford University in the history of modern Britain and the British Empire. She is currently teaching a course at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Sonoma State and will be teaching another in the history department at Stanford: “Borders and Migration in the British Empire.” Amy is also revising her dissertation, “British Colonial Migration, Repatriation, and Relief, 1880-1910,” for a book.

Other Member News:

One of Gretta Mitchell’s photographs was included in the latest exhibition at Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco, “Women of the West.” “As you may know,” she writes, “I am focusing on my fine art work now and am producing small “legacy” books of various bodies of work from many years. The first one was Iconographies in 2015 and the second was Island Dreams in 2017. I’m working on gathering images for the next few books!”

Peter Meyerhof gave a presentation to the Sonoma/Petaluma State Historic Parks Association on September 20 entitled “General Vallejo’s Printing Press and Its Significance in California History.” This press, better known as the Zamorano Press, was brought from Monterey to Sonoma in 1837 and used to publish a variety of items including California’s first medically-related imprint. Peter provided evidence that the actual printer in both Monterey and Sonoma was not Zamorano but Jose de la Rosa.

After a 20-year research and writing journey, member Bonnie Portnoy has completed her manuscript, “The Man Beneath the Paint,” an art book and biography of California Impressionist Tilden Daken (1876-1935), “the grandfather I never knew.” She is now compiling a book proposal for submission to agents and publishers, a daunting but necessary requirement for non-fiction writers in today’s challenging publishing environment (unless you happen to be Hillary Clinton, Bob Woodward, or the likes). In 2019 Bonnie will be presenting an illustrated talk on her “talented, prolific, and adventurous artist” to Institute members (date pending). And for members looking to market their books or works-in-progress on social media, Bonnie has received tremendous response to her posts (images and stories) on targeted Facebook groups containing 20,000 or more members, such as “California History.” In the meantime, learn about the artist at

Jeanne Farr McDonnell reports that on October 18th, the Los Altos History Museum opens its exhibit “Inspired by Juana: La Doña de la Frontera,” based on her book, Juana Briones of 19th Century California. It will be the first bilingual exhibition offered by the Museum, and the first incorporating student projects. The exhibit runs through March 31, 2019.


Members:  Please submit news of your history-related publications, lectures, awards, research finds, etc. to

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