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

Coming Up Fall 2019: 

  • Sept. 27-28: An event-filled two-day excursion to Sacramento  See details
  • Oct. 4:  tour of San Rafael Civic Center & Bonnie Portnoy presentation  See details

Summer 2019: Reading of Judith Offer's play, Scenes from the Life of Julia Morgan

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, September 17, 1 pm, at the home of Monica Clyde in Pleasanton.  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, October 13,  1:30 pm, at the home of Joanne Lafler in Oakland. Marilyn Geary will present.

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

Welcome to our newest members: Elise Ackerman, Kevin Knauss, Pam Peirce, and Anne Schnoebelen. Learn about them under Member Profiles.

Members' Recent Activities:

Taryn Edwards has an article in the latest Argonaut (Journal of the San Francisco Historical Society) on “Before the Midwinter Fair: The Mechanics’ Institute’s ‘Pacific Rim’ Industrial Exhibitions of 1869 and 1871."

In October Peter Stansky and his co-author Fred Leventhal are publishing with the Oxford University Press Leonard Woolf: Bloomsbury Socialist. In April, Peter published an “Afterword” to Elisabeth de Waal’s Milton Place (Persephone Books), a novel written shortly after the war but hitherto unpublished. “It came to light through a meeting I had with her grandson, Edmund de Waal, author of the highly regarded memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes.”

Christopher L. Webber has just published Christian Psalms for Worship and Prayer. “The
traditional psalms written between two and three thousand years ago are an irreplaceable treasure,” Christopher writes, “but they can create problems for modern users. They come from an age unimaginably different from ours and take for granted patterns of life unfamiliar to most of us. To supplement, not replace, these psalms, I have taken passages from the writings of some of the greatest Christian teachers of every era, for example, St. Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, and restructured them in the poetic style of the Biblical psalms which rhyme ideas, rather than sounds, to provide texts that can be used either in formal worship or in private meditation.”

In May, as part of the series of talks for the Supporters of the Museum of Russian Culture, Maria Sakovich presented “Russian Choral Music in San Francisco in the 1920s and 1930s: Cultural Riches and Cultural Sharing.” She was very pleased to have Rob Robbins in the audience. In the June 22 issue of Russian Life her talk from last year in the same series was published with photos: “Last Steps of a Long Journey – First Steps of a New Life” (part of a panel presentation about the USAT Merritt’s 1923 Russian refugee-emigrant passengers). Anatol Smelov kindly translated the article from English to Russian.

Ann Harlow wrote an article about the history of Berkeley’s City Hall for the Berkeley Historical Society newsletter and is working with a group on a self-guided history walking tour of Solano Avenue. She recently attended the Conference of California Historical Societies in Placerville, as did Peter Meyerhof.

Jody/Judith Offer writes that she is “enjoying readings and some sales of her new
‘soon-to-become-history’ chapbook, The Grating of America, about the disastrous consequences of our current administration and some of the people fighting it. Copies are available at several bookstores in Oakland and Berkeley and online. If you have any ideas for bookstores, clubs, or churches/synagogues that might schedule a reading, please contact me."

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.”

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

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P.O. Box 5743
Berkeley, CA 94705

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