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.

Member News

Welcome to our newest members, Gail Greene and Ernest Hook.

Steven Levi is working on his 8th book of creating thinking.  Using history as his guide, his work Off the Wall Thinking illustrates how off-the-wall ideas which were greeted with jeers when introduced have sometimes changed the world. Some of the ideas include toilet paper, braille, “creative equivocation” and other concepts.  This will be Levi’s 82nd book.  His next mystery novel, The Matter of the Dematerializing Armored Car, will be out in time for  Christmas.

Dot Brovarney is publishing a book this fall called The Sweet Life: Cherry Stories from Butler Ranch. Besides editing the collection of stories and photographs, she has provided historical context to the book about a cherry ranch in the hills west of Ukiah. At the center of The Sweet Life stand longtime owners George and Ella Butler, who through their u-pick orchard and a generosity of spirit created a unique sense of community in Mendocino County for over sixty years.

With mention of a body of work including her newest book, Framed by Sea & Sky: Community Art in Seward, Mural Capital of Alaska, and noting that she “meticulously collects, records, and shares the stories of the people, history and culture of Seward through her research, presentations, and publications,” Jackie Pels (Hardscratch Press) has received the 2017 Historic Preservation Award in her hometown of Seward, Alaska. She says she is most pleased by that word “meticulously.”

Ann Harlow has been elected president of the Berkeley Historical Society and continues to serve as editor of its quarterly newsletter (as well as copy editor of our newsletter, the newsletters of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, and the magazine American Art Review).

Monika Trobits will be teaching her third course for San Francisco State’s OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), beginning in late August. “‘San Francisco Urban Journeys’ will consist of 5 walking tours exploring the Embarcadero, the Haight, Civic Center, and Russian Hill. These journeys will begin at 10 a.m. the week of August 21, on either Monday or Wednesday (the course schedule is still being worked out). For more information and to register: (415) 817-4243 or” “Meanwhile,” she writes, “I continue to fine tune my second book for publication in late 2017 or early 2018. This one will trace the story of a commodity in the San Francisco Bay Area from the gold rush era to the present day.”

On June 24, the City of Sonoma unveiled a fullscale bronze statue of city-founder General Mariano Vallejo portrayed sitting on a bench in the central Plaza. Peter Meyerhof was one of the seven-member committee of citizens which planned all aspects of this monument, hired the skilled artist Jim Callahan to fabricate it, and raised the necessary funds entirely from private donations. This interactive creation was given to the city at a dedication ceremony attended by approximately 300 people. Because of General Vallejo’s historically invaluable memoirs, Peter made sure that he was depicted holding a book entitled Recuerdos.

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

California and the West Events


Dates not set: Book discussion on Benjamin Madley's An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe; public panel on new methods of history study; excursion to Niles Canyon (Fremont); visit to Marin County Civic Center and its history room with a talk by Bonnie Portnoy on artist Tilden Daken.


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

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


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We welcome all men and women who have a commitment to historical study, which may be demonstrated in one or more of the following ways...


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. 


Play Readers Upcoming Meeting

Tuesday, February 20, 1 p.m., home of Ross and Phyllis Maxwell, San Francisco

We will continue reading and discussing Longitude, by Arnold Wesker. Based on the book of the same name by Dava Sobel, the play dramatizes the fascinating story of John Harrison, a carpenter and clock maker from Lincolnshire who, in 1730, competed for a prize for the creation of a marine chronometer that would make it possible for ships at sea to calculate longitude — a challenge that had baffled European navigators since the beginning of long-distance sailing. The group welcomes new members.  If you wish to be placed on our email list and receive announcements, contact Joanne Lafler.

Public Programs

Public programs usually occur once or twice a year and have included panel discussions, individual presentations, and film series. Programs are co-sponsored with other institutions, including public libraries, universities, museums, and archives.


Writers Group Upcoming Meetings

Sunday, January 14, 1:30 p.m., home of Joanne Lafler
Discussion topic: “writing about social issues in an environment of high political interest.”

Next Medieval Studies Meeting:
Monday, January 29, 2018, home of Ellen Huppert Nancy Zinn presenting. Please contact Lyn Reese if interested in joining this group.