So listen class, before World War I started, Europe was like a powder keg. You need to understand that there were many reasons for the start of World War I, many reasons that the people in the Balkans weren’t getting along, so it really helps to picture a powder keg.

Cameron, you with me? Are you picturing the powder keg? Think back to the last time you went out to sea and needed to bring a large amount of gunpowder in case you were threatened to be torn asunder by enemies of the queen. Picture that powder keg. Describe it to me. Good.

So that powder keg was like Russia and Austro-Hungary and Germany, all with different motivations. Okay, I can see in your eyes that I’m already starting to lose you again, so let’s go back to imagining that powder keg, which really does help.

Susan, I can see what you’re thinking: “The idea of conflict is so detached from my everyday life. I’ll never understand?” But really think about that powder, inside the keg. Think back to the last time you mixed together a large quantity of sulfur and charcoal, and potassium nitrate, and how you had to move it carefully to avoid deflagration.

Yes! I see you’re getting it! Really picture that deflagration!

But to really understand World War I, you can’t just picture the powder, Susan, though it will get you halfway there. The real key to unlocking true understanding of the Allies and the Central powers is that keg.

Jerry, I can see you nodding, because like all of us, you use kegs for storing nails, liquids, and of course, powder, right? Well, imagine if you walked up to one of the many kegs you have sitting around your house, and you opened it up, but instead of seeing a pile of small construction spikes, you saw a European power imbalance, all contained inside that keg.

I see gears turning, Jerry!

What a mental image, that powder keg! What do I always say? History can be fun for everyone. History isn’t always about dates and names or countries and conflicts. Sometimes, it’s about really seeing, with your mind’s eye, a keg full of powder.

You know, when the bell rings, and you guys all go home, some days, I just sit here, and instead of also going home to my wife and kid, I just close my eyes and live in that powder keg a bit. I imagine that I’m in the powder keg, and the powder keg is floating down a river. The water sloshes against the wood of my keg and the sun ever-so-slightly warms my powder. In the distance, I hear barking.

And I look back from my floating powder keg, and on the shore, I see my dog companion, Otis. What is it boy? What are you trying to tell me? That’s when I turn my head and see that this tranquil brook feeds straight into a raging rapid. I must act fast!

Above my powder keg, a few yards ahead, the trunk of a downed oak tree creates a precarious platform. If I can reach that branch in time, and the branch holds the weight of my powder keg, I may live another day still. If it doesn’t, well, it’s best not to picture what will happen to my powder keg if it doesn’t. Here goes nothing! I stretch out my arm, but it’s inches away from my fingertips. Just a little further. Otis! He’s used his paw to push the branch into my grip. He’s saved me and my powder keg!

So you see class? That is what World War I was all about. No need to take that exam. Class is dismissed.