Why did Woodrow Wilson want to change the international system?
Third edition. August 2008.

In 1917, President Wilson called for a “just and secure peace.” His vision for a new world order following World War I was far-reaching and radical at the time. Using readings, simulations, and primary sources, students explore the causes and effects of World War I both domestically and abroad, the Paris Peace Conference, and the debate in the U.S. Senate about whether to join the League of Nations and ratify the treaty. Students recreate this Senate debate in a role play that highlights contrasting visions for U.S. policy.


Background readings prepare students for the major activities of the unit, which involve role plays at the French Foreign Ministry in Paris in 1919, and at the U.S. Senate Chamber in the Capitol building. The readings examine World War I and domestic policies of the time, Wilson’s trip to Paris following the armistice, and the outcome of the League of Nations debate.


Songs of World War I

Through investigation of song lyrics of the Great War, students trace the changing nature of the war and public opinion.

Poetry of World War I

Reading the poetry of participants, students gain a sense of growing disillusionment with the war.

The Big Four

Recreating the Paris Peace Conference, students attempt to redraw the map of Europe, taking into consideration Wilson's Fourteen Points, competing national concerns, historical state boundaries, and ethnolinguistic patterns.

Madame Claire's Salon

Students take on the roles of less prominent figures from the time of the Paris Peace Conference who were not invited to negotiate the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. These figures meet to air their concerns.

Role-Playing the Three Options

Working cooperatively to advocate for one of the three options the Senate considered regarding the League of Nations, students draw upon primary sources to recreate this critical moment in history. A fourth group of undecided senators questions and evaluates the option groups.

Wilson's Legacy

Students examine excerpts of foreign policy speeches made by different U.S. presidents in order to assess the impact of "Wilsonian" thought on subsequent U.S. foreign policy.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support in teaching the teaching the curriculum.


Creel, George. How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information That Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1920). 466 pages.

Cooper, John Milton. Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). 433 pages.

Cooper, John Milton and Charles E. Neu, eds. The Wilson Era: Essays in Honor of Arthur S. Link. (Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1991). 356 pages.

Ferrell, Robert H. Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1921. (New York: Harper and Row, 1985). 346 pages.

Keene, Jennifer D. The United States and the First World War. (New York: Longman, 2000). 142 pages.

Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980). 369 pages.

Knock, Thomas. To End All Wars. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). 276 pages.

Lodge, Henry Cabot. The Senate and the League of Nations. (New York: Scribner, 1925). 424 pages.

MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. (New York: Random House, 2001). 494 pages.

McNamara, Robert S. and James G. Blight. Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century. (New York: Public Affairs, 2003). 276 pages.

Noble, George Bernard. Policies and Opinions at Paris, 1919: Wilsonian Diplomacy, The Versailles Peace, and French Public Opinion. (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1935). 465 pages.

Todd, Lewis Paul. Wartime Relations of the Federal Government and the Public Schools 1917-1918. (New York, Arno Press, 1971 [c.1945]). 240 pages.

A collection of songs, speeches, and skits from World War I
Website associated with its program on World War I
A collection of the League of Nations documents
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