LEADING experts from across Europe will descend on Southampton today to debate what “sparked” the outbreak of the First World War 100 years ago.

The University of Southampton is playing host to some of the foremost experts on the origins of the war a century ago in what will be one of the most comprehensive discussions on the issue.

Mark Cornwall, Professor of Modern European History at Southampton, has organised the international conference Sarajevo 1914: Spark and Impact with the aim of coming up with “radical new perspectives”. The three-day debate, which brings together two dozen historians, will study how the murders of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife had a destabilising effect on the Habsburg Empire and Europe as a whole.

Professor Cornwall, himself Britain’s leading authority on Austria-Hungary during the First World War, said: “Our conference will contrast with most other British events marking the 1914 anniversary because it specifically examines the causes and results of the key event we all know about – the murders in Sarajevo in June 1914. This is a unique opportunity to hear historians discussing a subject which is crucial to understanding why the First World War erupted.

“Some aspects have been closely studied by historians over the past century but many are completely unresearched and we aim to open up radical new perspectives.”

The conference runs until Saturday.