European Studies 201: Twentieth-Century Europe: Society and Culture

Course Description

This is a team-taught, interdisciplinary survey of European society and culture from the beginning of the twentieth century through the early twenty-first century.  It encompasses the political, socio-economic, colonial, artistic, cultural, and military aspects of Europe’s development, covering the advent of modernism at the turn of the century, the first world war, the rise of fascism and communism and the crises of the interwar years, World War II and the Holocaust, the Cold War, the artistic and cultural currents of the postwar era, the struggles for decolonization, the revolutions of 1989 and the fall of communism, and the emerging features of the post-Cold War world.

The course is required of all students with a major or minor in European Studies, German and European Studies, French and European Studies, or Russian and European Studies.  It is open to other students on an elective basis.

Professors Lecturing in this Course

Michael Bess (History); Sara Eigen (German); James Epstein (History); Leonard Folgarait (Art and Art History); Jay Geller (Religious Studies); M. Donald Hancock (Political Science); Kalliopi Nikolopoulou (Comparative Literature); Matthew Ramsey (History); Michael Rose (Blair); Matthias Schulz (History); Helmut Smith (History); Francis Wcislo (History); Meike Werner (German); David Wood (Philosophy).


* Textbook: H. Stuart Hughes and James Wilkinson, Contemporary Europe: A History (9th ed.)

* Pierre-Jakez Hélias, The Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village

* Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (Volumes 1 and 2)

* Stephen Kotkin, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000

[All these readings are on 2-hour reserve at the Central Library.]

Discussion sessions

One class session, approximately every other week, will be devoted to class discussions.  The class discussions offer students an opportunity to reflect with each other and with Professor Bess on some of the major issues raised in the lectures and readings.   Students should have completed each week’s regular textbook reading well before the discussion session meets.

Examinations, Assignments, Grading, Honor Code

Each week’s assigned readings must be finished before the Monday lecture for that week.  In their lectures, the professors will assume knowledge of the basic facts and issues set forth in the weekly readings.

Written assignments will consist of two book-review essays (4-5 pages, double-spaced) on either Hélias, Spiegelman (both volumes), or Kotkin, due on the dates specified on the course schedule.  Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day.

We will hold an in-class map quiz in Week 3, an in-class midterm in Week 6, and a final exam covering the entire course.  Among the requirements of the final exam, students will be asked to write one essay focusing on the book on which they did not write Essays #1 and #2 during the semester.  Thus, for example, a student who wrote Essay #1 on Hélias and Essay #2 on Kotkin must write a final exam essay on Spiegelman.

There will be no alternate final exam.

Semester grades will be determined according to the following percentages:

map quiz: 3%

midterm: 20%

Essay #1: 20%

Essay #2: 20%

final exam: 30%

class participation: 7%

All assignments and examinations for this course will be governed by Vanderbilt’s honor code.  Please read carefully the description of the honor code in the student handbook and the section on plagiarism in the class pack for this course.  If you have any questions about this very important matter, please come and discuss them with us.

Grade Enhancement Option

Students in this class are allowed the opportunity to try to improve the grade they got on either their essay #1 or the midterm (but not both), by submitting two reviews of films selected from a list compiled by Prof. Bess.  The maximum amount which these two reviews can improve your grade will be 7 points.  For example, a student who gets an 83 (B-) on the midterm can submit two film reviews, and potentially increase his or her credit for that exam to a 90 (A-).  The reviews must be typed, double-spaced, and must be no less than two pages long each; they are graded according to the same criteria as your regular papers.  Two reviews must be submitted (one is not enough).  The deadline for handing in these reviews will be the beginning of class on Wednesday, December 3.  Details of this option, along with a list of acceptable films, are set forth in your class pack.

* * *

Course Schedule

This course is divided into seven thematic modules:

  • European Culture at the Turn of the Century
  • World War I and its Aftermath
  • The Interwar Years
  • World War II and its Aftermath
  • The Cold War Era
  • European Culture Since 1945
  • Europe After the Cold War

Week 1

* Wednesday, Aug. 27 — Introduction and overview (Bess)

Read textbook, ch. 1 ; start reading Hélias

Module 1: European Culture at the Turn of the Century

* Fri. — Europe at the apex of its power (Bess)

Week 2

* Mon., Sept. 1 — Social thought: the “Freud-Nietzsche-Darwin-Einstein Barrier” (Bess)

Read text, chs. 2 and 7; continue Hélias

Prepare for map quiz

* Wed. — Modernism in the visual arts (Folgarait)

* Fri. — Fragmentation of structures in literature and philosophy (Bess)

Week 3

* Mon., Sept. 8 — Modernism in music (Rose)

Read text, chs. 3, 4, and 5; Hélias

Prepare for map quiz

* Wed. — The significance of Freud (Geller)

* Fri. — Map Quiz; in-class exercise and discussion

Module 2: World War I and its Aftermath

Week 4

* Mon., Sept. 15 — World War I (Bess)

Read text, chs. 6, 8, and 9; continue Hélias

* Wed. — Slide show on WWI (Bess)

* Fri. — The Russian Revolution (Wcislo)

Week 5

* Mon., Sept. 22 — The Limitations of the Peace of Paris, 1919 (Bess)

Read text, chs. 10 and 11; finish Hélias

* Wed. — In-class exercise and discussion

Module 3: The Interwar Years

* Fri. — Causes for the rise of Nazism (Smith)

Week 6

* Mon., Sept. 29 — Stalinist Russia (Wcislo)

Read text, ch. 12; start reading Spiegelman (vols. 1 and 2)

* Wed. — Midterm

* Fri., Oct. 3 — The Nazi System (Schulz)

Week 7

* Mon., Oct. 6 — Film: Triumph of the Will

Read text, ch. 13; continue Spiegelman (vols. 1 and 2)

* Wed. — Cinema and politics in Germany (Eigen)

* Fri. — In-class exercise and discussion

Module 4: World War II and its Aftermath

Week 8

* Mon., Oct. 13 — Racial Geopolitics on a 1000-Year Time Scale: What Did Hitler Want? (Bess)

Read text, ch. 14; finish Spiegelman (vols. 1 and 2)

* Wed. — Vichy France (Ramsey)

Essay #1 due at beginning of class on Wednesday, Oct. 15

* Fri. — The Holocaust (Smith)

Week 9

(Monday-Tuesday: Fall break)

* Wed, Oct. 22  —The global transformation wrought by WWII (Bess)

Read text, chs. 15, 16, and 17; start reading Kotkin

* Fri. — In-class exercise and discussion

Module 5: The Cold War Era

Week 10

* Mon., Oct. 27 — Understanding the Cold War (Bess)

Read text, ch. 19; continue Kotkin

* Wed. — European economic integration (Schulz)

* Fri. — Imperialism and decolonization (Bess)

Week 11

* Mon., Nov. 3 — 1968 (Ramsey)

Read text, chs. 18 and 20; continue Kotkin

* Wed. — In-class exercise and discussion

Module 6: European Culture Since 1945

* Fri. — Modern European poetry (Nikolopoulou)

Week 12

* Mon., Nov. 10 — The impact of ecological ideas (Bess)

Read text, ch. 21; finish Kotkin

* Wed. — British society of the 1950s, seen through the medium of film (Epstein)

* Fri. — European philosophy since Heidegger (Wood)

Week 13

* Mon., Nov. 17 — German women writers (Werner)

Read text, ch. 22

Essay #2 due Monday, Nov. 17, at beginning of class

* Wed. — Post-modernism in the visual arts (Bess)

* Fri. — In-class exercise and discussion

Week 14

** Thanksgiving Holiday **

Module 7: Europe After the Cold War

Week 15

* Mon., Dec. 1 — The Soviet collapse (Bess)

Read text, ch. 23

* Wed. — The Revolutions of 1989 (Bess)

*                                  Last day to hand in Grade Enhancement Option film reviews: Wed., Dec. 3

* Fri. — The Scandinavian social model (Hancock)

Week 16

* Mon., Dec. 8 — The Yugoslavian catastrophe (Bess)

* Wed. — Conclusion: Overview of a century


Review Session for Final Exam: time and room to be announced

Final Exam: Friday, December 19, 3-5 p.m., in regular classroom

There will be no alternate final exam.