History 225: Europe, 1918-1945

Course Description

This is the first part of a two-semester survey of European history since 1914.  It encompasses the political, socioeconomic, cultural, and colonial history of Europe from the outbreak of the First World War to the fall of Hitler.  The second part of the course (History 226, Spring 2000) will cover the years from 1945 to the present; we will use the same textbook.


* Textbook: H. Stuart Hughes and James Wilkinson, Contemporary Europe: A History, ninth ed. (Prentice-Hall)

* Class Pack (available from Campus Copy in Rand Hall)

* Leslie Derfler, An Age of Conflict: Readings in Twentieth-Century European History (HBJ)

* Emilie Carles, A Life of Her Own (Penguin)

* Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (Norton)

* Trilogy of Films by Marcel Pagnol, “Marius,” “Fanny,” and “César”

[All these books are on 2-hour reserve at the Central Library.  The films may be viewed in the Audio-Visual Resource Center on the sixth floor of the Central Library.]


Each week’s assigned readings should be finished before the Monday lecture for that week.  In my lectures, I will assume knowledge of the basic facts set forth in the weekly readings.

Written assignments will consist of two essays (4 to 6 pages, double-spaced) on topics to be announced.  These assignments will be due at the beginning of class on Wed., October 13, and Wed., November 17.  Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day.

Students in this class are allowed to revise their written work if they would like to try to profit from the instructor’s comments and produce a more refined final product.  Please see the class pack for detailed guidelines.

I will hold an in-class midterm during the fifth week of the course, and a final exam covering the entire course.  There will be no alternate final exam.

I will calculate semester grades according to the following percentages:

– midterm, 15%

– essay #1 (Pagnol films and Carles book), 25%

– essay #2 (Overy book), 30%

– final exam, 30%.

* * *

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 me.


Students in this class are allowed the opportunity to try to improve the grade they got on one of their two papers, 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 5 points.  For example, a student who gets an 86 (B) on one of his or her papers can submit two film reviews, and potentially increase his or her credit for that paper to a 91 (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, November 17.  Details of this option, along with a list of acceptable films, are set forth in your class pack.


Week 1

* Wednesday, Aug. 25 — Introduction and Overview

Start reading Carles

* Fri. — World War I Does Not Exist: How do we think about history?

Week 2

* Mon., Aug. 30 — Europe at the Apex of its Power and Self-Confidence

Read text, chs. 1, 2

Continue Carles

Read Derfler, chs. 1, 2

* Wed. — Origins of World War I

* Fri. — The Nature of World War I (Slide Show)

Week 3

* Mon., Sept. 6 — Russian Revolution and its Significance

Read text, chs. 3, 4

Continue Carles

Read Derfler, ch. 3

* Wed. — The Peace of Paris, 1919

* Fri. — Postwar Crisis and Stabilization in Britain, France, and Germany

Week 4

* Mon., Sept. 13 — Postwar Crisis and Stabilization (Part 2)

Finish Carles

* Wed. — Soviet Russia: Civil War and NEP (Lecture plus film)

* Fri. — Italy: the Birth of Fascism (Lecture plus film)

Week 5

* Mon., Sept. 20 — Eastern Europe

Read text, chs. 5-6

* Wed. — Diplomacy in the 1920s

* Friday, September 24 —  Midterm

Week 6

* Mon., Sept. 27 –The Roaring Twenties

Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, Sept. 27 and 28: The Pagnol Trilogy: “Marius,” “Fanny,” “César”

* Wed. — Science and Social Thought: The Freud-Nietzsche-Darwin-Einstein “Barrier”

* Fri. — Modernism in the Visual Arts (Slide Show)

Week 7

* Mon., Oct. 4 — Fragmentation of Structures in Literature, Music, and Philosophy

Read text, ch. 7

Start reading Overy

* Wed. — Imperialism: conquering and ruling half the planet

* Fri. — Imperialism: complexities of European domination

Week 8

* Mon., Oct. 11 — Power and Nonviolence: Gandhi’s Challenge

Continue Overy

* Wed. — Italy: The Fascist System

*** Essay on Carles book and Pagnol films due, Wed., Oct. 13, at beginning of class

* Fri. — The Great Depression

Week 9

* Mon., Oct. 18 — Causes for the Rise of Nazism

Read text, chs. 8-9; continue Overy

* Wed. — Class Discussion: Pagnol and Carles

* Fri. — The Nazi Revolution

Week 10

* Mon., Oct. 25 — Film: “Triumph of the Will” (1934)

Read Derfler, ch. 5; continue Overy

* Wed. — The Popular Front in France; Class Discussion on “Triumph of the Will”

* Fri. — Crisis of the League of Nations

Week 11

* Mon., Nov. 1 — The Structure of the Soviet State (Lecture plus film)

Read text, chs. 11-12; Derfler, chs. 4, 6

Finish Overy

* Wed. — Stalinism: from the “Scissors Crisis” to the Purges

* Fri. — The Spanish Civil War

Week 12

* Mon., Nov. 8 — “The Center Cannot Hold:” slipping toward the abyss, 1936-1939

Read text, chs. 10, 13; read Derfler, chs. 7-8

* Wed. — Reflections on the Crisis of 1938-39

* Fri. — World War II: Fascism Triumphant (1939-1942)

Week 13

* Mon., Nov. 15 — World War II: Fascism Crushed (1942-1945)

* Wed. — How the war might have ended very differently

*** Essay on Overy book due, Wed., Nov. 17, at the beginning of class

* Fri. — Famous Statesmen and Anonymous Individuals in the War

Week 14

** Thanksgiving Holiday **

Week 15

* Mon., Nov. 29 — If D-Day was to have a remote chance of success: seven key preconditions

* Wed. — The Holocaust (Lecture plus film)

* Fri. — Class discussion: the war’s legacy

Week 16

* Mon., Dec. 6 — The Anti-Fascist Resistance, and Hope


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

Final Exam: Tuesday, December 14, 3-5 p.m., in regular classroom  (No Alternate Final)