Europe and its role in the world have changed dramatically over the last century. Once European empires dominated the greater part of the world. Today, Europe consists of a number of middle-sized and small states. At the same time, many of these states like the UK, France but also Germany still play a very prominent role on the global stage, individually but also as part of the European Union. Looking back, as a historian, there is much to investigate: Why did the European powers lose their empires? How did they come to terms with their loss of power? In which ways did Europe still very much take center stage in many of the global developments of the 20th century?
The course tries to give an answer to these questions by analyzing the history of Europe’s international involvement. We will start with the July Crisis 1914 and go on chronologically. Major parts concern the two World Wars, warfare that devastated the whole continent, with Germany always at the heart of the conflict. Then, we examine the process of decolonization, which the colonial powers resisted as long as they could, by sometimes peaceful, but more often violent means.
The Suez Crisis, eventually, came as a turning point. In times of the Cold War, it revealed to Great Britain and France that their precarious international position was irrevocable and forced them to adopt new strategies. Regional integration (or close bilateral cooperation) was one of them, a special transatlantic partnership another, and the acquisition of the atomic bomb a third. Last but not least, they both tried to retain considerable influence over their former colonies, in political as well as in economic matters.
All in all, this is an international history of the 20th Century from a strictly European, or to be more precise, a Western European point of view, as very strong emphasis will be laid on the three main European powers: Great Britain, France and Germany. In cursory overviews as well as in particular case studies it will be made clear that Europe’s role in the world was not always beneficial, far from it.
Political history will be at the center of this class. Yet, over the course of the 20th century, economic and legal aspects did become more and more important, not to mention the growing impact of various ideological worldviews and cultural perceptions. Consequently, all these issues have to be addressed simultaneously.
The organization of the class will be roughly similar from session to session. In the morning sessions, there will be brief oral presentations based on the reading material made available as well as PowerPoint-based lectures and discussions. In the afternoon sessions, work groups will be formed either to study different kinds of source material (mostly texts, but also tables, pictures and caricatures) using historical methods or to work with study questions. Field trips and guest speakers will complement the agenda.
Students from all academic levels and backgrounds are welcome.
There are no specific prerequisites for this course other than intellectual curiosity and the willingness to engage with a broad range of historical works and documents.
Active participation is expected, in class, in group work, and in discussions with guest speakers. To be prepared, careful reading of the texts in the course reader is imperative. Furthermore, students will have to give at least one oral presentation, complete one short essay (3-5 pages) and pass the final exam.
A course reader will be made available.