The purpose of this paper is to provide a stimulating introduction to European and World History in the period of the two World Wars. The paper is taught through tutorials and a core course of lectures (as well as several related lecture series). The history of the world between 1914 and 1945 is a field rich in political and historiographical debates and in recent years this paper has been one of the most popular General History option in the Final Honours School.
The paper covers a wide canvas of events, ranging from the military struggles of the two world wars (and their manifold consequences) to the intense political conflicts which resulted in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the Fascist and Nazi seizures of power in Italy and Germany and the Spanish Civil War of 1936. International history, and in particular, the emergence of Europe from the cataclysm of the First World War and its return to mass warfare at the end of the 1930s, is a prominent theme. The scope of the paper is, however, much wider than a catalogue of military and political violence. Students are encouraged to contrast the rise of political extremism in some areas of Europe with the survival (and adaptation) of democracy in other European states. Moreover, through providing the opportunity for students to study the wide variety of ‘fascist’ and other authoritarian regimes that emerged during the inter-war years, the paper encourages a more critical understanding of the complex dynamics of European politics in these years. Nor is the focus of the paper exclusively political in nature. The rapidly evolving social structure of Europe and changes in relations between generations and the sexes are a major theme, as is the impact of modernism on the arts and new forms of masscommunication such as the cinema and radio. Non-European topics also form a well-established element of the paper. In addition to the development of mass politics in the United States and Latin America, there are the often tumultuous developments in China, Japan and the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. The resilience of the European colonial empires in South and South-East Asia as well as Africa is analysed along with the wider transformations in global power brought about by the changing world economy and the events of the world wars.
The paper is divided into five sections, each composed of approximately six questions:
(1) War and International Relations
This section comprises the two world wars, inter-war diplomacy, international economics, etc.
(2) Democracy and its Discontents
This section analyzes parliamentary regimes (including those of Weimar Germany, Third Republic France, Republican Spain and the USA), and the problems they encountered (and in some cases overcame) during the inter-war years. It also looks at the revolutions of the left, including that in Russia in 1917.
(3) Authoritarian and Totalitarian Regimes
This section includes Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Soviet (post-1917) Russia, but also the wide range of other authoritarian regimes of these years such as those in Austria, Spain and Turkey. The focus is largely European but allows scope for extra-European comparisons as appropriate.
(4) Social and Cultural Modernization
This includes a wide range of social and cultural themes such as gender, cinema, class experiences, generational conflicts and modernist art.
(5) A Changing World Order
This section looks at the resilience of colonial forms of order, but also the emergence of new states (notably Japan and China) and the nationalist movements (such as those in India and sub-Saharan Africa) of the inter-war period.
In addition, within each of these five sections there is a mixture of country-specific and comparative or general questions. Thus, for example, in section three of the paper, there are some questions that will be concerned with a particular authoritarian regime (such as Nazi Germany) and others that invite students to make comparisons between different regimes. The comparative or general questions (which will constitute roughly one third of the questions) are marked by an asterisk.
The rubric of the examination paper reflects this structure by requiring candidates to answer questions from at least two sections. In addition, at least one of the questions they answer must be an asterisked question. It should be stressed that this rubric is not intended to restrict student choice. Students, for example, remain free to choose their three essays from three different sections of the paper. But the lecture course, and the tutorial teaching, is designed to ensure that each student who wishes to do so is able to concentrate their studies on the two sections of the paper which interest them most. In this way, the paper encourages students to engage with the comparative and conceptual issues which form a strong element of the historiography of this exciting period of European and World history.