HIST 2511A: 20th Century Germany
Winter 2022

Instructor: Professor Jennifer Evans

Course Description

What is the history of Germany? Is it the story of a country destined for dictatorship, authoritarian government, and criminality the scale of which the world had never seen? Was the writing on the wall, so to speak, in the 19th century, during the Enlightenment, or even earlier still? Is the history of Germany solely a history of military elites and washed-up painters? To trace its many histories, we will explore the multiple and overlapping histories of the people and events that influenced and shaped the making of modern Germany. We will do this by examining a wide range of themes through a mix of primary documents, literary, and historical texts. Instead of providing a simple chronological overview of historical events, this course employs multiple thematic focal points in order to analyze the impact of political events on historical change and everyday experience. Although the Nazis have dominated our understanding of Germans and their history especially in the 20th Century, this course will demonstrate that the path to destruction was more complicated that it may initially appear.


The course provides an historical overview of key aspects of German history by focusing on some of the most salient historiographical questions (i.e. how historians have understood and interpreted these events). It likewise seeks to develop student skills in analyzing these same issues through the moderated and careful study of a wide range of primary and secondary materials. Accordingly, emphasis will be placed on the critical analysis of historical issues in order to develop the student’s ability to come to grips with complex ideas and express them in a clear and convincing manner.

Through the course, students will:

  1. Gain an understanding of critical themes, events, and issues in the development of Germany, including the impact of urbanization, religious differences, ethnicity and nationhood, a martial ethos, anti-Semitism, leftist dissent, work and gender, urban life, modernity, and political division
  2. Examine political, social, cultural and economic challenges and changes
  3. Explore the development of national consciousness and conflicts over Germany’s intended course (liberal or conservative government, nationhood or kingdom, democratic or authoritarian?);
  4. Complicate assumptions about German identity, behaviour, consciousness, attitudes and public memory;
  5. Reassess and challenge a variety of historical perspectives on events and issues.

By the end of the course students should:

  1. Be able to critically evaluate the arguments and interpretations put forward by historians, weighing empirical evidence, and making judgments about the strength of various positions and arguments;
  2. Have gained an appreciation of the benefits of interdisciplinary approaches to historical questions including the importance of thinking about the linkages between social, cultural, and political history.
  3. Be able to use historical knowledge to establish a context for the present, and comprehend the accomplishments, failures, tensions, and issues facing Germany today;
  4. Have developed skills in critical thinking, writing, and communication.


This course consists of two one-hour lectures and a one-hour discussion group per week. Attendance will be taken in lecture and discussion. Student success is best attained by attending every lecture. Lectures won’t just feed information. They are best thought of as complementing the readings and drawing out themes. Typically, they are organized around key conceptual questions and problems. Students are encouraged (and most welcome!) to stop me and ask questions. At its best, a lecture is an interactive learning experience.

The final exam will test your knowledge of the entire year’s course material. More information will be provided in class.

Course Texts

I haven’t decided on the required readings for the coming year, but always aim for a mix of sources and articles which will be available online. I sometimes assign a novel or memoir. These may be purchased independently.

For any questions, please feel free to contact me: Jennifer_evans@carleton.ca