Instructor: Professor Jennifer Evans

This course is inspired by current events, including the rise of alt-right, populist, and authoritarian parties and governments across the globe. Its aim is to use the tools of historical analysis to deepen our understanding of where and how these movements arose, how populism has appealed to voters in different places and contexts, and, crucially, how leaders have harnessed popular sentiments to their own end.

As much as our goal is to develop critical thinking skills to apply to contemporary events, our focus is squarely on a series of historical case studies from across the 20th century. Our job is not to flatten out the past in order to see moments of similarity with the present. Rather, the aim is to decipher the different ways in which authoritarianism has manifested over time. We will think about how popular support has been drawn upon, seized as well as given up, and interrogate the forms of opposition made possible under different historical conditions. In other words, the course will contextualize decision making and outcomes by evaluating different arguments and claims, making matters more complicated at first so as to appreciate more fulsomely the state of play in different historical settings.

Course Readings

The course readings will be available for access on ARES via CU_Learn. Select books will be available at Octopus Books, 116 Third Avenue, in the Glebe. 

We will also draw on readings assembled in the New Fascism Syllabus ( The NFS is a compendium of articles, news reports, and Op/Eds written by historians, sociologists, and political scientists responding to the contemporary moment through an historical lens. It, like our course, explores historical antecedents in order to gain insight from the lessons of history. This is the guiding theme of our course.

It is imperative that students complete the reading before coming to class. The participation grade rests on it.

Course Requirements     

  • attendance – 10%
  • in-class participation/ reading responses – 30%
  • Op/Ed #1 – 15%
  • Op/Ed #2 – 15%
  • Research blog assignment – 30%


Our class is a seminar and will consist of a mix of workshops and discussion. We will discuss pre-circulated readings, view and discuss short films, and workshop our writing collaboratively. There will also do a series of activities, some with digital humanities tools, that will prepare students to design, research and write the blog assignment. There may be several guests to our class as well.

Through the course, students will:

  1. Gain an understanding of critical themes, events, and issues in the development of modern notions of authoritarianism, fascism, and populism.
  2. Examine political, social, cultural and economic challenges and changes.
  3. Explore the development and application of historical arguments.
  4. Complicate assumptions about current events.
  5. Reassess and challenge a variety of historical perspectives on events and issues.