HIST 4606A: Contemporary Europe: From Postwar to the European Union
“The History of Populism and Authoritarianism in Contemporary Europe”
Fall 2021 

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. Select books will be available at Octopus Books, 116 Third Avenue, in the Glebe.

Course Requirements     

This is a course that demands students read closely ahead of our sessions. Participation is vital to successful performance. Students will also facilitate the group discussions week to week. Writing assignments will consist of weekly reader responses and a series of Op/Eds with bonus points available to those who are successful in placing them in a newspaper or online publication. The final assignment is a more creative one, a current events blog with commentary or podcast.

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.

I am happy to answer any questions students may have: Jennifer_evans@carleton.ca