Instructor: Dr. Erica Fraser

1914 German satirical map of Europe

Satyrische Europa Karte Weltkrieg 1914, E. Zimmermann (Zoom view available at the Yale University Library site <> )

The 20th century has been called the “century of catastrophe,” because of the almost unimaginable devastation of the two world wars and the development (and use) of nuclear weapons for the first time in history. In Europe, it was also a century of paradoxes: the rise of dangerous nationalisms in the first half of the century… but also the previously unthinkable cooperation of the European Union in the second half. Astonishing technological developments in medicine, progress in life expectancy, and opportunities for education and social mobility… but also war, genocide, and the purposeful destruction of human life on a massive scale. Inventions in radio, television, computing, and mass communication… but also some of the most secretive and disinformation-prone regimes in history.

How should we make sense of these paradoxes? What is the “story” of 20th century Europe? How does it all fit together? (Or, do we need to make it fit together?) Europe today is at a crossroads – the perfect time for us to look back at the 20th century to discuss the history of some of Europe’s most pressing contemporary questions, including Brexit and continuing issues of nationalism; migration and ideas about who does or does not “belong” in Europe; concerns about a resurgence of fascism on the continent; and the ways in which communism and anti-communism influenced divisions between “East” and “West” that persist today.

This course will examine European history from about 1900 to 2000, focusing in particular on Britain, France, Germany, Russia/Soviet Union, Poland, Italy, and Spain, as well as transnational themes that cross those boundaries.

Class Format

This is a 1.0 credit full-year class that will consist of one 2-hour interactive lecture with the professor per week, and one 50-minute discussion session with a T.A. in a smaller unit. Both of these sessions require students to be present and active in the class and to come prepared with notes on and ideas about the assigned reading.


Each week, students will read a section from a textbook as well as a collection of primary source documents (ie: voices from the period of history we are studying). We will spend time discussing how one should read and analyze primary sources. Voices from the past sometimes lie to us, after all, or try to mislead us, or record the wrong event, or make the author look like a hero, or diminish the voices of women or minority groups, or remain silent on a major event that the author didn’t like… or, is it just our own contemporary goggles making these historical documents look that way to us? In short, we will learn to take a critical eye to these sources and in doing so, learn much about their authors and the societies those authors lived in – and about ourselves and our biases as historians. These documents are also a great deal of fun to read and analyze, as we try to piece together “what happened” (and “why does it matter?”) from these historical fragments.


  • Paxton, Robert O. & Julie Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 5th Nelson/Cengage, 2012 (ISBN: 978-0495913191)
  • A short memoir or novel for purchase TBA
  • Primary sources will be available via web links on cuLearn


The exact grading criteria will be available on the course outline at the beginning of the semester. Assignments will consist of essays based on close readings of the primary sources we read in class, two quizzes each semester, and reading reflections that you will post to the Discussion Board on cuLearn. Attendance in all classes is required, especially the discussion sections with T.A.s, and student participation in discussions will also form part of your grade.

Questions about this class? Feel free to email me at