What you will study
The three key themes of this module are the:
- ways that war was waged in Europe and how this changed the continent
- different forms of peace, which were always more than just an absence of war
- industrial and technical transformation of the whole of Europe.
This module will open up the breathtaking variety of electronic resources on twentieth-century history which have transformed our ability to carry out historical research and scholarship wherever we are. It will teach you the skills of independent study through learning about this period, so you are able to see the big pictures more clearly, and know how to find out more for yourself.
Beginning with the First World War, which marked the end of the old order in Europe, you’ll study the war’s causes and the war itself. It was a period of technological advances, but inevitably this total war left its mark on every state in the continent, and destroyed many of them. It also enabled some existing socialist and nationalist movements to gain state power for the first time.
During the first half of the interwar period, it appeared that the crises arising from the First World War would be resolved largely within a framework of liberal democracy and internationalism. In the second half, under the stress of the world economic crisis, political systems buckled and the era became a consciously 'pre-war' one. Attempts in Italy, Germany and Russia to create fundamentally new societies achieved varying degrees of success at the cost of immense human damage. Despite the economic crises, technical and social changes continued throughout the period. You will gain an impression of these changes, as well as the ability to see their inter-relationships.
You will learn about the causes of the Second World War, with an eye on the way that the historiography has developed over the century, and is not resolved even today. You will examine the relationship between war, society and technology via several case studies, including one on the development of penicillin. The history of medicine features in the module to illustrate wider points about social and technical history. The effects of the war on the post-war order will also be considered.
The Cold War was a total war of another kind, and the 'waging of peace' becomes a key theme in the second half of the module: broadcasters and religions were mobilised in the struggle, as were more conventional socio-economic factors. Soviet-style Communism attempted to provide a coherent alternative to the liberal-democratic mainstream. The year 1968 was a watershed on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The momentum of both the Western European 'golden age' and the Eastern experiment with autarchic socialism had slowed down. In the final part of the Cold War, the West's (slowing) growth, and the more compelling social vision that it embodied, brought victory in 1989.
During the post-war period, competing Great Powers were (in theory) replaced by allied and integrating blocs. But was Great Power rivalry really dead?