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EUH 4506: Europe in the 20th Century

The Crisis of the Modern Age

Professor Steven Kreis

Florida Atlantic University, Davie
Fall 1996

COURSE OUTLINE: This course is designed to present the upper division undergraduate with a general survey of European political, cultural, intellectual and economic developments since the 1890s. The primary focus of the entire course is modernism: its appearance, significance and implications for the subsequent history of 20th century Europe in particular and the West in general. Emphasis will also be laid upon the following: war as an agent of social change, the revolutionary personality, totalitarianism, the secularization of the West, the onset of the Cold War, and the dissolution of Soviet-style communism in Eastern Europe. While this course has no stated prerequisite, it is assumed that the student has a basic understanding of modern European history.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: Attendance and informed participation at ALL class meetings is not only expected but required. This means that you (1) show up to class on a regular basis and (2) complete your reading assignments on time. The entire success of the course, both from my standpoint and from yours is that you get involved, get interested, and get motivated to study a continent whose history is inextricably connected to our own. Keep the following statement in mind for the duration of the semester and you should do just fine: "Education is nothing more than dialogue and, according to the master of dialogue, Socrates, good dialogue ought to improve both instructor and student." When all is said and done, the primary task of this course is to challenge you to think and discuss your ideas openly. There are no wrong answers!


  • Modris Eksteins, The Rites of Spring
  • Eric Marie Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon
  • Walter Lacquer, Europe in Our Time

ON READING HISTORY: Make no mistake, the study of history requires reading. The books I have selected for this course reflect two things: (1) my own interests and (2) current research on 20th century European history. Eksteins' book, The Rites of Spring, is an impressionistic study of World War I and the birth of modernism in the 20th century. It is less about the Great War than it is about the social, cultural and intellectual environment in which that war took place. Since Eksteins devotes an entire chapter to Remarque's now classic, All Quiet on the Western Front, I thought it proper that we read this text as well. Of all the novels written about war in the 20th century, it is Remarque's book that almost always comes to mind. In order to get better acquainted with Stalinism in particular and totalitarianism in general, Koestler's Darkness at Noon, is superb. How could the utopian aims of the Russian Revolution of 1917 have turned into the greatest dystopia of the 20th century? Our course will end with Lacquer's detailed study of Europe since 1945.

The assigned reading may be difficult at times, but you should not give up. For some of you, the reading will illustrate stuff you already know. For others, you will be treading on unfamiliar territory. My advice is to do the reading and raise questions in class. An encyclopedia will help you if you find more information necessary. And there are dozens of general history surveys which you can browse in the library.

Try not to worry so much about specific names, dates or events. Think more in terms of broad-based themes and ideas for that is the approach I take. If you have any specific problems with the readings or if you desire some different texts, please do not hesitate to ask. The reading assignments may seem a bit hefty. You will be asked to read about 100 pages per week and you must make every effort to keep up with the reading assignments. If you have not done the reading for a specific week, you should make the effort to show up to class just the same.

GRADING: I will assign two or three take-home examinations during the course of the semester. These will be essay exams which ask you to synthesize, comment and reflect upon topics we have dealt with in class. The exams will all be announced in advance and you will have one week to complete each of them. For those of you interested in submitting a research essay in lieu of the exams, please see me as soon as possible to discuss your somewhat different course requirements. Your final grade is based is based on two variables: (1) your performance on the take-home exams or research essay and (2) the level of your participation in class. At least 15% of your final grade will be determined by this last variable.

THE INTERNET: I would urge all of you to sign up for your FREE VAX account at FAU. In this way we can communicate after hours on any subject which may have been discussed during class time. I cannot force you to get this FREE account but I do recommend that you do obtain this FREE account as soon as possible. If you already have access to email (via American Online, CompuServe, MSN or Prodigy) or if you have a full Internet account, fine. If you don't have an account, get one NOW!

The Internet is an amazing platform for intellectual improvement. Since it is there and access is now so inexpensive and easily available, you would be doing yourselves a severe injustice if you did not take advantage of all that the Internet has to offer. If you have any questions about the Internet, please do not hesitate to ask me. I've been trolling the Net for two years now and when I am not teaching European history at FAU, I also find time to teach seminars at Barnes & Noble, Borders and elsewhere.

I have set up a web page called The History Guide. There you will find valuable information about the study of history including tips for taking notes and exams, how to write an essay and the answers to the big questions like: what is history? Or why study history? The address of my web page is:

As an added feature, I have decided to make my lectures available at my web page! Isn't that incredible! Your instructor is going to let you download, read or print each lecture. Why would I do this? Well, what better way to "hear" the lecture if you missed it. Not only that, if my lectures are made public perhaps you'll spend less time writing down everything I say and more time listening to what it I am saying, right? With any luck, these lectures will be made available to you before the next class meets, that way you will already have an idea of what it is I am going to talk about. Again, if you have any questions about the Internet, do not hesitate to ask me.

THE CLASS: My conduct in this class, as you will soon see, is based on a genuine respect for the intellect of each and every student. My approach is informal and, at times, irreverent. Just the same, I take my work very seriously and I expect you to do so as well. If you show up late for a class I expect you to enter the room as discreetly as possible. If you miss any class it is your responsibility to make sure that you make up for lost ground. I have found that a format of lecture and discussion works to the advantage of everyone involved, including myself. If you are not prepared to at least think about our subject, then I suggest you will have a tough time overall. In other words, come to class prepared to learn and discuss new ideas and, above all, THINK!


August 29 Course Introduction: Objectives and Expectations
Random Thoughts on the Intellectual History of 20th Century Europe
September 4 The European Idea of Progress
(1)The Meaning of Progress
(2) Myths and Realities
From Reason to Unreason: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
(1) The Thrust toward Modernism
(2) "God is dead"
(3) The "Will to Power"
READING: Eksteins, pp.xiii-xvi, 1-94 and Nietzsche handout
September 11 From Reason to Unreason: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
(1) The Scientific Approach to the Irrational
(2) "What would Freud say?"
From Reason to Unreason: Rational Man v. Irrational Man
(1) A New Romanticism?
(2) Liberation
(3) Making Sense of the Senseless
READINGS: Eksteins, pp.95-207 Begin reading Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front
September 18 Origins of the Great War
(1) The New Imperialism
(2) The Second Industrial Revolution
(3) Anglo-French Civilization v. German Kultur
The Myth and Reality of the Great War
(1) The Battle of the Somme
(2) Industrial Efficiency
(3) The United States and the Decline of Europe
(4) The Treaty of Versailles
READINGS: Eksteins, pp.208-331
Continue reading Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front
September 25 FILM: Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957)
DISCUSSION: Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front
October 2 "Incipit Vita Nova": Red October: A Brief Narrative History of the Events of October 1917 in Petrograd
The Aftermath of 1917: NEP, the Death of Lenin and the Rise of Stalin
READINGS: Start Koestler's Darkness at Noon
October 9 Fascism and Totalitarianism
(1) Cultural Responses the Great War: The Lost Generation
(2) Mussolini's Fascism
(3) Stalin's "Revolution From Above"
READINGS: Continue reading Koestler's Darkness at Noon
October 16 DISCUSSION: Koestler's Darkness at Noon
October 23 Hitler and Nazi Germany
(1) Early Years
(2) Ideologies (3) Mein Kampf (1923)
(4) Hitler's Appeal: Why Become a Nazi?
A Brief Overview of World War II: The "Good War"
READINGS: Laqueur, pp.3-87
October 30 Hitler's Final Solution: The Holocaust
(1) Who Shall Bear the Responsibility?
The Economic and Political Effects of WWII
(1) The Rebuilding of Europe
(2) The Atom Bomb
(3) The Big Three
READINGS: Laqueur, pp.88-125, 144-207
November 6 The Cold War
(1) Origins and Responsibilities
(2) Athens v. Sparta in the 1950s
FILM: Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964)
READINGS: Laqueur, pp.231-290
November 13 "Hell is Other People": European Existentialism
(1) The Revaluation of Revalued Values
FILM: Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1956)
READINGS: Laqueur, pp.293-344
November 20 NO CLASS
November 27 The Year of the Barricades: 1968
(1) Old Left v. New Left
(2) Student Protest
(3) Origins and Causes
(4) The Counterculture
(5) The Protest Against Authority
READINGS: Laqueur, pp.345-434
December 4 The Walls Came Tumbling Down: 1989
(1) The Collapse of Eastern European Communism
(2) European Communism and Socialism
(3) The Dream that Failed: The Soviet Union
(4) The Future of the "Former Soviet Union"
READINGS: Laqueur, pp.435-503
December 11 Europe Today: Toward the 21st Century
(1) The European Future
(2) The Americanization of European Culture: Fact or Fiction?
(3) From "Modernism" to "Postmodernism"
READINGS: Laqueur, pp.507-570
December 16 GRADES DUE

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Last Revised -- April 13, 2012