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Postwar: Aftermaths of World War II (HI3H6)

Module Convenor: Professor Susan Carruthers

Seminar Timetable and Reading



Office location: Humanities H.307 (third floor)

Seminar times:

Thursday 10am-12pm, H3.47

Thursday 3pm-5pm, S1.69

Friday 12pm-2pm, H3.03

Office hours (term time only, excluding reading week):

Thursday 12-1pm

Friday 11am-12pm

I'm available at other times by appointment.

Email policy:

During the week, I will respond to email inquiries within 24 hours.

Please note that I do not reply to email outside normal working hours

and at weekends. So, kindly time your message accordingly if your question

is urgent!

Module Overview

World War II claimed in excess of 60 million lives: victims of combat, aerial bombardment, disease, starvation, and calculated annihilation. As warfare ended-- a rolling and partial process-- the victorious Allies struggled to agree on how best to tackle questions of humanitarian relief and political reconstruction that confronted their own societies as well as those of the defeated Axis powers and their former empires. The tumultuous half decade from 1945-50 saw the birth of the nuclear age; the division of Europe; the onset of the Cold War; the remapping of the Middle East; the reconstitution of colonial empires in Asia and Africa; and the inauguration of the United Nations.

This module examines the period from 1945 to 1950, adopting a thematic approach to wartime legacies and distinct forms of postwar reconstruction. Weekly readings generally comprise a number of scholarly articles rather than single monographs. These will be studied alongside selected primary source materials, including films, diaries, letters, and fiction from the late 1940s. The goal is to gain a multi-faceted appreciation of "postwar" derived both from contemporary sources and new scholarly interpretations of this profoundly consequential half-decade. We will thus read fresh work in the fields of transnational history; the history of gender and sexuality; the history of emotions; refugee and Holocaust studies, and works of cultural critique drawn from disciplines outside History.


* to appreciate the fitful ways in which World War II came to an end in different locations and the often messy processes by which war mutated into "postwar"-- if not always exactly peace
* to gain an understanding of how central the immediate aftermath of World War II has been to individual and collective memory-- and group identity-formation-- thereafter
* to acquire skill in analyzing different kinds of primary sources, printed and visual, with sensitivity to both the circumstances of their production and their contemporary reception
* to appreciate the variety of ways in which historians, working in different disciplinary sub-fields, have approached the study of "postwar"
* to acquire sophistication in synthetic interpretation of multiple texts
* to develop experience and confidence in opening/leading class discussion, and in working collaboratively with peers and the instructor
* to improve skills in historical interpretation both in oral contributions to class discussion and by writing an extended paper; incorporating and positively responding to feedback


Students have the option of either taking a final three hour examination (100%), if a dissertation is associated with this module, or writing a 4500 word essay (50%) and sitting a two hour examination (50%) if the disseration is based on a different module. The deadline for this essay is centrally determined by the History department. This spring the deadline is on Wednesday, March 19, 2019 (week 10).

In addition to these formal elements of assessment at the end of the year, students will play a role in leading seminar discussion. This is something we will discuss further in the introductory meeting.

Two short essays ('formative' assessments) will also be required. The first of these will be due by noon on the Friday of week 7 in the autumn term; and the second by noon on Friday of week 5 in the spring term. These papers will be no more than 2,000 words long and should be submitted via Tabula.

First essay: an extended analysis of one of the key primary source documents from term 1, which may include material on which you've led class discussion. This paper should cover the following: authorship and provenance of the text; production context; reception (where appropriate); key points of historical significance in the text itself; how the document figures in-- or might be brought into conversation with-- the topic's historiographical literature.

Second essay: an interpretive exploration of a theme (e.g. retribution, guilt, suffering, hunger, sexual violence, entitlement, victimhood) that spans more than one week's readings from the course materials, synthesizing relevant primary and secondary sources. You can either devise your own question or adopt one of the questions from Section C of a specimen exam paper, or from the exam paper from summer 2018. Click here to view this specimen exam; for the summer 2018 exam paper, click here. Alternatively, students who would prefer to practice their 'gobbets' technique can submit four sample responses, drawn from Section A of the 2018 exam. Whichever option you pick, the total length of the document you upload should not exceed 2000 words.

Long essay (for those not attaching a Dissertation to this module): 4,500 words. This essay can be on any topic or question covered by the module. It may either delve deeper into one particular week's content or explore a wider historical theme. The essay should draw on at least some primary source materials, while synthesizing discussion of sources with the relevant scholarship. (You can use primary source materials discussed in class but original research is also encouraged.) Alternatively, you may write a purely historiographical essay that charts the evolution of a particular interpretive approach to postwar history: for instance, the history of gender and sexuality, the history of emotions, or human rights. Students writing a long essay must seek approval for their intended topic no later than week 4 in term 2. Please email me with a proposed title and one paragraph-long abstract for your paper by Monday of week 4.


Special subjects differ from most other kinds of modules by virtue of their heavy emphasis on primary sources. A compulsory section of the final exam (in both its 2 and 3 hour variants) tests students ability to interpret primary sources skillfully, teasing out their meaning while also drawing out larger thematic points of interest. This is a skill we will practice in class, with opportunities to undertake a timed 'gobbet' question (as these interpretive exercise are called) in term 3. We will be reading-- and sometimes viewing-- selected sources each week before (and occasionally in) class. But here are some online databases and collections that I recommend you explore for writing research papers and/or dissertations.

This list is by no means exhaustive. If you come across other valuable online collections, please let me know and I'll add it here to a crowd-sourced list!

Newspapers, magazines and newsreels

The library provides full-text access to the following titles for the period we're examining:

Daily Mail

The Guardian

The Observer

The Times

The Los Angeles Times

The New York Times

The Washington Post

The Times of India

March of Time (newsreel magazine)

Links to archives

Modern Records Centre, Warwick

The National Archives (UK)

The Imperial War Museum (London)

The National Archives (US)

The Library of Congress Veterans' History Project

Rutgers Oral History Project

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Archive

Visual History Archive, University of Southern California

Online databases

Confidential Print: Africa, 1834-1966 (requires Library log-in)

Mass-Observation online (requires Library log-in)

Middle East Online: Arab-Israeli Relations, 1917-1970 (requires Library log-in)

Post-War Europe: Refugees, Exile and Resettlement, 1945-1950 (requires Library log-in)

US Declassified Documents (requires Library log-in)

Woodrow Wilson Center/Cold War International History Project