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Postwar: Aftermaths of World War II (HI3H6)

Module Convenor: Professor Susan Carruthers

Seminar Timetable and Reading



Office location: FAB 3.76

Seminar times and rooms:

Monday 11am-1pm, H0.56; Monday 2-4pm, FAB 4.79

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

Tuesday 4-5pm (Teams); Thursday 12-1pm (in person).

Please email me to book an appointment for both office hours or

to make arrangements to meet at other times.

Any questions?: please always feel free to ask anything about the module that isn't clear.

I reply to emails within 24 hours during term-time weekdays.

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


Final Year Advanced Option 3 (Assessed/examined)

  • Oral participation/engagement (10%)
  • 1500 word essay (10%)
  • 3000 word essay (40%)
  • Timed take-home assessment (40%)

1. 1500 word essayLink opens in a new window: due Term 1 (check Tabula for deadline)

For this assignment, you will select ONE of the primary sources assigned as required reading/viewing for the module and write an interpretive commentary on it. Your essay should do several things: (1) introduce the author and the text, situating the latter in historical context (when was this produced; where, why and for whom?); (2) identify the most pertinent features and passages for historians of "postwar"; (3) draw thematic connections between this source and other primary and secondary sources, evaluating the overall significance of this text as historical evidence

2. 3000 word essay: due Term 2 (check Tabula for deadline)

For this essay, you will pick one week of the module's syllabus that particularly intrigued you. You should formulate an analytic question related to this topic, running your ideas by me first. The essay should incorporate analysis of both primary and secondary sources (drawing on a range of the supplementary readings in addition to required materials) to advance a clearly articulated argument.

3. Timed take-home assessment: Term 3 (during the scheduled exam period starting week 4)

This take-home exam will require you to write TWO essays over the course of one week during the exam period in term 3. (The exam timetable will be released in the new year.) One of these essays will be a commentary on two excerpts from primary sources from the module syllabus; the other essay will require you to reflect on one of the key themes of the module. Footnotes and a bibliography will be required.

Revision seminar slides.


This module places a heavy emphasis on primary sources. A compulsory section of the final exam 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, and return to in the revision session.

In addition to the primary sources selected as required reading/viewing for the module, 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