Europe Today: Transformation and Selective Remembering of Europe’s History since 1945 

The Second World War ended in 1945, but its epilogue lasted for nearly another half century. This course will focus on Tony Judt’s book, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, that is a comprehensive and detailed account of the political and economic, as well as social, cultural, and intellectual history of Europe since the end of World War II. Tony Judt’s book not only explains how both Eastern and Western Europe emerged from that devastation decades later, but also reflects that much of Europe since 1945 has remained in a postwar shadow in terms of memory, impact, and consequences. Because the transformation of Europe since 1945 is a dramatic story that reads like a coherent narrative, moving from destruction, division, and degradation to unity and resurgence, Judt’s is an important book in which to engage to understand contemporary Europe. Judt also details postwar European history of “collective memory” – the combination of forgetting and selective remembering that nations use to alternately repress and embrace the historical traumas they have endured, as well as their culpability for the suffering of others. Beyond the book, if time allows, Judt’s text will be contextualized and supplemented with additional textual, internet, and/or video material to further turn our attention to current issues such as the European Union and a rising EU-skepticism, right-wing populism, environmental policies, the war on terror, the migration crisis, and more.


Learning objectives

The European Studies Course and the General Education Program prepare you to be informed and engaged citizens who experience and reflect on global issues, seek knowledge, appreciate diversity, think critically, communicate effectively, act responsibly, and work collaboratively. In this course, you should acquire a grasp of post-war Europe, its entities and the challenges it faces, as well as the questions it raises today. The “idea” of Europe is a much debated topic and has a long history. However, what does it mean to be European in an age of demographic transition and resettlement at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Are Europe and the European experience relevant to you as both students of the American university system and as individuals with varied backgrounds? In addition to acquiring an understanding of Europe, you will also acquire cultural self-awareness by recognizing the distinctness of others as well as an understanding of the historical logic behind the emergence of European unity as an attempt to learn from tragic historical experience. Furthermore, you will approach issues in context, strengthen your skills of critical reading, listening, and thinking and your ability to organize and synthesize information in class discussions, class presentations, and written responses to study questions. Please note that in order to actively contribute to our class, regular attendance is of the essence: missing more than three class sessions will automatically lower your course grade. No electronic devices may be operated during class.


Course text

 Tony Judt. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.  New York: Penguin Books, 2005.  (ISBN for paperback: 0143037757)


Course grading and assignments

  • Class preparation and informed participation (10%)

Come to class prepared by reading carefully the pages indicated on the syllabus before each class, answer the weekly reading questions, and participate actively in every class meeting with informed, focused questions and comments.


  • Typed responses to weekly reading questions for assigned chapter (25%)

I will send you the reading question word-docs in which you should write the answers. Printed out answers (typically 2-3 pages single spaced, 12-point font) must be submitted every Tuesday in class. Late submissions will not be accepted; during the class, you may add material and corrections (in pen or pencil) to your printed out answers, which I will collect at the end of Tuesday’s class meeting. Your 13 sets of answers will be checked for clarity, factuality, and completeness to determine whether your comprehension of the material is excellent (2.5), good (2), superficial (1.5), poor (1), or largely incomplete (.5). Your grade for this section of the course is based on 10 scores (10 x 2.5%): your two lowest scores will be dropped and no grade will be given for the week of your in-class presentation.


  • Student presentations of one of the chapters with partner(s) (25%)

As presenters, you must prepare a type-written document (5-8 pages) that includes a brief summary of the assigned chapter and your highly detailed answers to the reading questions, followed by your own 3-5 questions for class discussion, and some visual material of your choice, appropriate to the chapter’s topic such as maps, images, and video clips. The document must be submitted to me via email by noon on the Monday before the presentation (to allow time to be copied for everyone).


  • Midterm examination (20%)

Students will answer 6 out of 8 essay questions about the material studied in the first half of the course.


  • Final Examination (20%)

Students will answer synthetic questions about the material studied in the second half of the course.


Grading scale

A – 90-100%

B – 80-89%

C – 70-79%

D – 60-69%

F – 59%


Weekly reading and writing assignments (subject to change)

All page numbers refer to Tony Judt’s book. Each week, you will submit answers to detailed reading questions on Tuesdays and there will be in-class student presentations for each chapter.


Week 1:  Course Overview and “Introduction” (1-10): How previous historians have narrated the “story of Europe” after 1945 and how  Judt’s approach to Europe’s post-war history differs from theirs


Week 2: “The Legacy of War” (13-40): World War II as a new experience for Europeans and the radical transformation of the “social landscape” in Eastern Europe


Week 3: “Retribution” (41-62): The legacy of the wartime regimes and the challenges of the heritage of Nazism in East and West Germany


Week 4: “The Rehabilitation of Europe” (63-99): The transformation of the role of the modern state through social and economic planning


Week 5: “The Impossible Settlement” (100-128): The unraveling of the wartime alliance, the US strategy in post-war Europe, and the responses of the former Allies to the “German Question” 


Week 6: “The Coming of the Cold War” (129-164): Europe’s transition in conjunction with Stalin’s assertion in Eastern Europe and the Berlin crisis


Week 7: “Culture Wars” (197-225): The appeal of Communism among European intellectuals in the first post-war years and the deepening of the intellectual and political chasm between Eastern and Western Europe                                                                                                     

Week 8: Review for Midterm Examination


Week 9: “The Politics of Stability” (241-277): The post-Stalin Soviet Union and their reaction to nuclearization as the backdrop for the building of the Berlin Wall   


Week 10: “The Age of Affluence” (324-359): The post-war economic boom and its aftermath


Week 11: “The End of the Old Order” (585-633): The rationale behind the collapse of the Soviet system in Eastern Europe 


Week 12: “A Fissile Continent” (637-664): The transformation of Eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism


Week 13: “The Varieties of Europe” (749-776): The rethinking of “Europe” and its identity politics after 1989


Week 14: “Europe as a Way of Life” (777-800): The European social model and the increasing gap between Europe and the United States


Week 15: “Epilogue: From the House of the Dead. An Essay on Modern European Memory” (803-831): Judt’s assessment of Europe’s memory culture in past and present


Concluding question

The idea of progress―the notion that humanity is bettering itself as time moves on―was popularly held by many Europeans in the nineteenth century. However, after Europe’s self-inflicted destruction of the early twentieth century, many Europeans abandoned this belief. Given what you learned in this class about post-war European history, do you believe that the narrative of post-war Europe shows progress? Why or why not?


Finals Week: Final Examination



Elke Segelcke is Professor of German and European Studies at Illinois State University. Her academic work focusses on literature and culture in Weimar Germany and German post-unification literature with a focal point on intercultural authors. Her recent publications include articles and book chapters on Zafer Senocak’s transcultural translation concept and politics of memory in German-Turkish literature, as well as on Navid Kermani’s travelogues.




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