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BA History

Learn from passionate historians at the cutting-edge of their specialist subjects.

BA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2019

Course unit details:
Refugees in Modern World History, 1914 to the Present

Unit code HIST30941
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course unit introduces students to the causes and consequences of global mass population displacement during the twentieth century. It examines crises in 20th century Europe, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, the Far East, and sub-Saharan Africa, and addresses key issues such as forms of external intervention and assistance, refugees’ journeys, the creation and management of refugee camps, and ‘durable solutions’ including repatriation and ‘homecoming’. Some attention is paid to international law and human rights, but more emphasis is placed on the refugee regime more broadly, and to the various ways of conceiving and addressing the ‘refugee problem’ historically. We also consider the visual representation of refugees and displaced persons. Wherever possible, attention is given to refugees’ self-perceptions and their narration of experience. Distinctive features include discussion of the interdisciplinary literature in refugee studies; and the group poster project on a topic of students’ choosing.


HIST30941 is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas (please check your programme structure for further details).

History and related programmes. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to Divisional guidelines.


  1. addresses the relationship between refugees, governments, non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations at different times and in different places, against the backdrop of war, revolution, civil war, and state formation during the 20th century
  2. analyses the experiences of refugees and displaced persons, and how these experiences have been represented in cultural terms by refugees and others
  3. develops a clearer understanding of the contribution that history and historians can make to the interdisciplinary field of refugee studies
  4. facilitates independent study, culminating in a group poster presentation on a topic of students’ choice related to the subject matter of the course unit

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to;


Indicative topics and themes for discussion [subject to change] Each week will include a mixture of lecture and discussion of key themes and approaches, e.g.

  1. Introduction to course themes and to assessment
  2. The Great War and population displacement; cultural representations of refugees then and now
  3. Refugee crises in post-war Europe; state formation as a refugee-generating process and the post-1918 refugee regime
  4. Jews and Palestinians as refugees; interpretations of displacement, memory books, and ‘home’
  5. Partition and its aftermath in the Indian sub-continent; the gendered history of displacement
  6. DPs in post-1945 Europe; camps and aid workers; the genesis of the UN Refugee Convention (1951) and the modern refugee regime
  7. Refugees in China/South-East Asia; the Cold War and the geopolitics of intervention; refugee memories and commemorative work
  8. Refugees in sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa; refugee journeys and trajectories
  9. Late 20th century Europe; refugee memories and commemoration work in post-communist Europe
  10. Presentation of group poster projects
  11. Concluding discussion: Refugees and ‘refugee crisis’ today; revision preparation

Teaching and learning methods

This course unit will conform to minimum requirements i.e. aims and objectives, assessment methods, weekly course content, links to assigned reading, group discussion pages, etc. to be provided via Blackboard.

Teaching and learning will be delivered in a variety of forms: lectures and other presentations by the CUD; group discussions (linked to weekly topics and to poster topics preparation); and group presentations.

Knowledge and understanding

  1. developing an informed understanding of the global history of refugees in the long 20th century
  2. engaging with different perspectives on the history of refugees, the category of ‘refugee’, and the conceptualisation and contextualisation of ‘refugee crisis’
  3. critically assessing a range of primary source material relating to refugees and forced migration in the modern world
  4. assessing the contribution made to the subject by historians


Intellectual skills

Students will be

  1. introduced to interdisciplinary scholarship, drawing upon insights from social sciences as well as humanities
  2. expected to develop a clearer understanding of the contribution that history and historians can make to the study of refugees
  3. enabled to understand how different kinds of source material can illuminate the experiences of refugees in specific contexts

Practical skills

  1. Group work on the poster project will promote team-working skills in analysing and communicating challenging topics through visual images
  2. Assessed essay work will enable students to gain confidence in writing effectively at an advanced level.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  1. Group work on the poster project will promote team-working skills in analysing and communicating challenging topics
  2. Assessed essay work will enable students to gain confidence in writing clearly and effectively at an advanced level.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Group/team working
Written communication

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%

Feedback methods

‘Dress rehearsal’/dummy run for group poster - Formative, within 48 hours

Written feedback on formal presentation and poster discussion ‘log’, via Turnitin - Summative

Written feedback on exam - Summative

Recommended reading

Gatrell, Peter (2015), The Making of the Modern Refugee, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Loescher, Gil (2001), The UNHCR and World Politics: a Perilous Path, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Moorehead, Caroline (2015), Human Cargo: a Journey among Refugees, London: Chatto

Marrus, Michael (1985), The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Terry, Fiona (2002), Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action, Ithaca: Cornell University Press

Zolberg, Aristide, Astri Suhrke & Sergio Aguayo (1989), Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World, New York: Oxford University Press


For reference:

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh , Elena, Gil Loescher, Katy Long & Nando Sigona, eds (2014), The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Gatrell Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Assessed essay, summative, 3000 words, 25%

Group poster project including diary of group discussion, summative, 2000 word diary (maximum) excluding poster text, 35%

2 hour exam, summative, 40%


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