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BA Politics and Modern History

Year of entry: 2021

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 examines the causes and consequences of enforced population displacement during the twentieth century. It examines sites of displacement in 20th century Europe, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, the Far East, and sub-Saharan Africa, and addresses key issues such as the emergence of refugees as a ‘problem’, and for whom; the forms of external intervention and assistance by inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations; the creation, management and lived experience of refugee camps; the journeys that refugees undertook, including repatriation and ‘homecoming’; and  refugees’ voices and memories of displacement. Particular emphasis is placed on the broad techniques of rule that have been applied to refugees and to the various ways of conceiving and addressing the ‘refugee problem’ historically. We also consider the representation of displaced persons, for example in photography. Wherever possible, attention is given to refugees’ self-perceptions, how refugees narrated their experiences, and their responses to the attributes of ‘refugeeness’ that are often ascribed to them.


The weekly format will normally consist of discussion sessions, drawing on primary and secondary sources as appropriate. A series of lectures will introduce the key issues; lectures will be accompanied by Powerpoint slides. In addition to an assessed essay, students will be required to prepare for assessment an individual poster project and make a short presentation in class.



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 an individual poster presentation on a topic of the student’s choice related to the subject matter of the course unit

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 secondary and 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. Work on the poster project will promote 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

In addition to the above: 1. Guidance from Careers Service (following successful interactive and bespoke presentations from Careers¿ staff in previous years) 2. Guidance from CUD relating to opportunities for graduate training (MA programmes) and the available funding schemes

Assessment methods

Essay 50
Poster project (including progress and summary reports) 50


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Feedback on essay plan


Written feedback on poster project via Turnitin


Written feedback on assessed essay



Recommended reading

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

Loescher, Gil (2020), Refugees: a Short Introduction, 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


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
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Gatrell Unit coordinator

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