BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Aftermath of War in France, Britain and Germany: Violence and Reconstruction after WW1 and WW2

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31671
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Integrating recent historiographical developments, this course considers the aftermath of the First World War and Second World War in a comparative perspective. It explores how Western European societies ‘got out of the war’ socially and culturally speaking, how wartime attitudes were gradually dismantled and how ‘ordinary’ citizens sought to rebuild ‘normal’ life in the aftermath of war. The primary focus is on Britain, France and Germany. Key questions include: How did British, French and German societies try to come to terms with mass death and trauma? How did the dead impinge upon the lives of the living in the post-1918 and post-1945 period? What does ‘normalisation’ mean? What normative discourses did post-war societies develop about the role of the father and sexuality? Can we interpret the emergence and development of humanitarian and human rights as a way of ‘turning away from war’? This course invites students to engage critically with key concepts and the historiography, using a wide range of secondary and primary sources, including oral interviews, memoirs, films, novels and photographs.


This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


This course aims to:

  • Encourage students to critically engage with key concepts and historiographical issues in the social and cultural history of the transitions from war to peace in the post-1918 and post-1945 period.
  • Consider the complexity of French, British, German experiences of the transition from war to peace and the differences between the aftermaths of the First and Second World Wars.
  • Enable students to manipulate and assess primary sources, particularly ego-documents such as letters and diaries, and interweave primary and secondary sources in arguments and discussions.
  • Facilitate group work culminating in an oral presentation on a film of the students' choice related to the subject matter of the course unit.
  • Enable students to formulate and articulate historical arguments both orally, before the members of the seminar, and in written form in assessed work.



Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Knowledge and understanding

  • Critically assess the social and cultural impact of the two world wars on French, German and British societies  

  • Identify major historiographical debates in the history of violence, humanitarianism and displacement in the aftermath of the Great War  

  • Understand processes of cultural demobilisation, homecomings, bereavement, mourning and reconstruction in the wake of war 


Intellectual skills

  • Understand and critique the different methodological approaches that historians have been employing to study the aftermaths of the First and Second World Wars 

  • Identify a number of key historiographical debates in the field, including on violence and the ‘brutalisation’ of European societies, reconstruction as an international problem, war-related changes in gender relations and post-war justice 

  • Critically evaluate how ordinary French, British and German citizens emerged from the horrors of the First World War, Fascism and the Second World War in social and cultural terms  

  • Interpret both visual and written primary sources within their historical context and assess their reliability as historical evidence 

Practical skills

Essay writing:

  • Articulate a clear, sustained and coherent argument with appropriate references to both primary and secondary sources
  • Recognise and deploy historical terminology correctly

Communication skills:

  • Deliver an oral presentation as part of a team
  • Participate in seminar discussions and debates

Research skills:

  • Select, comprehend and organise primary and secondary sources on a topic with limited guidance
  • Comment on the work of a peer, identifying strengths and making constructive suggestions for improvement where appropriate

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Work as part of a team – recognising and identifying views of others and working constructively within a group environment 

  • Produce to a deadline a coherent argument 

  • Make the most effective use of online search engines, internet resources, word processing and presentation software 

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Analytical and intellectual skills (critical analysis of legal, social and visual sources, including photography and film).
Group/team working
nterpersonal skills (the ability to work with and motivate others and to demonstrate leadership skills).
Oral communication
Communication and Presentation skills (the ability to develop well-structured answers in seminar and communicate key points effectively).
Research skills (the ability to develop a successful research project, analysing information from different sources).

Assessment methods

Essay: 70%

Primary Source Commentary: 30% 

Feedback methods

Oral feedback on group presentation and in seminar discussions. In week 5, I arrange a meeting with each group to provide feedback on their action plan and help them (i) write their Source Portfolio (2) prepare their oral presentation - formative and summative.

Written feedback on all coursework. In line with History assessment policy, all written feedback will incorporate ‘feed forward’ advice on improving future assessment performance - summative.

Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment) - formative.



Recommended reading

Jay Winter Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning. The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Bruno Cabanes ‘1919, an aftermath’ in Jay Winter (ed) The Cambridge History of the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 7, pp. 172-198.

Robert Gerwarth and John Horne (eds) War in Peace: Paramilitary Violence if Europe After the Great War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) – particularly the introduction, chapter 3, chapter 12, chapter 13.

Mark Edele and Robert Gerwarth ‘The Limits of Demobilisation: Global Perspectives on the Aftermath of the Great War, Journal of Contemporary History 50 (2015), pp. 3-14.

Richard Bessel and Dirk Schumann ‘Introduction – Violence, Normality and the Construction of Postwar Europe’ in Richard Bessel and Dirk Schumann (eds) Life after Death: Approaches to a cultural and social history of Europe during the 1940s and 1950s (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 1-13.

Frank Biess and Robert G. Moeller (eds) Histories of the Aftermath, The legacies of the Second World War in Europe (Oxford: Berghahn books, 2014).

Tony Judt Postwar: A history of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin Press, 2005).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Laure Humbert Unit coordinator

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