Twentieth Century Europe

This course approaches the history of twentieth century Europe from three angles – politics, ideas, and sexuality. The goal is to gain a well-rounded understanding of the changes that Europe went through in the twentieth century. We will discuss Europe as a whole, paying just as much attention to the smaller states in Eastern Europe as we do to the major Western powers. The first section of the course focuses on major political changes that impacted multiple states; observing how radically the violence and scale of these events altered the worldview and standard of living of millions of people. The second section surveys important writers and thinkers who reflected on European culture, covering intellectual movements such as modernism, existentialism, structuralism, and post-structuralism. Finally, we examine changing attitudes towards sexuality over the course of the century. We will pay attention to the ways in which sexuality influences – and is shaped by – politics, gender, economics, and ideology, and how these relationships

change over time.


Required Texts

Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

Dagmar Herzog, Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth Century History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.


Additional Readings

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882)

Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (1922)

Lev Shestov, “Potestas Clavium” (1923)

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sysiphus (1942)

Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism” (1946)

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949)

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Culture Industry (1944)

Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)

Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967)

Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (1979)

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (1976)



Abel Gance, La Roue (1923)

Veit Harlan, Jud Süβ (1940)

Guiseppe de Santis, Riso amaro (1949)

Alain Resnais, Hiroshima, mon amour (1959)

Dušan Makavejev, WR: The Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

Frank Ripplo, Taxi zum Klo (1980)

Cristian Mungiu, 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days (2007)




The collapse of empires

Minorities and nation-states



Nazi Germany

The Second World War

Extremely violent societies

A Brutal Peace

Establishing the Communism Bloc

The Evolution of Communist Eastern Europe

Western Europe, 1950-1990

The Collapse of Communism

Friedrich Nietzsche

Oswald Spengler

Lev Shestov

Albert Camus

Jean-Paul Sartre

Simone de Beauvoir

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer

Roland Barthes

Guy Debord

Jean-François Lyotard

Michel Foucault

Prostitution, abortion and venereal disease

Creating homosexual identities

Love and War

Fascist masculinities

Anti-Semitism and sex

Film: Jüd Suß

Domesticity after the war

The Rise of Romance

Communism and sex

Changing attitudes towards homosexuality

Sex in the sixties

Women’s rights

Abortion in Socialist Romania


Assessment Tasks

Map quiz of Europe in 1900 and 2000.


You will do one 10-minute presentation on one of thinkers we study. Your job is to outline their biography and cover ONE major element of their thought. You may use powerpoint if you wish, but it is not required.

Essay One

Compare the ideas of TWO of the thinkers whose works we have read in class.

Essay Two

Use your knowledge of the history of European sexuality to answer ONE of the following questions:

  1. To what extent does Abel Gance’s La Roue (1923) reflect relationships in Europe following the First World War?
  2. What message does Veit Harlan’s Jud Süβ (1940) send about Jews as sexual predators? What were the political implications of this message?
  3. How did Guiseppe de Santis’ Riso amaro (1949) reflect new European ideas about the relationship between love and sex?
  4. According to Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, mon amour (1959), how did the Second World War change relationships?
  5. How does Dušan Makavejev’s WR: The Mysteries of the Organism (1971) present the relationship between communism and sexuality?
  6. How does Frank Ripplo’s Taxi zum Klo (1980) present gay subculture in the Federal Republic of Germany? How important was the Cold War in shaping West German attitudes towards homosexuality?
  7. Were the issues discussed in Cristian Mungiu’s 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days (2007) unique to socialist states, or were they common throughout Europe during the 1980s?

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