Monday, 28 April 2008

more teaching news

I have had my classes for next term confirmed: I'll be teaching Modern Europe I: 1780s-1871 and Modern Europe III: 1945 - 2001 (well, til roughly "the present day." Whenever it stops feeling like history and starts feeling like current affairs. At Oxford, History stopped in 1973, but I get the impression I am meant to go at the very least up until the fall of communism, and have been toying with stopping at or around 9/11).

This is fun but daunting. What do I know about the french revolution? or the fall of the berlin wall? or any of the 1001 things in between them that I will be confusingly teaching simultaneously? (answer: nothing).

Now I have to choose my set text books by Wednesday, which is a bit of a pain. Thanks for the notice, I am thinking to myself. I have some ideas, of course, but do my learned readers have any suggestions of books they think are suitable or, indeed, wholly unsuitable?


ursus arctos said...


When I was playing at being an academic, history stopped after WWII.

As a general text, you might consider Tony Judt's Postwar, which attempts to cover the whole of the Continent from 1945 throuhg 2005. I haven't read it, but I have read a couple of serious and positive reviews and generally find Judt to be engaging (if far from infallible).

I would also suggest looking at Timothy Garton Ash's collection of essays: History of the Present: Essays, Sketches and Despatches from Europe in the 1990s.

You obviously need something on the EU and one might think I would be able to recommend something, but the truth is that I've never found a single volume that I really liked.

The more I think about the immensity and contemporary nature of the topic, the more daunted I am (which I'm sure isn't helping you). Perhaps something like Judt or the relevant Oxford or Cambridge volumes (assuming they exist) as a text, but with most of the reading coming from articles?

Antonio G said...

Bayly's "Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914"?

Hobsbawm's Tetralogy? Though if you use Age of Extremes in the post-WWII class, also add Perry Anderson's review of it in the LRB, entitled "confronting defeat" which is probably the best review article I've ever read.

Ferguson's latest (not shit hot, but reasonably engaging over 600 pages)?

Judt's book is freakin' massive but pretty good. The bits on Germany are probably the best. Didn't Norman Davies do something similar recently on Europe?

If you're going for a footie angle, there are two chapters on Europe in Goldblatt's doorstopper which are pretty good at relating changes in football to changes in society at large in the post-war periond (actually, even Judt gives football about six pages towards the end).

Ginsburg on Italy is probably a must.

20 years on, I'm not sure there is a good general text on Eastern Europe under communism. There was an awful lot of stuff between 1989 and 1992 (including stuff by TGA), but nothing that has a bit of distance.

Scratching my head for anything else...

ursus arctos said...

Davies' book attempts to cover all of European History back to ancient Rome, though his newer one on Wroclaw/Breslau might be of interest.

I'm sure Spangles would enjoy tearing Ferguson apart (not that it's particularly challenging).

Agreed on Ginsburg and the absence of a single Eastern European text, though I would recommend Michnik and Havel for essays.

ursus arctos said...

You should also make them watch the Battle of Algiers.

In fact, it is easier for me to think of films for the topic than books: Bicycle Thieves, Open City, The Conformist, Z, La Haine, Lives of Others, etc.

Garibaldy said...

Dunno what age these kids are, but I'd give serious consideration to John Merriman's A History of Modern Europe, the new edition about 2006. It's written for an American undergraduate audience, and is really good, and might serve for both your courses. Certainly for the equivalent of UK first years, whatever that equates to with your lot. It also has the advantage of being shorter than many of the other things suggested, and may suit if you have lazier students.

chelsea boy said...

I would imagine a fair bit on the Balkans and post communism immigration should be drilled into their heads. Christ knows what books though.

Go on otf and ask the smart people.

Antonio G said...

Oh, if we're doing films, I like that new Italian one - Mio fratello e uno figlio unico. Goodbye Lenin would be another.

I'm not sure many of Michnik's essays exist in translation. And many of Havel's essays look bizarre in hindsight (except for The Power of the Powerless).

I know it's incredibly dated, but the first half of Taylor's "The Struggle for Mastery in Europe" doesn't have many rivals in terms military-diplomatic overviews of the whole continent for the period 1848-1870. Unless I've missed something in the last ten years or so.

Spangly Princess said...

ta all. The Merriman book sounds in particular like it might be useful for the earlier paper. I quite like Gildea's Barricades & Borders but apparently some Americans find it too difficult. *sigh*

As for the later paper, I know one of my colleagues has used Judt in the past, but it looks daunting to me and therefore likely terrifying to 1st/2nd year students, no? films would be fun but perhaps lazy.

Hobsbawm I like using but is problematic as a text book. I think he is better used sparingly for discussion once they have grasped some of the basics, rather than as an introduction.

Garibaldy said...

Hobsbawm not for the main textbook I'd have thought. Strage words like working class and socialism might put them off.

Phoebe Disco said...

History ends in 1973? So everyone born is old and those of us born in 1973 are still officially young? Cool.

Alas, I cannot help with suitable books. I can think of many unsuitable history books: "When Spurs Were Good" for example.

Spangly Princess said...

The Merriman book looks good, I have tracked it down & I like it. So thanks for the recommendation, nice one.

I quite like the look of Walter Laquer, Europe in Our Time. Anyone read it? I had a quick flick through...

Garibaldy said...

No bother on the Merriman. It is really good. On the more modern period, I recommend the works of Ludo Martens.

ursus arctos said...

Haven't read the book, but given that Laquer has become a bit of a poster boy for the "Islamofascism" crowd, I would suggest a bit of caution.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've got the Laqueur. It's ages since I read it, but it was (as I recall) readable and succinct.

Really must sort out my log in.


Antonio G said...

I read the Lacquer book when it came out. I don't remember it being especially good or bad. More a sort of "meh".

Laqueur (like Judt) has the advantage, in a book like this, of being an east european specialist, so at least you get something geographically balanced.

Spangly Princess said...

right I have perused the Laqueur more closely and it seems clear and succinct but kind of... reactionary. He's not happy about the "permissive society" for one thing: he associates "the free circulation of hard-core pornography" with access to contraception. So no Laqueur. I have settled on William Hitchcock's "The Struggle for Europe" which is accessible, fluid & written with Americans in mind.

I have looked at Garton Ash and think I might use a couple of the essays as specific readings for class discussion, ta for the suggestion Ursus.

For the earlier paper, Bayly looks good for the global perspective.

Garibaldy: do you think it's fair to unleash Martens on them? and if you think they can't handle Hobsbawm, what will they make of him?

ursus arctos said...

I've been trying to think of something in English on "Mai '68" and think you might find all or part of Kristin Ross' May '68 and its Afterlives to be of interest.

Again, I haven't read it, but it has been considered significant enough to be translated into French (and to garner at least one positive review), which is notable given the absolute tidal wave of domestically-produced material that is coming out on the occasion of the 40th anniversary.

Here's part of the publishers' blurb:

"Kristin Ross shows how the current official memory of May '68 came to serve a political agenda antithetical to the movement's aspirations. She examines the roles played by sociologists, repentant ex-student leaders, and the mainstream media in giving what was a political event a predominantly cultural and ethical meaning. Recovering the political language of May '68 through the tracts, pamphlets, and documentary film footage of the era, Ross reveals how the original movement, concerned above all with the question of equality, gained a new and counterfeit history, one that erased police violence and the deaths of participants, removed workers from the picture, and eliminated all traces of anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism, and the influences of Algeria and Vietnam."

And no, I'm not on a retainer from the NYU French Studies faculty; the fact that both Judt and Ross are there is a coincidence.

Garibaldy said...

I couldn't resist offering Martens, just thinking about the look on both your and their faces should you decide to use it.

Not by the way that he's wrong ;-)

FailedGenius said...

As someone who had to endure tutorials with Gildea, I veto his book merely on the grounds that he's a grouchy sod with a massive ego.
And I hated Hobsbawm, he faffs around and says bugger all; got bored of Age of Extremes about half-way through.
Other than that...I loved Vinen's 'History in Fragments', but then thats probably because I like that style.
And yea - stick some football books on there. I'm bored of Luebbert and Maier (not the foggiest what he was on about but it didnt sound good).
Oh and Mazower is good for a laugh.

Garibaldy said...


Maybe it was just your essays that made him grumpy.