History 4360: The Era of the Second World War Trent University 2010-2011



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History 4360: The Era of the Second World War

Trent University

2010-2011
Instructor: Dr. Allison Abra Seminar A: Thurs., 3-4:50, EPC 101

Office: LEC S103 Seminar B: Tues., 3-4:50, EPC 102

Office hours: Tues. 11-12:30; Thurs., 1-2:30, or by appt. Seminar C: Thurs., 9-10:50, EPC 101

Office telephone: TBA

Email: allisonabra@trentu.ca History Department: LEC 101.3

Administrative Asst: Patricia Heffernan


Course Description

Between 1939 and 1945, people of all sexes, ages, backgrounds, and regions of the world, were gripped by the dangers, deprivations, and duties that accompanied a “total war.” Millions took on new roles and responsibilities on the home and battle fronts, and endured the horrors of aerial bombardment, occupation, and the Holocaust. At the same time, the war inspired remarkable acts of compassion and feats of heroism. The effects of this global conflict were profound and enduring, and more than seventy years later it continues to fascinate historians and the general public alike.



This course will survey the history of the Second World War, with attention being paid to social, cultural, political, and military contexts and perspectives. We will examine a wide array of primary and secondary material, including scholarly writing, diaries and memoirs, novels, public papers, photographs, music, and film. An over-arching goal of the course will be to get you to question established truths, deviating from a vision of warfare that highlights winners and losers. Rather, we will consider the impact and trauma of global war in a more holistic sense, considering different nations and social groups, popular culture and everyday life, and victims and perpetrators on all sides of the battlefield.

Required Books

  • Margaret Collins Weitz, Sisters in the Resistance: How Women Fought to Free France, (Wiley, 1998).

  • Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, (Harper 1993).

  • Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, (Touchstone, 1996).

  • J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan, (UNC Press, 2004).

*** The required books are available in the Trent Bookstore. All other readings will be available on our MyLearningSystem site unless otherwise indicated.
Assignments and Evaluation

Participation: History 4360 is a seminar, and regular attendance and active participation are very important to your success in the course. You are expected to arrive having completed the reading assignments, and prepared to engage in thoughtful discussion. I understand that for some students speaking up in class can be difficult; if this is the case for you, let me know early in the semester and we can devise alternative ways of fulfilling your participation requirement. It should also be remembered that participation in class is best measured in terms of quality rather than quantity; simply speaking up a lot without adding anything substantive to the discussion will not ensure a high participation grade. Finally, class participation involves helping to create an atmosphere conducive to quality learning and discussion. This includes showing respect for other members of the class (even when your views on the material might differ), arriving on time and staying until the end of the class, and turning off all cell phones and other electronic devices that might disrupt the class. Failure to meet these conditions will reduce your grade.
Memoir Paper: Early in the fall term I will be distributing a list of published diaries and memoirs pertaining to the era of the Second World War. In conjunction with me, you will choose 2-3 sources to form the basis of an 8-10 page paper which is due Nov. 22nd. The basic goal of the assignment is for you to think critically about certain individual wartime experiences within the context of the course readings and seminar discussions, and to evaluate the sources you have selected for their value as historical documents. More information will be provided in class.

Film Review Papers: Over the course of the academic year we will be watching two films – Charlotte Gray (fall term) and The Pianist (winter term) – after which you will write a 3-4 page film review. This is a chance for you to play film critic and personal reactions to the film are welcome. However, the review paper should also analyze the value of the film for its representation of the events, cultural and political issues, and social groups connected with the Second World War.

Research Paper: The major writing assignment for the course is a 20-25 page research paper on a topic related to any aspect of the history of the Second World War. The paper will be a work of original research, employing both primary and secondary sources, and which will advance a specific historical argument. Each student will meet with me individually in the second week of November in order to discuss your proposed paper topic, and possible approaches and sources. You will then work on your papers throughout the rest of the course, and will present your research to the rest of the class sometime during the last three weeks of winter term.

Grade Distribution

Memoir paper – 20%

Film review(s) – (2x10%) 20%

Seminar Participation – 25%

Paper Presentation – 10%

Research paper – 25%

***Late papers will be penalized 1/3 a letter grade per day.
Contacting the Instructor

If you have any questions or concerns related to any aspect of the course, please feel free to drop by my office hours or make an appointment. With respect to email communication, please ensure that you allow a reasonable response time (i.e. 24 hours during the week, 48 hours on weekends) for any messages sent.


Academic Integrity

Academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating, is an extremely serious academic offence and carries penalties varying from a 0 grade on an assignment to expulsion from the University.  Definitions, penalties, and procedures for dealing with plagiarism and cheating are set out in Trent University’s Academic Integrity Policy. You have a responsibility to educate yourself – unfamiliarity with the policy is not an excuse. You are strongly encouraged to visit Trent’s Academic Integrity website to learn more – www.trentu.ca/academicintegrity.


Access to Instruction

It is Trent University’s intent to create an inclusive learning environment. If a student has a disability and/or health consideration and feels that he/she may need accommodations to succeed in this course, the student should contact the Disability Services Office (BL Suite 109, 748-1281, disabilityservices@trentu.ca) as soon as possible. Complete text can be found under Access to Instruction in the Academic Calendar.


Class Schedule and Readings

Fall Term

Week of Sept. 13: Introduction

Sept. 20: The Road to War

  • John Keegan, “Every Man a Soldier,” in The Second World War, (Toronto: Key Porter, 1989): 10-30.

  • Jeffrey L. Hughes, “The Origins of World War II in Europe: British Deterrence Failure and German Expansionism,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (Spring 1988): 851-891.

  • Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman, “The Setting,” in The Racial State: Germany, 1933-1945, (Cambridge, 1991): 5-73.


Sept. 27: The War in Overview

  • R.A.C. Parker, “The Impact of War: Casualties, Crisis, and Change,” in The Second World War: A Short History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997): 281-304.

  • Michael C.C. Adams, ‘Mythmaking and the War,’ The Best War Ever, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994): 1-19.


Oct. 4: Britain Stands Alone

  • Malcolm Smith, Britain and 1940: History, Myth, and Popular Memory, (London: Routledge, 2000): Chps. 3 &4.

  • Sonya Rose, Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Britain, 1939-1945, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002): Chps. 2 & 7.

  • James Chapman, “British Cinema and the ‘People’s War’,” in ‘Millions Like Us?’ British Culture in the Second World War, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999): 33-61.


Oct. 11: America: Isolation or Intervention?

  • David Reynolds, From World War to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the International History of the 1940s, (Oxford, 2006): Selections. [available as an e-book on the Library website.]

  • Keith Sainsbury, “Uneasy Partners: The Roosevelt-Churchill Relationship,” in Churchill and Roosevelt at War, (NYU Press, 1994):1-16.

  • H. Mark Glancy, When Hollywood Loved Britain: the Hollywood “British” film, 1939-1945, (Manchester, 1999): Chp. 4.

Oct. 18: Homefront(s)

  • Sarah Fishman, “Waiting for the Captive Sons of France: Prisoner of War Wives, 1940-1945,” Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars, Edited by Margaret Higonnet, Jane Jenson, Sonya Michel, Margaret Collins Weitz, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987): 182-193.

  • Pat Kirkham. “Beauty and Duty: Keeping up the (Home) Front.” War Culture: Social Change and Changing Experience in World War Two Britain. Edited by Pat Kirkham and David Thomas. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1995: 13-28.

  • W.A.B. Douglas and Brereton Greenhous, Out of the Shadows: Canada in the Second World War, (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1995): Chp. 11.

  • Walter Struve, “The Wartime Economy: Foreign Workers, ‘Half Jews,’ and Other Prisoners in a German Town, 1939-1945,” German Studies Review 16 (Oct. 1993): 463-482.


Oct. 25: Reading Week: NO CLASS

Nov. 1: Occupation and Resistance

  • Margaret Collins Weitz, Sisters in the Resistance: How Women Fought to Free France, (Wiley, 1998): Selections.

  • Mark Mazower, Hitler’s Empire: Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe, (Penguin, 2008): Selections.

Nov. 8: Individual meetings to discuss research paper topics – NO CLASS

Nov. 15: Spy Games

  • Margaret Collins Weitz, Sisters in the Resistance: How Women Fought to Free France, (Wiley, 1998): Selections.

  • F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp, Code Breakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001): Selections.

  • E.D.R. Harrison, “The British Special Operations Executive and Poland,” The Historical Journal 43 (Dec 2000): 1071-1091.

  • Lynn-Phillip Hogdson, Inside Camp X, (Blake Books, 2002): Selections.

Nov. 22: Film – Charlotte Gray

***Memoir paper due

Nov. 29: The Great Patriotic War

  • Cynthia Simmons and Nina Perlina, eds., Writing the Siege of Leningrad: Women’s Diaries, Memoirs and Documentary Prose, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002: Selections.

  • Vasily Grossman, A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, Edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova, (Vintage, 2007): Selections.

  • George Sanford, “The Katyn Massacre and Polish-Soviet Relations, 1941-1943,” in Journal of Contemporary History 41 (Jan., 2006): 95-111.


Dec. 6: The Holocaust, Part 1 – First Phases

  • Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, (Harper 1993).

*** Charlotte Gray film review due.

Winter Term

Jan. 10: War in the Pacific

  • John Keegan, “The War in the Pacific, 1941-1943” in The Second World War, (Toronto: Key Porter, 1989): 240-303.

  • John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, (Pantheon, 1986): Selections [available as an e-book on the Library website.]

  • Yuki Tanaka, Japan’s Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution during World War II and the US Occupation (New York: Routledge, 2002): Chp 1.

Jan. 17: The War and Women

  • Jean Bruce, Back the Attack: Canadian Women During the Second World War, (MacMillan, 1985): Selections.

  • Penny Summerfield, Reconstructing Women’s Wartime Lives: discourse and subjectivity in oral histories of the Second World War, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998): Introduction.

  • Leila J. Rupp, “Munitions for Their Sons,” Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939-1945, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978): 115-136.

  • D’Ann Campbell, “Women in Combat: The World War II Experience in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union,” Journal of Military History 57 (April 1993): 301-23.

Jan. 24: The Holocaust, Part 2 – The Final Solution

  • Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, (Touchstone, 1996).

Jan. 31: The Holocaust, Part 3 – Jewish Resistance and Gentile Aid

  • Michael Marrus, “Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust,” in Journal of Contemporary History 30 (Jan. 1995): 83-110.

  • Eli Tzur, “From Moral Rejection to Armed Resistance: The Youth Movement in the Ghetto,” in Resisting the Holocaust, edited by Ruby Rohrlich, (Berg, 1998): 39-58.

  • Nechama Tec, “Jewish Resistance in the Belorussian Forests: Fighting and the Rescue of Jews by Jews,” in Resisting the Holocaust, edited by Ruby Rohrlich, (Berg, 1998): 77-94.

  • Lenore J. Weitzman, “Living on the Aryan Side in Poland: Gender, Passing, and the Nature of Resistance,” Women in the Holocaust, Edited by Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999): 187-222.

Feb. 7: Film – The Pianist

Feb. 14: Reading Week – NO CLASS

Feb. 21: The Invasion of Europe

  • James Sadkovich, “Understanding Defeat: Reappraising Italy’s Role in WWII,” Journal of Contemporary History 24 (Jan 1989): 27-61.

  • Toby Haggith, “D-Day Filming – For Real: A Comparison of ‘Truth’ and ‘Reality’ in Saving Private Ryan and Combat Film by the British Army’s Film and Photographic Unit,” Film History 14 (2002): 332-353.

  • Mark Zuehlke, Juno Beach: Canada’s D-Day Victory, June 6, 1944, (Douglas and McIntyre, 2005): Selections.

***The Pianist film review due.

Feb. 28: Final Stages, Part 1 – The Bombing of Germany and Battle of Berlin

  • Earl Beck, “The End Comes – With Death and Terror,” in Under the Bombs: The German Home Front, 1942-1945 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002), 172-197.

  • Richard Overy, “The Post-War Debate,” in Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945, edited by Paul Addison and Jeremy Crang, (London: Pimlico, 2006): 123-142.

  • Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000): Selections.


March 7: Final Stages, Part 2 – The Atomic Bomb

  • J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan, (UNC Press, 2004).

March 14: Aftermaths and Legacies

  • Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994): Selections.

  • Nina Tumarkin, The Living & the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia, (Basic Books, 1995): Selections.

  • Edward Wood Jr., Worshipping the Myths of World War II, (Potomac Books, 2008): Selections.

  • Bill Niven, Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich, (Routledge, 2001): Selections.

March 21 – Paper Presentations

March 28 – Paper Presentations

April 4 – Paper Presentations

*** Research papers due Friday April 8th.



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