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Age of Extremes: Themes in Twentieth Century World History

  • Module code: HS5007
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: Year 5
  • Credits: 30.00
  • Pre-requisites: Successful completion of level 4 History or equivalent
  • Co-requisites: None


This is a module for History single-honour students at L5 but it may also be of interest to students in a variety of other subjects. This module introduces students to world history in the twentieth century. It is taught through lectures and seminars, and there is a strong element of student participation through seminar presentations. We examine wars and their  consequences from a variety of geographical perspectives: Africa, China, Japan, India, Russia, the US and the Middle East, with special focus on the First World War. No other event so significantly altered political boundaries around the world, or stimulated such nationalist sentiment. We will also look at several themes that underscore the war's worldwide impact: the radicalisation of warfare; the use of propaganda; advances in medical care and psychiatry; the mobilisation of women; economic change; the emergence of new artistic movements; the stimulus given to revolution and movements for independence; and efforts to establish global governance. The module therefore provides a world history emphasising political developments but shedding light on social and economic issues as well.


  • to provide an overview of the origins, nature and consequences of the First World War
  • to introduce students to the scholarly debates surrounding war and its significance in the twentieth century
  • to develop students' skills of historical analysis and interpretation and to apply them in comparative contexts
  • to familiarise students with some of the key source materials on war in the twentieth century including diplomatic documents, personal correspondence, documentary film and literary sources.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of key aspects of war and the nature of historical change in the twentieth century
  • critically assess different interpretations wars' origins, nature and impact
  • compare the experience of war across different countries around the world
  • demonstrate familiarity with some of the primary source material on the origins, nature and impact of war
  • demonstrate skills of analysis, criticism and expression in both a verbal and written context

Curriculum content

  • Origins and Causes of War
  • Historiography
  • The First World War as Total War
  • Major Confrontations and New Weapons
  • Propaganda
  • Women, Gender and War
  • Medicine, Medical Service and Psychiatry
  • Revolutions and Independence Movements
  • Beyond Europe: Asia, Africa and the Middle East
  • Relief, Refugees and Resettlement
  • Peace and Reconstruction
  • Decolonisation
  • Remembering War

Teaching and learning strategy

This module is based on weekly lectures and seminars. Each week a two-hour lecture will introduce students to the major issues of the war and its consequences. Lectures will variously cover military, diplomatic, political, economic and social themes. Emphasis will be given to how historians have debated key questions concerning war, its origins, nature and impact, and to the comparison of experiences of war in different countries around the world. The weekly one-hour seminars afford students the opportunity to demonstrate their engagement with primary source materials and secondary works on a wide variety of topics. Emphasis in the seminar is given to student presentations, in which students are expected to explain their progress on their research assignments. Students will make brief presentations explaining their choice of essay titles, their early research successes and failures, their research proposals, and their ability to master both primary and secondary materials as they become experts on their chosen topics.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive KIS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching 22 two-hour lectures, 22 one-hour seminars 66
Guided independent study 234
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

There are both formative and summative assessments designed to encourage students to master the material, conduct research and present their views in the form of both oral presentations and written essays. Assessment will enable students to demonstrate the module's learning outcomes.


TB1 Presentation on first essay choice and early research

TB1 Final presentation on first essay choice

TB2 Presentation on second essay choice and early research

TB2 Final presentation on second essay choice


Two blog posts, each of 750 words, and a 2,500 word essay

Topics will be chosen from a list provided by the lecturer. The first essay will be due after TB1 (January) and the second essay will be due after TB2.

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
demonstrate an understanding of key aspects of war and the nature of historical change in the twentieth century The formative presentations, blog posts and essays, which allows students to demonstrate mastery of key aspects of the war
critically assess different interpretations of the wars' origins, nature and impact The formative presentations, blog posts and essays, which require students to look at conflicting interpretations
compare the experience of war across different countries around the world The formative presentations, blog posts and essays, which ask the student to take a global, comparative look at the war
demonstrate familiarity with some of the primary source material on the origins, nature and impact of war The Essay requires that students engage with primary source material
demonstrate skills of analysis, criticism and expression in both a verbal and written context The formative presentations allow students to demonstrate their verbal skills, whilst the blog posts and essay give them the opportunity to exhibit their writing skills

Achieving a pass

It IS NOT a requirement that any major assessment category is passed separately in order to achieve an overall pass for the module.

Bibliography core texts

Gerwarth, Robert and Erez Manela (Editors). Empires at War: 1911-1923 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Bibliography recommended reading

Das, Santanu (editor). Race, Empire and First World War Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Dickinson, Frederick. War and National Reinvention: Japan in the Great War, 1914-1919 (Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press, 1999).

Emmerson, Charles. 1913: The World before the Great War (London: Bodley Head, 2013).

Guoqi Xu, China and the Great War: China's Pursuit of a New National Identity and Internationalization(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Kant, Vedica. If I Die Here, Who will Remember Me?: India and the First World War (New Delhi: Roli Books, 2014).

Paice, Edward. Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa (London: Orion, 2007).

Read, Christopher. War and Revolution in Russia, 1914-22: The Collapse of Tsarism and the Establishment of Soviet Power (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

Rogan, Eugene. The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920 (London: Allen Lane, 2015).

Rutledge, Ian. Enemy on the Euphrates: The British Occupation of Iraq and the Great Arab Revolt 1914-1921(London: Saqi Books, 2014).

Sanborn, Joshua. Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Sherry, Dave. Empire and Revolution: A Socialist History of the First World War (London: Bookmarks, 2014).

Sondhaus, Lawrence. World War One: The Global Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Strachan, Hew. The First World War in Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Tooze, Adam. The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931 (New York: Viking, 2014).

Ulrichsen, Kristian Coates. The First World War in the Middle East (London: C Hurst, 2014).

Wawro, Geoffrey. A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

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