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European Cultural Memory of World War I & II


Admission requirements

Not applicable


The two World Wars as the great catastrophes of the 20st century created a traumatic rupture in the European sense of continuity between past and present. Despite Winston Churchill’s 1946 call to “turn our backs upon the horrors of the past” and “look to the future”, the war past continued to haunt European societies and its disturbing memories seemed to become even more vivid as the years went by. On the other hand, war memories were constitutive for new European cultural and political identities. The imperative “Never again” became, in its negativity, a supplier of meaning and ethic orientation in itself and comparisons with political developments of the past continue to serve as patterns of a moral geography until today.

This course focusses on the analysis of German, French, English and Flemish material and immaterial memory practices of the two World Wars. Departing from a transnational and comparative perspective, it explores the various ways in which the war past shaped modern European identities and examines how film, literature and architecture but also political and academic debates transferred the past into the present. Starting with a thorough introduction to contemporary memory studies, this course uses central theoretical concepts from this field as frames for each individual case.

Weekly overview

  1. Memory studies: theories and concepts
  2. Memory and trauma
  3. Europe’s ‘original catastrophe’: speaking and silence after World War I
  4. Weimar and the politics of memory
  5. World War I in French literature
  6. Fascism and the reinvention of the past
  7. Forgetting and remembering in 1960s Germany
  8. [no classes]
  9. Memories of Israel and European Judaism
  10. Writing and remembering
  11. Memory wars: from the Historikerstreit to the Wehrmacht-debate
  12. A forgotten past? Memory cultures in the GDR
  13. Transnational memories – the globalization of the past?
  14. From case to theory

Course objectives

General learning objectives The student can:

  1. organise and use relatively large amounts of information
  2. reflect critically on knowledge and understanding as presented in academic literature

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation Algemene Geschiedenis (for BA History students)

  1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically of the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific lecture series Upon completion of this course, students should be able to:

  1. demonstrate familiarity with central theoretical and methodological concepts of contemporary memory studies;
  2. apply analytical concepts to concrete historical memory practices;
  3. contextualize 20st century memory practices within their social and cultural surroundings;
  4. demonstrate familiarity with the dynamics of remembering and forgetting in modern post-war societies.


See the timetable of the Minors

Mode of instruction


Course Load

5 EC = 140 hours

  • Lecture: 13 × 2 hours = 26 hours

  • Course preparation = 13 × 5 = 65 hours

  • Short mid-term paper = 29 hours

  • Exam (including preparation) = 20 hours

Assessment method

All learning objectives of the course will be assessed through two subtests:

  • Midterm examination (short paper)

  • Final examination (written examination with short open questions)


  • Midterm examination: 40%
  • Final examination: 60%

The final mark for the course is establised by determination of the weighted average. The final mark must be 5,5 or higher.


  • Students are allowed to take again those subtests that were marked insufficient. The resit exam will take place on one single resit, at which both subtests are offered. For this resit three hours will be reserved, so that students will be able to retake both subtests, if necessary.
    Please note that students can only take a resit when their final grade is insufficient. Subtests that were marked sufficient cannot be retaken

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Examination dates For the examination dates, see: Rooster/aanmelding Geschiedenis (in Dutch)


There will be a Blackboard module for the course, which contains relevant course information such as the weekly reading and assignments. Since Blackboard makes use of umail for communication, students are advised to forward their umail to their regular email address: Blackboard

Reading list

Richard Lebow et al., The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe, (Durham/NC: Duke University Press, 2006)


Students should register through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


For information about the content of this course please contact dhr. J. Hillgärtner

For practical information please contact the secretarial office.


The course can also be taken as a “sectiespecifiek BA Hoorcollege” by BA History students.