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Instructor Info:James Wald
Office Extension x5592
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
12:30 PM - 01:50 PM Adele Simmons Hall (ASH) 111
12:30 PM - 01:50 PM Adele Simmons Hall (ASH) 111
Description:

Although we talk readily of "postmodernism," do we really know what "modernism" was about? Never did change seem to be as dramatic and rapid as in the first half of the twentieth century. Leftists and rightists, avant-gardists and traditionalists alike, spoke of the age of the masses, characterized by conscript armies and political mass movements, mass production of commodities, and mass media. The European "great powers" achieved domination over the globe, only to bleed themselves white in wars that devastated the continent physically and psychologically, weakened the colonial empires, and undermined faith in progress itself. The real victors were two rival systems of modernity: American consumer capitalism and Soviet communism. Although the age witnessed great violence and despair, it also brought forth great hopes and achievements in social thought, the arts, and technology, many of whose effects we are still pondering.

Course Objectives:

Long description

 

Although we talk readily of "postmodernism," do we really know what "modernism" was about? Never did change seem to be as dramatic and rapid as in the first half of the twentieth century. For that matter, how many of us can describe with any confidence the world that existed even just a few decades before our own birth?  How much more difficult, then, to imagine how different our world is from that of a hundred years ago, and at the same time, how much our world still owes to the earlier one. 

As the Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) put it, his father and grandfather had lived "life in uniformity," whereas "My today and each of my yesterdays, my rises and falls, are so diverse that I sometimes feel as if I had lived not one, but several exis­tences, each one different from the others." He also described the twentieth century that he knew as one of dramatic contrasts--exhilarating achievements and terrifying threats:

It was reserved for us, after centuries, again to see wars without declarations of war, concentration camps, persecution, mass robbery, bombing attacks on helpless cities, all bestialities unknown to the last fifty generations, and which future generations, it is hoped, will not allow to happen. But paradoxically, in the same era when our world fell back morally a thousand years, I have seen that same mankind lift itself, in technical and intellectual matters, to unheard-of deeds, surpassing the achievements of a million years with a single beat of its wings. It has accomplished the conquest of the air by the airplane, the transmission of the human word in a second around the globe, and with it the conquest of space, the splitting of the atom, the conquest of the most insidious diseases, the almost daily realization of the impossible of yesterday. Not until our time has mankind as a whole behaved do infernally, and never before has it accomplished so much that is godlike.

Leftists and rightists, avant-gardists and traditionalists alike spoke of the age of the masses, characterized by conscript armies and political mass movements, mass production of commodities, and mass media. The European "great powers" achieved domination over the globe, only to bleed themselves white in wars that devastated the continent physically and psychologically, weakened the colonial empires, and undermined faith in progress itself. The real victors were two rival systems of modernity: American consumer capitalism and Soviet communism. Although the age witnessed great violence and despair, it also brought forth great hopes and achievements in social thought, the arts, and technology, many of whose effects we are still pondering.

 

We will meet occasionally outside class for screenings of films from and about the era.

• A core course for concentrators in history, the social sciences, and cultural studies--as well as anyone interested in understanding our world and the one that gave birth to it. 

• Readings emphasize close work with primary sources and influential recent scholar­ship. The primary aim is to make sense of the forces that shaped the twentieth century as well as its effects on our own world. More generally, the course teaches skills of historical analysis and textual interpretation readily transferable to other academic fields and life in general.

Evaluation Criteria:

In order to receive a grade or an evaluation, students are required to

  • attend class sessions
  • complete the assigned readings in time for class
  • participate in class discussion of the readings
  • complete writing assignments on time (for example: reading responses need to be done well before class; students who fail to complete them on time will have to make up the work through a longer written paper)

Participants should expect to read at least approximately 100-150 pages per week (sometimes more, sometimes less). I do try to take into account the realities of life, e.g. assigning longer readings over the weekend rather than between Monday and Wednesday. I also take into account that it may be easier to read a greater number of pages from a single book than a smaller number drawn from heterogeneous sources. Bottom line: budget your time accordingly, develop an effective work discipline. If you need help, feel free to see me.

We do not expect perfection: only an honest and serious effort. Don't worry if you don't understand everything fully on the first reading. (If you did, you wouldn't need the class.) Just make your best effort, and then bring your questions to class, so that we can explore them together.

Written assignments will include periodic/regular short reading responses, and several (perhaps 3-4) essays of modest length (5-8 pages) as well as perhaps one longer paper (10 or more pages)

Additional Info:

Books assigned for purchase will be available at

Amherst Books
8 Main St., Amherst /  tel. 413-256-1547

  • Eric Dorn Brose, Europe in the Twentieth Century (NY and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)
  • Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday, trans. Anthea Bell (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013) [note: this is a new translation, not to be confused with the old one from the same publisher]
  • George Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (NY and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, third edition (Oxford and NY: Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (NY: Norton, 1957)
  • ?? Otto Dov Kulka, Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death: Reflections on Memory and Imagination, trans. Ralph Mandel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013) [tentative; not yet ordered]


At least some of these titles will also be on reserve at the Circulation Desk of the Library.

• All other course readings will be available in electronic form via the course website.

Note: I am all too aware that books are more expensive than we would like, but there is really nothing that one can do about that.  As it is, books are the tools of our trade, and owning books is part of being a scholar.

I have placed an order with Amherst Books because it is a small, independent bookstore, run by a Hampshire alumnus who has also taught here. It will provide excellent and informed service and a wide range of standard works as well as other titles that you might not find elsewhere. The bookstore can also order additional copies quickly if a given title is out of stock.

Ultimately, though, my only requirement is that you do the reading: whether you purchase the books yourself, read them in the library,