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Difficult Pasts & Haunted Presents - HIS00035I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Geoff Cubitt
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

The ways in which people in a given society relate to the past of that society are a vitally important – but also often a problematic and contested - aspect of culture and identity. The violent history of the mid- to late twentieth century, with its multiple experiences of war and genocide and mass oppression, has left a legacy of disquiet that recent generations in many different countries have struggled, often painfully and protractedly, to confront and acknowledge, or sometimes to evade or suppress. Drawing from a range of national (and in some cases transnational) histories – from Europe and the Americas, the Far East and Africa - this module seeks to understand some of the ways in which societies have experienced and addressed this problem of coming to terms with a painful or problematic or divisive past.

The examples that will be studied come from a period that is framed by the two great waves of disruptive historical experience that occurred (i) in the 1940s (with the experiences of the Second World War, of occupation and resistance, of the Holocaust, of the Atom bomb), and (ii) towards the end of the twentieth century (with the breakdown of Soviet-style regimes in Europe and of apartheid in South Africa, though longer memories of transatlantic slavery will be included for comparison. The course will introduce students to a range of conceptual frameworks for analysing such examples, and for drawing comparisons between them. Themes that will arise in include conflict between generations, tensions between public and private remembering, the politics of commemoration, the role of historians and of museums in shaping memory and debate, arguments over apologies and reparations, etc.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23 to Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • Gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project

Module content

Teaching Programme:

This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Introduction: Concepts and Approaches

  2. Memory of World War II in France

  3. Holocaust Memory and Commemoration

  4. Germany East and West: Memories of Nazism and Communism

  5. Eastern Europe: Memories of War and Communism

  6. America, Japan and the Far East: the Atom Bomb and Other Memories

  7. Apartheid, History and Memory in South Africa

  8. Memories of Slavery

  9. Conclusion: Towards Comparison and Conceptualization

For the project work in the later part of the course, students will work in groups to analyse particular cases of difficult pasts and the politics and cultural discussion surrounding them, drawing on appropriate primary and secondary literature, to explore how these cases relate to the themes of the course.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Difficult Pasts and Haunted Presents
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Difficult Pasts and Haunted Presents
8 hours 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their discussion groups and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work with their tutor (or module convenor) during student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Judt, T. “The past is another country: myth and memory in postwar Europe.” In The Politics of Retribution in Europe, World War II and its Aftermath, edited by. I. Deak, J. Gross and T. Judt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Wieviorka, A. The Era of the Witness. Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 2006.

Linenthal E. & T. Engelhardt, eds. History Wars: the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.