Accessibility statement

Strange Defeat: France from 1914 to 1945 - HIS00090C

« Back to module search

  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Venus Bivar
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

After returning home from military service, following the surrender of France in 1940, the renowned historian Marc Bloch sought to understand why the French had been so quickly vanquished by the Germans. With Strange Defeat, Bloch looked back over the previous thirty years of French history, and argued that the French had fallen behind, failing to modernise either the military or the economy. Four years later, as a member of the Resistance, Bloch was executed by the Gestapo.

In this course we will examine the history of France during these thirty years that span the two World Wars and Great Depression. Without treating this history teleologically, we will walk in Bloch's footsteps and attempt to understand this tumultuous time. Drawing on a wide base of source material, from novels and film to secondary historical analysis and political manifestos, we will discuss such topics as the relationship between battlefront and homefront, the economic crisis of the 1930s and the attendant rise of radical politics, the profound transformation of gender dynamics, French participation in the Holocaust, and the consequences of the two World Wars for the French empire.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into an unfamiliar period and/or approach to history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have further developed work undertaken in the Autumn Term lecture courses and skills portfolios, including historical analysis, note-taking, using primary sources, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars;
  • Be able to construct a coherent historical argument in oral and written forms

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion. 

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

Spring Term

  1. No teaching
  2. WWI at the Front
  3. WWI at Home
  4. The Lost Generation Comes to Paris
  5. Radical Politics: Left and Right
  6. The Hollow Years
  7. The Strange Defeat of WWII
  8. The Occupation: Vichy and the Resistance
  9. France and the Holocaust
  10. The Colonial Question

Summer Term

2.        Overview and revision


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam
A Strange Defeat: France from
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present either on a primary source or on an assigned historiographical question. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam
A Strange Defeat: France from
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. 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 on Assessment


Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Martha Hanna. Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War. Harvard University Press, 2008.

Irène Némirovsky. Suite Française. Part II: "Dolce." Knopf, 2006.

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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students