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Strange Defeat: France from 1914 to 1945 - HIS00090C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Venus Bivar
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

It is impossible to overstate the impact of both World Wars on the experience of French men and women. Gender norms were disrupted as women gained independence and shell-shocked men struggled with their own masculinity. The structure of the French Empire was transformed thanks to the military service of colonial subjects and new demands for autonomy. The resurgence of a powerful Nazi Germany and the polarisation of political movements led to the collapse of the French state in 1940. And through it all, interwar Paris witnessed a cultural Renaissance that was led by such figures as Josephine Baker, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Jean Renoir.

In this course we will examine the history of France during these thirty years that span the two World Wars. 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 racialisation of colonial subjects, changing gender dynamics, the relationship between battlefront and homefront, the economic crisis of the 1930s and the attendant rise of radical politics, 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 2022-23

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.

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

  1. Race, War, and Empire

  2. An Intimate History of the War

  3. The New Woman and the Lost Man

  4. Consuming the Colonies

  5. Swinging Paris

  6. The Rise of Fascism

  7. France and the Holocaust

  8. The Dark Years

  9. Collaborators on Trial


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
Open Exam - 24 hours
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 on a primary source. 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
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
Open Exam - 24 hours
N/A 100

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. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Mary Louise Roberts. Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France, 1917-1927. University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Tyler Stovall. Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light. Houghton Mifflin, 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.