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Communist Europe: Crisis, Transformation & Memory after the Second World War - HIS00144I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Hugo Service
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The Second World War brought huge devastation to the eastern half of Europe. Reckless, brutal and genocidal acts by Eastern Europe’s Nazi occupiers undermined the foundations of societies there to such a degree that total transformation appeared unavoidable once the war was over. To the West, Eastern Europe seemed to disappear behind an ‘Iron Curtain’ after 1945 – as the new hegemonic power of the region, the Soviet Union, took control. The rhetoric and writing of Cold War era politicians and commentators in the West constructed a simple image of countries dominated by the USSR and gripped by intolerable living conditions and incompetent officials – lasting until the collapse of Moscow’s 'empire' in 1989-90.

This module seeks to move beyond such simplifications and pull open the Iron Curtain for a more complex view. Through study of diverse primary sources, new trends in scholarship and conducting independent research, we will range across the eastern half of the continent, with a particular focus on Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and East Germany. We will examine the radical social, political and economic transformations which took place in the first decade after WWII as well as sweeping Stalinist repression. We will investigate mass opposition and uprisings - including the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and Polish Solidarity of 1980. We will study the everyday lives of ordinary people, consumerism, questions of gender, dissident activities, and attempts to reform communism - including the Prague Spring of 1968. We will study international and transnational relations, the collapse of Communism and how its legacy has been handled since 1989.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

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

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

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 1-hour plenary/lecture and a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for and participate in eight 1-hour plenaries/lectures and eight 2-hour seminars in all.

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

  • Aftermath of War & Occupation
  • Stalinism
  • Uprising & Thaw
  • Everyday Life
  • Opposition after 1968
  • International & Transnational Connections
  • Revolution & Collapse
  • Memory & Legacy


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will complete a referenced 1200 to 1500-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This will be submitted in either the Week 5 or Week 9 RAW week (on the day of the weekly seminar).

For summative assessment, students will complete an Assessed Essay (2000 words, footnoted). This will comprise 100% of the overall module mark.

Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
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 seminars 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 formative work during their tutor’s 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 25 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:

  • Bren, Paulina and Mary Neuberger (eds.). Communism Unwrapped: Consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Mark, James. The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
  • Pittaway, Mark. Eastern Europe 1939-2000. London: Arnold, 2004.

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.