Spring 2011

World War II in European Literature and Film

Listed in: European Studies, as EUST-15


Ronald C. Rosbottom (Section 01)


This course is designed to introduce students to the impact that World War II (1939-1945) had and continues to have on the society and culture of several European nations. As the last of the generation that lived during the war passes on, their grandchildren persist in raising questions about the reasons and effects of this political cataclysm. During the war, and afterwards with more or less intensity, writers and filmmakers made and have made attempts to analyze and represent the memories, the guilt, and the false histories that the war left behind in every involved nation.

The course will examine the ethics of historical memory, the sincerity of representation, the clever use of history for political purposes. It will also probe and analyze persistent myths of the war as well as discover stories and facts that have been ignored or forgotten. Finally, the course will look at alternative scenarios, that is, “what if” narratives.

Readings might include works by Camus, The Plague, Fallada, Every Man is Alone, Modiano, Dora Bruder, Jünger, On the Marble Cliffs, Semprùn, The Long Journey, De Gaulle’s and Churchill’s memoirs, Némirovsky, La Suite française, and Levi, The Periodic Table. Films might include Rossellini’s Rome: Open City and Germany: Year Zero, Bresson’s Pickpocket, Holland’s Europa, Europa, Clouzot’s Le Corbeau, Reed’s The Third Man, Wyler, Mrs. Miniver, and Peterson, Das Boot.        

The class will study how nations too have attempted to make sense of this hecatomb, seeking explanation, expiation, and often excuses. We will also study how the Second World War’s legacy still affects contemporary European culture and politics.

Spring semester. Professor Rosbottom


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2020, January 2022, Spring 2022