Skip to main content

Study information

The 'Savage Continent'? Everyday Violence in 1940s Europe

Module titleThe 'Savage Continent'? Everyday Violence in 1940s Europe
Module codeHIH2018A
Academic year2022/3
Module staff


Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The module explores the most turbulent decade of twentieth-century European history, and analyses the multiple axes of extreme violence - political, ethnic, racial, personal - which marked this period and instigated momentous changes in the history of the continent. The course aims to explore how such unprecedented violence against civilians, women and children was experienced by ordinary citizens of European countries, and how it transformed and affected their everyday lives, political choices and social attitudes both before and after 1945. We will trace the process by which fierce political and ideological struggles of the 1940s enveloped ever broader sections of the European populations, and examine how different categories of people behaved under these circumstances, what motivated or deterred them, and how they attempted to make sense of (and survive) the whirlwind of the 1940s. The war disrupted prewar collective identities and networks by relocating millions of people – the module will analyse how these migrations of soldiers, refugees, forced labourers, prisoners and prisoners of war re-shaped the continent and influenced personal and national identities.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will offer you an opportunity to explore in depth a new field of historical study, and analyse and employ a variety of relevant historiographical approaches. It, moreover, employs a plethora of materials (academic, literary, archival), interpretive issues and methodological approaches to the topic. In doing so, it will broaden and improve your analytical and research skills and experience.

The module begins by addressing the Third Reich's euphoria of the summer of 1940 and its plans for the New European Order of the Community of Peoples, and moves on to discuss the following themes: collaboration and policing, wars within wars in the borderlands, civil wars in Eastern and Southern Europe, resistance and opposition, violence against women and children, experiences of surveillance, the Holocaust and genocide. The module looks at the 1940s as a whole, and questions the significance of 1945 as a watershed moment, focusing instead on important continuities across the 'year zero.' It compares Eastern and Western European experiences, and explores how mass violence against civilians fundamentally reshaped societies on both sides of the emerging Iron Curtain. The early Cold War years continued to be marked by the extreme forms of violence known from the wartime years, and the class will explore the concept of postwar Europe as a 'savage continent', and analyse the significance of various theories of brutalisation. It examines postwar conflicts over the meaning of justice, retribution and victimhood, and traces different forms of violence that emerged from these disagreements in both Western and Eastern Europe.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the main themes and issues pertaining to the histories of violence in 1940s Europe.
  • 2. Critically evaluate the different historiographical debates and perspectives relating to mass violence and everyday violence in 1940s Europe.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Analyse the key developments in a complex historical environment
  • 4. Demonstrate an ability to handle profoundly different approaches to history in a deeply contested area
  • 5. Demonstrate an ability to understand and deploy complex historical terminology in a comprehensible manner

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Select, organise and analyse material for written work and oral presentations of different prescribed lengths and formats.
  • 7. Present complex arguments orally.
  • 8. Present an argument in a written form in a clear and organised manner, with appropriate use of correct English
  • 9. Through essay development process, demonstrate ability to reflect critically on your own work, to respond constructively to feedback, and to implement suggestions and improve work on this basis

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • War, society and everyday life: historiographical approaches
  • The summer of 1940: Volkergemeinschaft and limitations of racial utopias
  • Germany's allies: Living in the age of Axis internationalism
  • Anatomy of collaboration and collaborationism
  • War of annihilation: Soviet experiences of invasion and occupation
  • Wars within wars in the borderlands: 'Bloodlands' in a European perspective
  • The economics of destruction: the peculiar case of forced labourers
  • Resistance: France, Italy and the Balkans
  • Ivan's and Tommy's war: Soldiers and partisans  
  • Everyday life under occupation: opposition, surveillance and participation
  • The Final Solution: Orchestration, administration, execution
  • The Final Solution: Experiencing genocide
  • Civil wars:  Yugoslavia as the microcosm of Europe
  • War as a social revolution
  • The savage continent: vengeance, justice and retribution of 1945
  • Violent peace: ethnic cleansing and re-settlement
  • Political violence and social reform: survivors, policemen, Communists
  • Heroes in disgrace: Resistance veterans and the reconstruction of Europe
  • Revolutionary justice: Experiences of Sovietization in the East

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching2222 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided independent study22Web-based activities located on ELE – preparation for seminars and presentations
Guided independent study234Reading and preparation for seminars and presentations

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay703000 word essay1-6, 8-9Oral and written feedback
Presentation3025 minutes per individual student1-7Oral and written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (3000 words)1-6, 8-9Referral/Deferral period
PresentationScript as for individual presentation, equivalent to 25 minutes1-6, 8-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 3,000 word essay, as in the original assessment, but replaces participation in the group presentation with a written script that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 25 minutes of speech.

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Karel Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine Under Nazi Rule (2004).
  • Holly Case, Between States: The Transylvanian Question and the European idea during World War II (2009).
  • Tomislav Dulic, Utopias of Nation: Local Mass Killing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1941-1942 (2005).
  • Stathis Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil Wars (2003).
  • Mark Mazower, Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis ruled Europe (2008)
  • Catherine Merridale, Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 (2006).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Fascism, Nazi occupation, violence, resistance, soldiers, civil war

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date