Totalitarianism and Mass Politics: Comparative Perspectives on Fascism and Communism

Undergraduate Program Status

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Course Description: 

The course provides a systematic introduction to the history and historiography of two political ideologies, set of movements, and regimes which have greatly shaped Central Europe’s development in the twentieth century: fascism and communism. A main purpose of the course is to critically question the analytical framework of “(uni)totalitarianism” that dominated comparative studies on fascism and communism during the Cold War, and to introduce students to alternative theoretical and methodological approaches focusing on issues of legitimization, consensus-building, resistance and collaboration in the context of totalitarian movements and regimes in inter-war and post-war Europe, such as “the ethnography of the state,” the “sacralisation” of politics, and fascism and communism as “political religions.” It is hoped that, by the end of the course, students will acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the core historical literature on fascism and communism and will grasp the ideological implications of the complex theoretical debates in these fields. 

Learning Outcomes: 

The course aims at familiarizing students with the aims, scope, and methodology of conceptual history, comparative, and transnational history. First, the course encourages students to reflect on the different meanings with which the concept of totalitarianism was invested during the time, to refer to liberal reforms of the franchise. Second, the course exposes students to the advantages and limitations of employing the comparative method in order to grasp similarities and differences among various historical case studies. In view of the case studies covered during the course, students are encouraged to engage in synchronic as well as diachronic forms of comparison. Third, students are stimulated to reflect on the methodology of transnational history, by thinking of creative ways in which to link local, national, and regional or global levels of analysis. Finally, it is expected that, by engaging in class discussions and debates. students will hone their debating and presentation skills, will broaden their theoretical and historical horizon, and will acquire the ability to engage with various types of historical, visual and political science sources.

 It is expected that students will gain:

  • The ability to deliver well-articulated class presentations, summarizing and contrasting complex arguments.
  • The ability to present one’s views and to defend them in-class debates.
  • Knowledge of the history of the comparative method, its importance, and its interdisciplinary applications in the fields of contemporary history and politics.
  • An understanding of the most important debates on contemporary history, with a focus on the history of World War II, Holocaust, and totalitarianism.   

Students are expected to attend all lectures and seminars, read the assigned readings, and prepare to actively participate in seminar discussions. The requirements and grading breakdown of the seminar are as follows: 

 Seminar participation (10 percent), based on both the quantity and quality of the students’ contributions and involvement during discussions of readings; 

  • Course presentation (30 percent). Students should present a critical summary of one of the assigned readings for a particular class, at their choice. Students should outline the main argument of the readings, and critically evaluate their approach and their sources. They will be offered feedback and suggestions by the two instructors and by the other students.
  • Final essay (60 percent): A final essay of 2.000 to 2.200 words (including footnotes and the final bibliography) will be due two weeks after the final seminar, on a topic relevant to both the course subject-matter and students’ particular research interests.