Hist7330: Violence in the Age of Extremes
Teacher: Dr Bernhard Rieger
This seminar addresses an issue that has puzzled the wider public and historians alike: Why did an unprecedented wave of violence, which left millions displaced, mutilated and killed, sweep through Europe in the first half of the twentieth century?
The course confronts students with both empirical and conceptual concerns. In particular, it examines the link between the explosion of violence in early twentieth-century Europe and the “civilizing process” (Norbert Elias) which promoted restrained models of individual conduct and transferred the monopoly on legitimate violence on state organs.
Writings on violence have burgeoned in recent years but do not present an independent specialty in historical research. The course, therefore, introduces students to a range of approaches developed to explain violent thought and action. Topics include links between gender and violence, ritualized forms of bloody conflict settlement (e.g. duelling), the dynamics of war, and radical forms of social and political exclusion. Since violent behaviour presents a striking phenomenon in many countries at the time, the seminar offers an opportunity for historical study from an international perspective.
As the term progresses, students not only familiarize themselves with recent explanations for violent thought and action in Europe and beyond; they are also encouraged to consider an epistemological question: To what extent do historians possess the analytical tools to account for atrocities that are frequently described as “unimaginable” and, by implication, as defying explanation?
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