UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


SEHI3012/9012 Life Writing: Memory and Identity in Twentieth Century Europe

PLEASE NOTE: This module will not be available in 2018-19  

UCL Credits: 60

Total Learning Hours: 750

ECTS: 30

Level: Advanced

Course Unit: 2.0

Full Year

Module Coordinator: Dr Diana Georgescu

Taught By: Dr Diana Georgescu

To find out more about this module, please contact the Module Coordinator

Weekly Contact Hours: [2.0] 
Prerequisites: Students should normally have passed at least one full History course-unit at Advanced Level
Compulsory Module for: N/A

Summative Assessment

Coursework (source analysis + essay + text introduction.5,000-5,500 words)  (25%)

3 Hour Examination (75%)

Formative Assessment

1. 2,000-word dissertation draft for feedback

2. Two 10-minute class presentations on the class readings.

3. All students will be asked to generate 2-3 discussion questions for each week’s class, and post them on the class forum by midnight the night before the class.

4. A 15-minute class presentation on your dissertation topic and progress on your dissertation so far. Presentations will be in the weeks of 8 and 15 March

Module Outline

After decades of focusing on structures and broad processes in history and society, history has since the 1980s taken a turn to write the personal back into history. Familiarizing students with the “biographical turn” in history as well as in the social sciences and humanities more broadly, this course will explore the ways in which modern lives were experienced, remembered, and narrated in the turbulent 20th century. We will draw on a wide range of life narratives – whether biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, oral histories, diaries, or letters – to examine the possibilities and limits of the genre for writing the history of modern Europe, particularly its eastern margins. Rather than focusing on “important” people such as leaders or politicians, we will deal with ordinary men and women, whose lives did not unfold under conditions of their own making, but who nevertheless claimed agency in the process of living and writing history.

Many of the readings assigned for class discussion focus on Eastern Europe and Soviet Russia and/or are produced by actors from the region. The sources are clustered around some of the major historical developments of the twentieth century: the two World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, the Cold War division of Europe, and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. As a result, the readings provide insights into the twentieth century as a period of rapid political change and social displacement, which altered our notions of time and space and led to increasingly fragmented lives. They also raise broader theoretical questions that students are encouraged to further pursue in their dissertations. These include questions about the relation between identity and memory, memory-making and history-writing, remembering and forgetting, or about the epistemological and moral dilemmas of recovering “buried memories” or “silenced voices.” Because these questions have been at the center of not only historical, but also literary and anthropological research, our exploration of the twentieth century through the lens of ego-documents will be an interdisciplinary venture intended to train students as self-reflexive historians.


Please note: This outline is accurate at the time of publication. Minor amendments may be made prior to the start of the academic year.