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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Postgraduate (History, Classics and Archaeology)

Postgraduate Course: Thinking the 20th Century - Hannah Arendt and the breakdown of European Civilization (PGHC11383)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course is dealing with the political main work of Hannah Arendt, one of the most contested and important political analysts of the 20th century. We discuss her book on the Eichmann trial and her book on origins of totalitarianism.
Course description The 'dark century' has been illuminated by brightly shining ideologies. Nationalism, imperialism, fascism, communism, liberalism and other 'isms' have sometimes shaped, and often reflected, the most dynamic social and political forces of the century. One way to approach the 20th century is by following the now decayed paths and bridges between political thinking and the socio-political realities targeted by this thinking. This class will do so by studying and discussing the texts of one of Europe's best known, contested and famous political analysts and thinkers. Hannah Arendt combined a restless biography, clear-sightedness, unusual overviews, visionary moments, and a powerful style, with a capacity that was rather infrequent throughout the 20th century: independent thinking far from or against the mainstreams of their time. Reading Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) presents the 20th century in a different manner to modern textbooks. The work of Arendt has known an important renaissance throughout the last 20 years apart from an ever-growing intellectual universe even through several cinema adaptations. The seminar will discuss chosen key-phenomena (imperialism, anti-Semitism, racism, propaganda, total power) along with some of the more abstract concepts (freedom, acting, common decency, human rights). These terms are as central to Arendt's work as they are to any analysis of the 20th century. The readings will require students to engage with chapters from the original texts as well as with some of the more recent literature by historians. The class will also debate strengths and limits of intellectual history.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. The course aims to introduce students to some of the key themes and interpretative controversies on the 20th century. By linking the fields of colonial history and the history of 'totalitarian' states it looks at a rather new but extremely lively field of research on the 20th century. The interpretation of 'totalitarian' regime will form the centre of the discussions in class, different intellectual traditions - Greek and German philosophy for Arendt, and to a lesser extent: British and international socialism for Orwell and French humanism for Camus will be used to look at concepts like 'freedom' or 'total power' from different angles
  2. The key objective of the course will be to familiarize the students with the current state of the field, in a comparative and trans-national perspectives on different 'origins and elements of total rule' (Arendt) and on individual acting in a time of ideology and propaganda. Different explications on the nature of evil and on questions of responsibility, guilt and punishment will be discussed. The course will improve the empirical knowledge about central questions of the 20th century as the capacity to understand complex theoretical texts and to scrutinize their value of historiographical work
  3. The second key objective will be to encourage the students to learn from the independent mind Arendt was famous, admired and hated for and to engage critically with the newer historiography. To that end, the course will raw on primary source materials, developing the students' ability to contextualise the events and to hone their skills at employing and dissecting primary sources
  4. The course's third key objective will be to develop the students' research and communication skills, both through class discussion and oral presentations and through written work for coursework assignments
  5. The course is meant as a training in contents and methods of intellectual history. It provides students with the experience to use abstract theoretical models to explain historical events and processes
Reading List
Aschheim, S., ed., 2001, Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ring, J., 1997, The Political Consequences of Thinking. Albany: State University of New York Press.

McGowan, J., 1998, Hannah Arendt: An Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Villa, Dana (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2000.

Gottsegen, M., 1993, The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Benhabib, S., 1996, The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. London: Sage Publications.

Arendt, Hannah: On Revolution. New York: Viking Press, 1963. Revised second edition, 1965.

Arendt, Hannah: Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman. Revised edition translated into English by Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. Critical edition edited by Liliane Weissberg. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Arendt, Hannah: The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1951. Third edition with new prefaces, 1973.

Arendt, Hannah: The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Arendt, Hannah: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking Press, 1963. Revised and enlarged edition, 1965
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsThinking 20th Century Arendt
Course organiserDr Stephan Malinowski
Tel: (0131 6)50 3588
Course secretaryMr George Bottrell-Campbell
Tel: (0131 6)50 8349
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