(U16 Hist 3490 01)

The Age of Extremes:

A Global History of the Twentieth Century


Steven P. Miller, Ph.D.


Washington University in St. Louis (University College)

Fall 2009, W 6:30-9:00 p.m., Eliot 216


Email: spmiller@wustl.edu (the best way to reach me)

Phone: 314-853-5495 (for emergencies only; no calls after 8:30 p.m., please!)

*** I will be on campus approximately one hour before each class meeting. 

Contact me to arrange a meeting. ***


Course Description and Themes

The twentieth century, declared historian Eric Hobsbawm, was an “age of extremes”—of great idealism, along with brutal militarism; of humanitarian crusades, along with calculated genocide; of unprecedented prosperity, along with crushing poverty.  No part of the world escaped the extremes of the century.  Understanding this recent (but sometimes strange) past can help us to comprehend our present times.  This course explores the history of the twentieth century from a global perspective.  We will look at the big picture of social, political, cultural, and economic changes, while also considering how those changes affected individual lives.  We begin with the high point of European imperialism on the cusp of World War I and close with our current era of globalization alongside religious fundamentalism.  We cover such topics as the great revolutions of the century, the rise of postcolonial nationalism, the collapse of global communism, and the origins of the world financial system that is now in crisis.  Of particular relevance to the course is the importance of ideas in shaping history.  We will use a variety of sources, including important films and influential works of fiction. 


Required Books/Readings

·         Daniel R. Brower, The World in the Twentieth Century: From Empires to Nations, 6th edition (Prentice Hall, 2006) ISBN-10: 0131930427; ISBN-13: 978013193042.

·         Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Yale Press, 2008 [2007]) ISBN-10: 0300143338; ISBN-13: 978-0300143331.

·         Philip Gourevich, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (Picador, 1999 [1998])  ISBN-10: 0312243359; ISBN-13:      978-0312243357.

+   Short readings posted on Telesis.


Class Structure and Expectations

Classes consist of both lectures and discussions (usually a mixture of the two).  Lectures outline critical themes, provide important factual information, and frame key questions for subsequent discussions.  Fruitful discussion requires close engagement of the readings, listed just below each class date. 


Since this is a once a week course, you are advised to attend every session.  Please clear foreseeable excused absences in advance.  In the event of emergencies—e.g., illness—please notify me of your absence as soon as possible.


If you require accommodations for exams or for lectures, please contact Cornerstone: the Center for Advanced Learning (www.cornerstone.wustl.edu, 935-5970, cornerstone@wustl.edu).  Cornerstone serves as the official University resource for approving and arranging students’ accommodations.  All information is treated as confidential.  I will provide accommodations for which you qualify as long as I receive the appropriate documentation from Cornerstone. 


I encourage you to take advantage of the many resources offered by the Writing Center: www.artsci.wustl.edu/~writing, 935-4981, writing@artsci.wustl.edu.



  • Participation, including weekly written summaries (20% of final grade).
    • Quality participation reflects engagement with the assigned readings.  Raising important questions represents one valuable way of contributing to discussions.  The participation component may also include extemporaneous in-class assignments. 
    • Prepare a 1-2 pp. written response to the weekly non-textbook readings.  While the response should provide a brief summary of the reading(s), its main purpose is to serve as a starting point for in-class discussion.  It is intended as a first draft interpretation of what we will “unpack” together in class.  Please type your responses.


  • Review essay on The Great Partition (15%).


  • In-class reflection on We Wish to Inform You . . .  (5%).


  • Paper and an in-class presentation on an important 20th-century nonfiction book (20%).  In addition to analysis of the book, this assignment will require focused secondary-source research on both the book and the author.


  • Midterm (20%) and final exam (20%).


Grading Scale:              A         93-100    C+       77-79

A-        90-92      C          73-76          

B+       87-89      C-        70-72

B         83-86       D         60-69

B-        80-82      F          0-59 


Academic Integrity and Plagiarism
As you know, students at Washington University are expected to adhere to the highest standards of behavior.  Plagiarism, copying from other students, and other forms of cheating will not be tolerated.  It is dishonest and a violation of student academic integrity if you plagiarize, cheat on an examination, copy or collaborate on assignments without permission, fabricate or falsify data or records, or engage in other forms of deceit or dishonesty.  Complete information about the University’s Academic Integrity Policy may be found at http://artsci.wustl.edu/~college/Policies/; click on “Academic Integrity Policy.”  All violations of standard rules of academic integrity will be reported to and investigated by the Dean of University College.  If it is determined that you have acted dishonestly, or even if you have admitted the charges prior to a formal investigation or hearing, an appropriate sanction will be imposed, including automatic failure of the assignment or course, or in the case of serious or repeat violations, suspension or expulsion from the University.  Withdrawing from a course will not prevent the Dean from imposing or recommending sanctions.  If you observe another student violating this policy, you have a responsibility to confront the student, report the misconduct to the instructor, and/or seek advice from the appropriate dean or academic integrity officer.  For additional information, definitions of plagiarism, guidelines for writing and research, examples of proper citation, and practical tips on avoiding conventional and Internet plagiarism, please visit the following Web sites:
www.plagiarism.org and http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~writing/plagiarism.htm.  Note that citation standards apply as equally to Internet-based materials as to printed materials.  Please let me know if you have any questions about proper citation, attribution of sources, collaboration with other students, or any other related aspect of academic integrity and plagiarism.


Course Schedule

8/26  Week 1

Introduction: Talking about the Twentieth Century

Empires and –Isms



The World in the Twentieth Century (World), Chp. 1 (read at some point in week)

                Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) (will read in class)


9/2  Week 2

The Great War

“Ten Days That Shook the World”


                READING (here and below, to be completed before class)

World, Chps. 2-3, Chp. 4 (96-102)

V. I. Lenin, from “What is to be Done?” (1902)

9/9  Week 3

The Global Economic Crisis of the 1930s

Fascism and World War II


World, Chps. 5-6

Noel O’Sullivan, “Five Main Tenets of Fascist Ideology” (1983)

Adolph Hitler, from Mein Kampf (1926) 

9/16  Week 4

The Horrors of War and the Hopes for Peace

Origins of the “Cold” War


World, Chp. 7

Hannah Arendt, “The Concentration Camps” (1948)

9/23  Week 5

China: From the Boxer Rebellion to the Cultural Revolution


World, Chp. 4 (116-125), Chp. 8, Chp. 9 (254-264)

Excerpts from Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, a.k.a., “The Little Red Book” (1966)

Anchee Min, from Red Azalea (1998)


9/30  Week 6

Creating Nations, Creating Nationalism

Decolonization and the Third World


World, Chp. 4 (113-116), Chp. 10 (279-290), Chp. 11

Benedict Anderson, from Imagined Communities (1991)

Frantz Fanon, from The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

10/7  Week 7


Congo: the Promise and the Pain

10/14  Week 8

Decolonization and the West

India: from the Raj to Partition


            World, Chp. 4 (102-112), Chp. 10 (290-310)

            George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant” (1936)

10/21  Week 9


1968 Around the World


            Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition (2007)


10/28  Week 10

The Cold War World . . .

and Its Sudden End


                World, Chp. 13

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, from The Gulag Archipelago (1973)

Milan Kundera, from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979)

11/4  Week 11

The Middle East, Zionism, and Islamism

Modern Fundamentalisms


                World, Chp. 12         

Gilles Kepel, from The Revenge of God (1994)

11/11  Week 12

Dilemmas of the Post-Cold War World


                World, Chp. 14

Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?” (1989)

11/18  Week 13


The Rwandan Genocide and World History

Talking about Terrorism

Philip Gourevich, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families (1998)

                Gourevich, “The Life After” (2009)

Thanksgiving (no meeting on 11/25)

12/2  Week 14

The Rise of East Asia

The Newest Globalization and the Latest Global Economic Crisis


                World, 264-278

Michael Lewis, “Wall Street on the Tundra” (2009)


12/9  Week 15



12/16  Week 16