HIST 451C: History & Literature – Europe (WI)

Prof. Peter Hoffenberg
Fall 2018 | CRN: 90038 | Section 002
Focus Designation: Writing Intensive


History 451 introduces some of the many relationships between history and literature, both rather broadly defined to include different understandings and representations of the past and different written texts, such as novels, short stories, memoirs and poetry. Our required readings, lectures, discussions and assignments explore how literature has reflected and shaped society in the past, influences our own sense of the past, or relationship to that past, and provides a way to under-stand the past. This course might be termed “History as Literature,” or “Literature as History,” as much if not more than “History and Literature.” We will try and do for History and Literature what so many excellent scholars are doing for film and history. They are asking how our study of film, particularly films about historical events, persons and themes, helps us better understand the meanings and legacies of those subjects, as well as our relationships to the past, and, in doing so, can we track the changes in the aesthetic form itself? In other words, why were novels so important to 19th-century Europe and what does that tell us about how Europeans at the time thought of and imagined their world, why they did so with the novel form, and what that means about our understanding of the time and place.

We focus on some of the key events, ideas, groups and individuals in modern European history since the late eighteenth century; that is, between Romanticism and the French Revolution on one hand, and the end of Communist rule on the other. Among the countries considered are Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia; topics include labor, men & women, the family, religion, science, rich & poor, cities, the countryside, and imperialism. Each week’s work of literature is accompanied by a lecture, discussion and readings about the historical context in which the work was written and the general history of the central historical topic of the work, as well as consideration of the author and genre read that week. We will have in-class discussions during the final session of each week.

Lectures, readings and discussions will also consider within historical context the roles of authors and literary works in light of European social and political history. For example, what did a particular author’s novel suggest about the contemporary and ideal social order? the contemporary and utopian political world? Why did certain genres rise? How and why were questions about authorial intent and significance raised and answered? What were the relation- ships among writing, printing and reading? We will address those and other questions in specific historical contexts of time and place, as well as across the broader sweep of Modern Europe.


Discussion, book review, brief reaction papers, periodic blue-book assignments, and one final 7 pp essay.


  • Introductory Readings on Europe, Literature and History (Laulima)
  • Romantic Poetry (Laulima)
  • Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Balzac, Old Goriot
  • Dickens, Hard Times
  • Turgenev, Sketches from a Hunters Album
  • Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  • World War One Poetry (Laulima)
  • Kafka, Short Stories (Laulima)
  • Ignazio Silone, Fontamara
  • Auden, Yeats and Eliot poems (Laulima)
  • Camus, The Stranger