War Cultures, 1890-1945

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Heather Jones SAR 3.12


This course is available on the MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


No pre-requisites required

Course content

The course will cover the history of warfare from the colonial wars of the 1890s through to the end of the Second World War. It will examine how the high point of European liberalism in the political sphere in the late nineteenth century, which ushered in the age of mass politics, the nation state and the advancement of international law, paradoxically was accompanied by changing attitudes to more extreme combatant violence in wartime and increasingly all-encompassing conflicts and wartime practices, leading ultimately to 'total' war in 1939-45. The first half of the twentieth century witnessed extreme wartime violence on a scale hitherto unseen in world history, in the two world wars in particular which this course will cover in detail, but also in a host of other conflicts such as civil wars or independence struggles. How and why this period was marked by such a particular development of war cultures remains a crucial question and one that has international relevance: this was a global, not merely a European, phenomenon. This course will examine how states and societies mobilized for war by juxtaposing different conflict situations and examining how they interlinked during this period. It will focus in particular on the role and practices of combatants in armed conflict, looking at continuities and breaks in patterns of combat violence. Among the topics it will cover are: The 1899-1902 South African War, the Herero and Nama Genocides, the Balkan Wars 1912-13, the First World War, The Irish War of Independence and Civil War, The Greco-Turkish War 1919-23, International law relating to war 1890-1945, the Polish-Soviet War, the Russian Civil War, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, the Second World War and the development of forced labour during wartime, with particular discussion of both the Holocaust and the Soviet Gulag system.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms and a revision session in the Summer Term.

Formative coursework

Two essays of 3,000 words in length and a mock exam.

Indicative reading

George L. Mosse, Fallen Soldiers. Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (New York and Oxford, 1990) Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing. Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare (London, 1999); Omer Bartov, Mirrors of Destruction. War, Genocide and Modern Memory (New York and Oxford, 2000); Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred. Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge Mass., 2001); Niall Ferguson, The War of the World. History's Age of Hatred (London, 2006); MacGregor Knox, Common Destiny: Dictatorship, Foreign Policy and War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (Cambridge, 2000); Mark Mazower, Dark Continent. Europe's Twentieth Century (London, 1998); Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands. Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (London, 2010).


Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (25%, 3000 words).

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2015/16: Unavailable

Average class size 2015/16: Unavailable

Controlled access 2015/16: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information