National Socialism. Old theories and new research approaches

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Ulrich Herbert, room SAR 2.16


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.

The course is intended for students with some knowledge of the history of the Nazi Regime. Students without a detailed knowledge of this are advised to undertake preliminary background reading.

Course content

Between 1945 and approximately the year 2000, the history of the National Socialist regime was a subject of enormous explosiveness and actuality, which paradoxically continued to grow as time went on; not only in Germany, but almost worldwide. The need to explain and to understand what happened in those twelve years was immense, and still is. In Germany, people's understanding of the present has been moulded, indeed even grounded, by those events: the legitimation of the SED's rule in the GDR for instance was based above all on a specific interpretation of the National Socialist regime. The revolt of the Sixty-Eighters in West Germany was to a considerable extent an act of self-distancing from the generation of their parents who were burdened with the National Socialist past, and as such it was the product of a particular understanding of National Socialism. At present, the Federal Republic's raison d'état is based essentially on an understanding of National Socialism and its crimes which itself continues to change.

Thus the history of research into the National Socialist regime should be understood not only as a gradual extension, deepening and expansion of our empirical knowledge of the period but also as a succession of sometimes very diverse perspectives and interpretations.

The aim of all these various debates, theories and research approaches was to explain the history of the National Socialist regime as a whole or in part, to separate the 'core' from the inessentials, and to reveal the forces that drove it. When faced with such complex but also frightful occurrences this was no simple undertaking, on the one hand because it is almost impossible to analyse the crimes of the National Socialist regime without becoming emotionally involved, and on the other hand because after 1939 the scene of action extended over the whole of Europe and the events were influenced not only by political, ideological, economic and military factors, but also by the completely different circumstances that prevailed in the individual countries occupied or allied with Germany. With the beginning of the war the history of National Socialist rule ceased to be a purely German affair, and became above all a part of European, and indeed in many respects of world, history. This is what makes the attempt to explain the regime by referring to one or more important factors so difficult and often insufficient.

Centre stage in these seminars is therefore occupied by interpretations, theories and debates which attempt to place the National Socialist regime in a historical context and to explain its history. The different approaches will be examined in their chronological sequence and their degree of plausibility, explanatory power and breadth of application will be analysed.


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

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

The formative coursework essay will be 1500 words in length. 

Indicative reading

  • Aly, Götz: Final Solution. Nazi population policy and the murder of the European Jews, London 1999.
  • Arendt, Hannah: The origins of totalitarianism, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1951.
  • Augstein, Rudolf u.a. (ed.): Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? Original Documents of the Historikerstreit, the Controversy concerning the Singularity of the Holocaust, Atlantic Highlights, N.J. 1993.
  • Bajohr, Frank, Löw, Andrea (eds.): The Holocaust and European Societes. Social Processes and Social Dynamics, Basingstoke 2016.
  • Baumann, Zygmunt: Modernity and the Holocaust, Ithaca, NY 1989.
  • Broszat, Martin, Friedländer, Saul: A Controversy about the Historicization of National Socialism, in: Peter Baldwin (ed.), Reworking the Past, Beacon Press 1990, S. 102-132.
  • Caplan, Jane, Childers, Thomas (eds.): Reevaluating the Third Reich, New York 1993.
  • Geyer, Michael, Fitzpatrick, Sheila (eds.): Beyond Totalitarianism. Nazism and Stalinism Compared, Cambridge 2012, p. 180-228.
  • Heim, Susanne, Aly, Götz: Architects of Annhilation. Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction, London 2003.
  • Herbert, Ulrich (ed.): National-Socialist extermination policies. Contemporary German perspectives and controversies, New York 2004.
  • Jäckel, Eberhard: Hitlers Weltanschauung. A Blueprint for Power, Harvard University Press 1972.
  • Kershaw, Ian: The Nazi Dictatorship. Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London/New York 2015.
  • Mommsen, Hans (Ed.): The Third Reich Between Vision and Reality. New Perspectives on German History, 1918-1945, Oxford , New York 2001.
  • Mommsen, Hans: From Weimar to Auschwitz. Essays in German History, Princeton University Press 1991.
  • Shandley, Robert R. (ed.): Unwilling Germans? The Goldhagen Debate, Minneapolis 1998.
  • Snyder, Timothy: Bloodlands. Europe between Hitler and Stalin, London 2011.
  • Steber, Martina, Gotto, Bernhard (eds.): Visions of Community in Nazi Germany. Social Engineering and Private Lives, Oxford 2014.
  • Wildt, Michael: Hitler’s Volksgemeinschaft and the Dynamics of Racial Exclusion. Violence against Jews in Provincial Germany, 1919-1939, New York City 2012.


Essay (35%, 3500 words) and presentation (15%) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the ST.
Class participation (15%) in the MT and LT.

3500-word historiographical essay due in Lent Term (35%); 3500-word state-of-the-field essay due in Summer Term (35%)

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills