The University of Southampton

HIST2035 The Struggle of the Czechs: From Serfdom to Stalinism

Module Overview

This module studies the Czechs, one of the key peoples of East-Central Europe, as a way of exploring critically the concept of national identity in modern Europe. It was Otto von Bismarck who once observed that whoever controlled Bohemia would control Europe. His comment reflected an awareness of the pivotal geographical situation of the region currently occupied by the Czech Republic. In the late eighteenth century the Czech language had survived only among peasants in the countryside; by the twentieth century Czech national identity was a vibrant phenomenon, which from 1918 found its expression politically and culturally in the new state of Czechoslovakia.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to a substantial period of ‘Czech history’ as a means of exploring the concept of national identity • explore developments in the Bohemian lands from the viewpoint of different ethnic or national groups • develop your critical and analytical skills by assessing the main English-language historiography

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the main political, social and cultural developments in the Bohemian lands between the late eighteenth century and the mid-twentieth century
  • how Czech national identity has been constructed and reinterpreted through several generations
  • why the Czech-German national relationship deteriorated during the period in question
  • the wider regional context which affected developments in the Bohemian lands
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • gather evidence and synthesise it in a well-written and argued essay
  • hone your oral skills in group discussions where you are both a leader and a respondent
  • co-operate with others in identifying and solving problems
  • display effective time management in planning and completing tasks set
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • explain the various determinants which make up modern national identity (political, social and cultural)
  • evaluate through the Czech example the processes of state formation and state disintegration
  • explain the origin of national tensions and conflict, and the problems involved in their resolution
  • engage with the main ideologies which shaped the development of central Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries


The module explores the nature of Czech identity over more than a century from 1800 to 1950, how it was constructed through myth and reality, and its uneasy relationship with neighbouring peoples – particularly the Germans, the Slovaks and the Jews. Czech developments are also placed firmly within the context of the three regimes of which the Czechs were a part during this period: the Habsburg Empire, liberal-democratic Czechoslovakia and Nazi Germany. Through a wide variety of approaches, and through some grounding in current theories of nationalism, you will gain a new understanding of how national identity in Europe has been constructed and sustained. The Czech case – where borders, peoples and ideologies have all shifted within living memory – is the ideal experiment for such a study.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • lectures (one hour, twice a week) • tutor-led group seminars (one hour, once a week) • group work through debates Learning activities include • preparation for weekly seminars by reading and interpreting a variety of secondary sources and some primary source extracts. • enhancement of your organisational and analytical skills through the two modes of formal assessment • preparation for these through one shorter essay (2000-2500 words) which will not be formally assessed but for which you will receive individual feedback. Innovative or special features of this module • optional spring visit to the city of Prague accompanied by the module convenor

Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Completion of assessment task100
Total study time290

Resources & Reading list

H Kieval (2000). Languages of Community. The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands. 

I Mamatey and R. Luža (eds) (1973). A History of the Czechoslovak Republic1918-1948. 

E. Wiskemann (1967). Czechs and Germans. A Study of the Struggle in the Historic Provinces of Bohemia and Moravia. 

Z. Zeman (1997). A Life of Edvard Beneš 1884-1948. 

D. Sayer (1998). The Coasts of Bohemia. A Czech History. 

H.G. Skilling (1994). T.G. Masaryk against the Current 1882-1914. 

A. Smith (1986). The Ethnic Origins of Nations. 

P. Toma and D. Kovác (2001). Slovakia. From Samo to Dzurinda. 

P. Demetz (1997). Prague in Black and Gold. The History of a City. 

B. Anderson (1991). Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 

L. Holy (1996). The Little Czech and the Great Czech Nation. 

J. Zacek (1970). Palacký. The Historian as Scholar and Nationalist. 

J. Hašek (1973). The Good Soldier Švejk. 


Assessment Strategy

The links between assessment methods and learning outcome are as follows: • You will receive written feedback on one non-assessed essay and one assessed essay • You will perform one short oral presentation in one seminar and have it informally assessed by the tutor. • The tutor will be available to advise on planning essay work and the oral presentation


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Examination 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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