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The University of Southampton

HIST2106 In Hitler's Shadow: Eastern Europe 1918-1939

Module Overview

This module introduces you to the violent and colourful history of Eastern Europe between the wars. Using a range of vivid primary sources, we compare the four major independent states that arose on the ashes of the Habsburg empire in 1918: Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Although some had a long history already, others were completely new. In the 1920s all struggled to become stable nation states in the New Europe, but they were constantly endangered by violent domestic tensions which interacted with threats from greedy neighbours. By the 1930s most were drifting fast in a fascist direction as Nazi Germany tried to undermine the region and draw it into the Axis camp. We analyse why this twenty-year experiment of new nation states failed – was the instability home-grown or mainly due to a collapse of the international system as Hitler’s Germany expanded? By the end of the decade, after a series of international crises which Hitler won, the region had become the cauldron which created a new World War in 1939.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The impact of nationalism and fascism in East-Central Europe between the wars (a crucial era which still informs thinking in contemporary Europe).
  • The tensions between national majorities and minorities, but also between political ideologies (especially Right/Left in a broad international context).
  • How and why domestic and international factors could interact to destabilize the new states.
  • How and why Nazi Germany was able to exploit weaknesses in the region and to expand from 1935.
  • How far the East European states were in command of their histories or beholden to international factors.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Write more effectively through essay work.
  • Critically assess a variety of new historic sources in translation as well as new visual sources.
  • Debate and discuss historical problems more effectively.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Think more comparatively in making links across geographical region.
  • Think conceptually through studying some theory about nationalism and fascism.
  • Understand the political ideologies which shaped Europe in the interwar period.
  • Analyse how states are shaped by a combination of domestic and international influences.
  • Understand how and why national myths are created and reinterpreted over time.


This module introduces you to the rich and violent history of Eastern Europe between the wars. It focuses on the four main “Successor States” which arose in 1918 on the ruins of the Habsburg Empire: Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Theoretically they can be divided into “vanquished” and “victorious” states at the end of the First World War, so the course begins by assessing and critiquing that division. It then assesses how they progressed in stabilizing themselves in their first decade. On the one hand, we study the threats to political, social and economic stability, comparing why some states were more successful than others in maintaining a form of democracy and social cohesion. Why did Yugoslavia begin to break down while Czechoslovakia seemed to flourish? Why did Austria and Hungary drift fast in an authoritarian direction? On the other hand, we put the states in their international context, studying the legacy of the Paris Peace Settlement and how they operated in the European system: integrating, while creating their own security systems. The module uses the theories of Rogers Brubaker and others to underpin this discussion: to show how national states were invented and promoted in defiance of minority groups in the state. The second part of the module moves to study how Nazi Germany could exploit tensions within the region and expand to dominate it by 1939. The discussion refers to broader theories about fascism (Roger Griffin, Stanley Payne) in which to site the Successor State examples, chiefly Austrian and Hungarian. Due attention is then paid to creeping fascist movements across the Successor States in different forms (as well as their ideological rivals in the native communist parties): the question therefore arises how far fascism in these states was a home-grown phenomenon. At the same time, we explore how Hitler and Mussolini were able to penetrate the region economically and ideologically, leading to the annexation of first Austria and then Czechoslovakia by 1939. By the start of the Second World War, the regional vacuum had been filled by Nazi Germany. Many in the region felt it advisable to bow to this “inevitability” and adapt their national cultures accordingly. Some however already saw a future of resistance against a German Europe, having tasted national independence for twenty years. The way was set for the ideological struggle of the war years which would end with Stalinist Russia filling the vacuum. Typically this module will include: The New Europe of 1919 Vanquished states: Austria and Hungary Constructing a Czechoslovak democracy The road to Yugoslav dictatorship Eastern Europe international Fascism and the militarization of Austria and Hungary The Comintern and Eastern Europe Germany’s penetration of the Danubian basin The Anschluss Czechoslovakia’s Sudeten crisis 1939: The Nazi satellites of Eastern Europe

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• weekly seminars and lectures. • Document analysis in each seminar • You are encouraged in essay work to specialise in certain parts of the region, but also to think comparatively - transnationally and internationally – in order to understand the overall character of this ‘East European vacuum’ in the 1920s and 1930s.

Follow-up work75
Completion of assessment task63.5
Preparation for scheduled sessions75
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

I. Lukes (1996). Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler. 

M. Cornwall (2012). The Devil’s Wall: The Nationalist Youth Mission of Heinz Rutha. 

D. Watt (1989). How War Came: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War. 

D. Kaiser (1980). Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War. 

A. Orzoff (2009). Battle for the Castle: The Myth of Czechoslovakia in Europe 1918-1948. 

M. Mann (2004). Fascists. 

C. Nielsen (2014). Making Yugoslavs. Identity in King Aleksandar’s Yugoslavia. 

M. Djilas (1983). Memoir of A Revolutionary. 

G. Gedye (1939). Fallen Bastions: The Central European Tragedy. 

C. Macartney (1961). October the Fifteenth: A History of Modern Hungary 1929-1945. ,1 .

I. Berend (1998). Decades of Crisis: Central and Eastern Europe before World War II. 

R. Brubaker (1996). Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 25%
Essay  (2000 words) 25%
Exam  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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