Detail from a Soviet poster

"It is the mission of the twentieth century to clarify the irrational." - Maurice Merleau-Ponty

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • 2 hours a week
  • Wednesdays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 20 weeks: October to March
  • Tutor: Sheila Lecoeur
  • Fees from £230 to £420
  • Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
Booking link

The aim of this 20-week course is to offer an introduction to the main historical events of the last century in Europe, and how they interconnect. The focus is on the First and Second World Wars, their causes and consequences; a subject which still fascinates us today, as its impact on our lives continues to be relevant. We will examine the increasing support for socialism and communism and the impact of the Russian Revolution and ask how the aftershocks of the Russian Revolution were linked to the advent of Fascism and Nazism.

We will also look at the build-up to the First World War, still a matter of debate, and investigate and discuss the links between these important historical events and their consequences.

Aspects of the Second World War, especially the way it affected peoples’ lives during and after the conflict, will be analysed and discussed, and we will look at the relationship between the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, and consider its aftermath.

Our discussions will be illustrated by relevant films and part of each class will be devoted to viewing clips from the most striking film footage about the period. Students will be encouraged to read up on the debates so as to be able to participate in class and to work out for themselves how historical events are connected.

Online Access to Course

This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.

Attendance certificate

Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.

Course Information

Course Programme

Session 1

Analysing history: making the connections between events and those who were involved. This session includes a brief look at changing methods of writing and telling history; with important thinkers and ideas to be discussed. How can we best understand or interpret history? Taking the measure of Europe in the early 20th century through maps, film clips and debate.

Session 2

Social and political change and the build up to the first World War 1. Changes in consciousness. Awareness of rights. National self-determination. Modernism in the arts and architecture. Visual and film materials.

Session 3

The Russian Revolution 1905 and 1917 and the role of the state in Europe. Discussion of power relations in Russia, the Tsars and autocratic rule. Dramatic film clips of the revolution.

Session 4

World War I. Campaigns, absolute war and destruction, as well as aspirations. The signing of the Armistice and Germany’s reactions; turmoil and bitter disappointment for the German people.

Session 5

The Versailles treaties and their impact. The League of Nations and the rise of Fascism in Italy. The founding of the Communist parties and the socialist International.

Session 6

The Great Depression of the 1930s. Crisis in post-war Germany, Nazism and the rise of Adolf Hitler. Germany rearms in contravention of the Versailles treaty.

Session 7

The Popular Fronts in Spain and France and the Spanish Civil War

Session 8

Hitler’s early expansionism. Appeasement and the
build-up to World War II.

Session 9

The occupation regime in France and the spread of war to North Africa and the Balkans


Session 10

Europe’s changing world status: Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour December 7 1941 and the United States' entry into World War II

Session 11

Collaboration, Resistance and the Holocaust

Session 12

The final stages of the war in Germany

Session 13

The shift in world power and recovering from war                                                      .

Session 14

The search for stability in post-war Europe and political change

Session 15

Cold War, espionage and the Berlin crisis

Session 16

Britain in the 1950s: Economic obstacles, the welfare state, rationing.

Festival of Britain and the Suez crisis. Towards a consumer society.

Session 17

Behind the Iron Curtain: USSR and life in the Eastern block countries

Session 18

The break-up of the USSR, the fall of the Berlin wall and reunification of Germany

Session 19

The civil war and break-up of Yugoslavia. Violence in Europe and Nato intervention.

Session 20

Summing up the 20th century: the electronic revolution in communications, neoliberalism, deregulation and its consequences for life today.

 This programme is provisional and might be subject to change.


Additional Reading

Provisional reading list for the Autumn term

Core reference:

  • Eric Hobsbawn,  Age of Extremes: The short Twentieth Century  (Abacus, 1994)
  • Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century  (Allen Lane, 1998)
  • Mark Mazower, Hitler’s Empire: Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe (Allen Lane, 2008)
  • Konrad H. Jarausch,  Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century (2015) Timothy SnyderTony Judt, Thinking the Twentieth Century  Ian KershawTo Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949  (2015)

Reference books for defining history:

  • E.H. Carr,  What is History?  (Penguin, frequent reprints)
  • Eugen Weber,  Peasants into Frenchmen

Definition of social history:

Background to the 20th century:

  • James Joll,  Europe since 1870  (Pelican, many reprints)  NB See  Chapter 6: The Industrial Society and its Critics

Socialism and Communism:

First World War:


  • Ernest Hemingway,  A Farewell to Arms  (Re Caporetto 1917)
  • Erich Maria Remarque,  All Quiet on the Western Front   (1996) Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That  (Penguin Modern Classics 2000)Pat Barker, Regeneration (Trilogy about the war. Viking Press 1991)

Nationalism, proto fascism and Nazism:

The Wall Street crash and its consequences in Europe:


  • George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

The League of Nations:

  • Susan Pederson, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford 2015)
  • Interwar Period. Culture, Society and Politics

The Second World War:

  • AJP Taylor, The Origins of the Second World Wa 1961
  • NB See core references above.
  • Paul DowswellThe Usborne Introduction to The Second World War: (Internet-linked 29 Apr 2005)
  • Fiction: Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise (Vintage, 2007) See film.

The consequences of war:

  • Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
  • David Kynaston, A World to Build. Austerity Britiain 1945-48  (Bloomsbury, 2008)
  • Collaboration and the pursuit of war criminals:
  • Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France. Old Guard and New Order 1940-44. (1975)
  • Julian Jackson,   France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944 (2003) 
  • Visual sources Pierre SorlinEuropean Cinemas, European Societies, 1939-1990 (Studies in Film, Television and the Media) 1991

Your Tutor

Photograph of Sheila LecoeurDr Sheila Lecoeur has specialised in Italian studies and is currently Coordinator of Italian in the Centre for Languages, Communication and Culture.

Sheila is also a social historian of Europe in the 20th century, with a particular interest in the history of fascism and the Second World War. Sheila has engaged in historical research and has produced a documentary film about Greece in World War II for television. Her book on the Italian occupation of Greece, ‘Mussolini’s Greek island’, has also been translated into Greek. She is currently working on a second documentary film on the present crisis in Greece.

Course Delivery: Live Online Taught courses

All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.

All times stated are British Standard Time.

To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.

Microsoft Teams

This course will use Teams as its online delivery method. Teams is easy to use. You will need to log into your existing Teams account or, alternatively, please create a free account hereNear the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a Teams web link that will allow you to access the course. All you need do is click on the course link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class. Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.

All courses lasting two hours have a 10-minute break in the middle. For one-hour courses there is no break.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
 40  20  £420    (Early Bird Rate: £380*)
£250    (Early Bird Rate: £230*) £330    (Early Bird Rate: £300*) 
* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before the end of 30 September for courses starting in October only  |   All fee rates quoted are for the whole 2-term course.

Rate Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
  • Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
  • Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact before completing the online enrolment form

Associate Rate

  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Members of the Kennel Club
  • Members of the London Zoological Society
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • National Health Service (NHS) employees
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Teachers and other staff of UK schools
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer termSummer School
 40  20 18 Oct - 18 Dec 2021 (9 weeks)*  PLUS 10 Jan - 26 Mar 2022 (11 weeks) n/a n/a
* Followed by the Christmas break

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 2nd August 2021

Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
  • The following email notifications are sent:
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • This is a receipt for your payment and includes payment date, order number and course title
  • Confirmation of your place on your chosen course will follow later
2. Enrolment confirmation Is sent within 10 working daysPlease treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Re-confirms your course choice
  • Shows your course's term dates
  • Confirms the day and time of your course
3. Programme information Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains joining instructions for your course, incl. tutor contact details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Any Questions?

Questions regarding the content and teaching of the above course should be addressed to the tutor, Dr Sheila Lecoeur,

If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.