Introduction to Problems of World History in the Twentieth Century

School: School of Government
Department: Department of Political Science and International Studies

First year module

Lecturer: Professor Scott Lucas

The course seeks to introduce students to some of the principal problems of the twentieth century in an international context. At the start of the course, the positions of the Great Powers are considered as a prelude to the First World War. The war's course and outcome are then considered, principally the rise of communism and fascism. The nature of the totalitarian state is reviewed in relation to Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The debate on the origins of the Second World War, and especially the pursuit of appeasement lead up to the final theme: the Second World War and the rise of the superpowers. The course concludes with a consideration of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The course considers the collapse of key empires starting with ancient empires: the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire, which subsumed the Byzantine Empire, is then reviewed. In the modern period the British, Soviet and American empires are analysed plus the collapse of apartheid in South Africa. Comparisons are made but the focus is on the specific reasons for the decline and fall of particular empires and the surrounding debates thereon.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a familiarity with some key and much debated problem areas of twentieth century international history, in particular the causes of the two world wars, the rise of communism in Russia, the rise and fall of fascism, what determined the outcome of the two world wars and the Cuban Missile Crisis;
  • The course is intended to introduce these topics as a building platform for further examination in Years 2 and 3.
  • Understand the pressures brought by the twentieth century on the maintenance of empires, leading to their collapse, both in terms of the overall context vis-à-vis changes wrought by the century, and through case studies of the demise of particular empires.

Assessment (from 2018-19)

  • 1 x 1000-word Case Study with document support (25%)
  • 1 x 3,000-word Essay (75%)

Related courses:


The modules listed on the website for this programme are regularly reviewed to ensure they are up-to-date and informed by the latest research and teaching methods. Unless indicated otherwise, the modules listed for this programme are for students starting in 2018. On rare occasions, we may need to make unexpected changes to compulsory modules; in this event we will contact offer holders as soon as possible to inform or consult them as appropriate.