06929 - History of Contemporary Europe

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Forli
  • Corso: First cycle degree programme (L) in Languages and Technologies for Intercultural Communication (cod. 5979)

Learning outcomes

Through the study of the most astonishing genocide in Europe's history, students will know better the historic dynamics of Western modernization. They will better understand the complex past we come from, and our present culture itself.

Course contents

The Shoah civilization

In the view of many scholars, the Shoah is a watershed in the history of humanity. In the last decades, Auschwitz has become a symbol of 'absolute evil', i.e. the almost inconceivable pinnacle of inhumanity. Contrary to a deep-seated cliché, however, the Nazi extermination cannot be interpreted as an irrational collapse of western society. Its original dynamics, ideological aspects, and the very circumstances of its 'technical' realisation belong, rather, in good part to the culture, science and politics of modern Europe. The Shoah is, therefore, a unique historical 'event', but, at the same time, a 'process' inscribed in the entire history of Europe between the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Today, the memory of the Shoah is also inscribed in our collective 'conscience' as a civil commandment to learn. But, to learn what? The Shoah was possibly the most horrendous crime of all times, but it was certainly a crime of state. What does this tell us about the contemporary political power? Moreover, as an icon of absolute evil, the Shoah has also become in today's media the ethical diaphragm for our memory that is located reassuringly between us and the immensity of the horror. Finally, with reference to some of the most significant works in film, the question of how the language of cinema has tried to represent the Shoah in testimonies, documentaries and fiction will also be addressed.

First and foremost, the course will offer an ineluctable reconstruction of the context in which the Nazi genocide took form. However, a brief cultural genealogy of contemporary political violence from the end of the 19th century at least will also be provided with reference to topics such as racism, colonialism, eugenics, and the precarious ideological equilibrium between citizenship and belonging. Regarding post-1945 events, some dynamics of memory and its removal in public rhetoric will be explored. Finally, the question of the distance that today's European culture so often deliberately establishes between itself and and the Nazi extermination of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and those deemed inferior will also be considered.


NB: These are NOT the texts that need to be prepared for the examination, but those that will be used during the course.

- Storia della Shoah. La crisi dell'Europa, lo sterminio degli ebrei e la memoria del XX secolo, a cura di Marina Cattaruzza, Marcello Flores, Simon Levis Sullam, Enzo Traverso, voll. II, III, IV, Utet, Torino 2005-2006

- Anna Vera Sullam Calimani, I nomi dello sterminio, Torino, Einaudi 2001

- Enzo Traverso, La violenza nazista. Una genealogia, Il Mulino 2002

- Schlomo Venezia, Sonderkommando Auschwitz, Rizzoli, Milano 2007

- Léon Poliakov, Il nazismo e lo sterminio degli ebrei, Einaudi, Torino 2003

- Hannah Arendt, La banalità del male. Eichmann a Gerusalemme, Feltrinelli, Milano 2003

- Ian Kershaw, Che cos'è il nazismo? Problemi interpretativi e prospettive di ricerca, Bollati Boringhieri 2003

- Zygmunt Bauman, Modernità e Olocausto, Il Mulino, 1992

- Stanley Milgram, Obbedienza all'autorità. Uno sguardo sperimentale, Einaudi 2003

- George M. Fredrickson, Breve storia del razzismo, Donzelli, Roma 2002

- David Engel, L'Olocausto, Il Mulino 2005

- Raul Hilberg, La distruzione degli Ebrei d'europa, Einaudi, Torino 1995

- Primo Levi, I sommersi e i salvati, Einaudi, Torino 2007

- Georges Bensoussan, L'eredità di Auschwitz. Come ricordare?, Einaudi, Torino 2002

- Art Spiegelman, Maus, Rizzoli, Milano 1995

- Régine Robin, I fantasmi della storia. Il passato europeo e le trappole della memoria, Ombre Corte, Verona 2005

- David Bidussa, Dopo l'ultimo testimone, Einaudi, Torino 2009

- Gitta Sereny, In quelle tenebre, Adelphi, Milano 1975

- Saul Friedlaender, Kurt Gerstein o l'ambiguità del bene, Feltrinelli, Milano 1967

- Kjersti Ericsson, Eva Simonsen (a cura di), I 'figli' di Hitler. La selezione della 'razza ariana', i figli degli invasori tedeschi nei territori occupati, Boroli, Milano 2007

- Guido Vitiello, Il testimone immaginario. Auschwitz, il cinema e la cultura pop, Ipermedium, S. Maria C.V. (CE) 2011

- Valentina Pisanty, I guardiani della memoria e il ritorno delle destre xenofobe, Bompiani, Milano 2020


- AA.VV., A forza di essere vento. Lo sterminio nazista degli Zingari, Italia 2005

- Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, Paragraph 175, Usa 1999

- Claude Lanzmann, Shoah, Francia 1985

- Alain Resnais, Niut et brouillard, Francia 1956

- Tim Blake Nelson, The Grey Zone, USA 2001

Teaching methods

Traditional lessons; viewing and commentary of cinematographic works.

Assessment methods

For students attending classes, the examination will be as follows:

  • a short, written exercise in class based on the subjects discussed and knowledge of a text book on modern history (recommended text: Alberto De Bernardi, Roberto Balzani, Storia del mondo contemporaneo, Bruno Mondadori, 2003, Chapters 6-11 inclusive)
  • an essay (to be submitted one week prior to the examination) based on a critical-historical reading of a text or film agreed with the teacher.

For students not attending classes, the oral examination will be based on the following three texts:

1) Alberto De Bernardi, Roberto Balzani, Storia del mondo contemporaneo, Bruno Mondadori, 2003, Chapters 6-11 inclusive

2) David Engel, L'Olocausto, Il Mulino 2005

3) Enzo Traverso, La violenza nazista. Una genealogia, Il Mulino 2002

N.B.: In place of Text 1), another text book covering contemporary history from the last decades of the 1800s to the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War.

Teaching tools


Office hours

See the website of Alessandro Bellassai


Quality education Reduced inequalities

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.