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Studies in War: From the Crimea to the Second World War


Admission requirements

None, but Birth of the Modern World is recommended.


This reading-intensive course seeks to give students an understanding of how war, including the technology and tactics of war, and the journalistic coverage of wars, has changed and developed from the middle of the 19th until the middle of the 20th century. Six wars – different in nature, but all significant in varying ways - will be studied: the Crimean War of 1853-56 – the first war reported in the “modern era” through the use of the telegraph; the First World War of 1914-18, the Russian Revolution and the civil war it gave birth to, and the Second World War of 1939-45 – the two “great” wars and the “great”revolution of the 20th century that fundamentally changed the world we live in today; the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, a civil war in which foreign powers did (at least partially) intervene. Finally students will read about the reality of the Holocaust through the eyes of its single most thoughtful survivor, Primo Levi.

Students will thus gain a clear insight into the differences of wars between nations, civil wars and revolutions, and of the effects they have.

Students will also gain an insight into how war as a policy option has changed during this century – above all from a European perspective – and the effect that has had in the international political arena.

Course Objectives

After successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • critically describe how war (also as a political choice) has changed from the mid 19th until the mid 20th century

  • explain and compare the causes and the conduct of the six particular wars covered in this course – wars between nations, civil wars and a revolution

  • describe what war journalism entails and of what it can achieve – in both positive and negative respects

  • demonstrate insight into the different techniques of reporting, interviewing and writing that journalists have used and developed since the mid 19th century

  • critically read 7 outstanding works of literature and refine their ability to write short, readily understandable and well-argued essays


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Apart from during the first week, when there will be two lectures, the weekly classes will be split between lectures and student-led discussions (which should include small presentations by those leading the discussion). There is one book linked to every lecture and discussion, and every week students will be expected to write a short essay on the war covered and the book that went with it. Students will be graded on the quality of their essays (including their command of the English language), their presentations and their leading of class discussions, and on their general participation in discussions.

Assessment Method

In class (or group) participation: 10%
Leading class (or group) discussion/presentation: 10%
6 weekly essays (600 words): 10% each
Final essay (1000 words): 20%

Reading list

Recommended Books:
The First Casualty – Philip Knightley (general overview of war journalism)
The Invention of Peace – Michael Howard (general reflection on war from a western perspective)
Dark Continent – Mark Mazower (history of 20th Century Europe)
The Face of War – Martha Gellhorn (collection of articles from 1930s until 1960s)

Required Books (on which the essays will be written):
Special Correspondent of the Times – William Howard Russell (Crimean War)
Storm of Steel – Ernst Junger (First World War)
Ten Days that Shook the World – John Reed (Russian Revolution)
Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell (Spanish Civil War)
The Unwomanly Face of War – Svetlana Alexievich (Second World War)
A Writer at War – Vasily Grossman (Second World War)
Slightly Out Of Focus – Robert Capa (Second World War)
If This Is A Man – Primo Levi (Holocaust)


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Aernout van Lynden,


Students should have read Michael Howard’s The Invention of Peace before the start of the course.