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Literary Journalism: Totalitarianism in the 20th Century




Admission Requirements

Literature of War Journalism; International Journalism: 21st Century Conflicts. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation. Third-year students will be given priority as this is the only chance they will have of taking the course.


This course looks at the twins of 20th century totalitarianism as experienced in Europe: under Hitler and Stalin. Two works by Hannah Arendt, the Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem, form the fundaments of the course. All the other books are novels or memoirs written by those who experienced the effects of totalitarianism – the Holocaust and the Gulag.

Course Objectives

  • To give a clear understanding of the origins, policies and effects of totalitarianism as practiced in Nazi Germany under Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin.

  • To give students an insight into the actual experience of those that were incarcerated in the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag

  • To introduce students to some of the strongest, most evocative (and painful) literature to have been written by camp survivors

Mode of Instruction

Apart from during the first week, when there will be two lectures (one by Dr. Cissie Fu about the work of Hannah Arendt), the course will be divided by student-led discussions on Tuesdays and a lecture by the instructor on Thursdays. The discussions will follow the students reading and writing about a particular book; the lectures will be an introduction to the work of each writer and the political and historical background of that writer and his or her experience. The students will be expected to write an essay of around 1000 words every week in reaction to each of the different books.


Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Leading class discussion
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Weekly essays of 1000 words
Percentage: 10% each
Deadline: Weeks 2 – 7

Assessment: Final research essay (1200 words)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 8


The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt
Eichmann In Jerusalem – Hannah Arendt
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen – Tadeusz Borowski
The Drowned and the Saved – Primo Levi
Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler
A World Apart – Gustav Herling
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Under a Cruel Star (also published as: Prague Farewell) – Heda Margolis Kovaly

Recommended further reading:
Gulag – Anne Applebaum
Into that Darkness – Gitta Sereny

Contact Information


Weekly Overview

  1. Lectures on totalitarianism and the work of Hannah Arendt
  2. Discussion and lecture on the Holocaust and Tadeusz Borowski
  3. Discussion and further lecture on the Holocaust and Primo Levi
  4. Discussion and lecture on Stalinist purges and Arthus Koestler
  5. Discussion and lecture on Stalin’s policy to minorities and Gustav Herling
  6. Discussion and lecture on the Gulag and Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  7. Discussion and lecture on Soviet control of Eastern Europe and Heda Kovaly

Preparation for first session

All students should have read Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism