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Literary Journalism: Totalitarianism in the 20th Century




Admission Requirements

This course is available to second and third-year students.


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, 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 800 words every week in reaction to each of the different books.


10% for in class participation
10% for leading class discussion / giving presentation
10% for weekly essay weeks 2 – 7
20% for final essay on the books by Kovaly and Buber-Neumann week 8


  • Eichmann In Jerusalem – Hannah Arendt

  • Christ stopped at Eboli – Carlo Levi

  • Diary of a Man in Despair – Friederich Reck

  • This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen – Tadeusz Borowski

  • The Drowned and the Saved – Primo Levi

  • Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler

  • Kolyma Tales – Varlam Shalamov

  • Under a Cruel Star (also published as: Prague Farewell) – Heda Margolis Kovaly

  • Under two dictators – Margarete Buber-Neumann

Recommended further reading:

  • The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt

  • Gulag – Anne Applebaum

  • Into that Darkness – Gitta Sereny

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

    1. Lectures on totalitarianism and the work of Hannah Arendt
    1. Discussion and lecture on the rise of fascism, Mussolini and Carlo Levi
    1. Discussion and lecture on National-Socialism and Friederich Reck
    1. Discussion and lecture on the holocaust and on Primo Levi/Tadeusz Borowski
    1. Discussion and lecture on Stalinist purges and Arthur Koestler
    1. Discussion and lecture on the Gulag and Shalymov
    1. Discussion and lecture on Soviet control of Eastern Europe, Kovaly/Buber-Neumann

Preparation for first session

It would be helpful if all students have read Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism