Professor John Weiss will be teaching World War II in Europe this fall. Here are some questions we posed to him about the course, with his answers.
Q. Your course is “World War II in Europe.” What concept do you hope to convey to your students?
A.The course approaches the crisis of violence in the period 1939-1945 and its legacy using five analytic pillars:
1.the military history of the war: the strategy, the tactics of combat, and the personal experience of the combat soldier;
2.the diplomacy of the war and genocide: the impact of the crisis of violence on international relations;
3. the Holocaust and its implications for the understanding of modernity;
4.the cultural and political impact of the anti-Fascist/Nazi Resistance;
5.the construction of the memory of the war
Q. Professor Weiss, what is the main theme of your course?
A.The course will consider a number of questions about the war and genocide such as how to explain the Allied victory, what was the connection between the Holocaust and German military war aims, how Fascism affected the conduct of the war, why was the Holocaust never stopped, what shaped particular combat experiences, how the war transformed European social visions, and how the war and genocide brought new understandings of justice, national identity, and the relation of Europe to the rest of the world
Q. What myths might you debunk for students?
A.The course will examine critically statements making stereotypical claims and sweeping generalizations. Just a few examples: Hitler’s sole responsibility for the war and genocide, French defeatism (or cowardice) in the face of the German attack, the superiority of German technology and tactics, and the view that the Nuremberg Trials produced only a distorted “victor’s justice."
Q. Professor Weiss, what is your favorite part about teaching this course?
A.I teach all the discussion sections myself. This allows me to bring students to a new understanding of how to read a text, view a film, analyze a complex historiographical argument, and challenge an important historical interpretation. Offering students a list of 250 possible term paper subjects also gives me a chance to help them turn a topic into a historical problem while writing about something that really interests them. The result has been hundreds of well written, well argued and well researched papers: a teacher’s highest reward.
Q. What requirements can this course fulfill? Can it be used as an elective for other majors in the University? College?
A.Since it has no prerequisites, this course is often taken by freshmen and usually has a majority of non-History majors. It satisfies a requirement in the International Relations concentration, the Modern European Studies concentration, and the post-1800 non-American requirement for History majors.