Jump to content
The Education Forum

Post WWII European History

Raymond Blair

Recommended Posts

The greatest citizen thread made me feel inadequate on recent European history. As I am once again about to teach this subject as part f my 20th Century History class, I thought I might tap the forum for assistance.

Bearing in mind that I will havde about four hours of lecture time for the subject, what are the essential elements for helping to give an understanding of developments in Western Europe since 1945 (Excluding the Cold War)

I presently have a section of France and the political history of Charles De Gaulle

I have a vague section on the development and later reduction of the British welfare state

I spend a good deal of time on setting up the ECSC, EEC, EU through the Treaty of Rome, Treaty of Maastricht introduction of hte Euro.

What other topics should be included in this segment of my class? Obviously the best material covers trends of general Western European history.

Thanks in advance

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with the suggestions you have already made. To this I would add a comparative look at Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher. You might want to take a look at the Harold Wilson government. British historians are increasingly seeing this as an important period of post-war history.

I would also take a comparative look at Konrad Adenauer and Willy Brandt in Germany. Especially the two men’s foreign policy. For post-war France I would suggest a look at Charles De Gaulle. In comparison I would take a look at the life and career of Jean Monnet.








Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

As regards European Union history, you have an extended summary of the European integration process up to Nice treaty onhttp://www.historiasiglo20.org/europe/index.htm

You can find a series of biographies, some of them related to the afterwar period, on


There you will find a webquest on Jean Monnet and European history http://www.historiasiglo20.org/pioneers/webquest.htm

As far as Spain's history is concerned, I would stress these points:

1. A particular case: a fascist regime who was "saved" by the Cold War. American support to Franco culminated in Eisenhower's hugging Franco in a visit to Madrid in 1959

2. A country which went from the "hunger years" after the Civil War to a quick process of social and economical modernisation during the sixties. After that, Francoism was impossible without Franco.

3. When the dictator died in 1975, Spain started an amazing process of political transition from one of the toughest and oldest dictatorships in Europe to a democratic system. This process culminated with the landslide victory of Socialist Party in 1982

4. Last eight years (Aznar's years) were characterized by an important economical development which contrasts with core European countries sluggish economy and by a dramatic change in our foreign policy. Aznar was a staunch supporter of Bush's foreign policy. 11-M bombing in Madrid put a dramatic end to this period.

You can have a glance at this collection of links on Spain's history

http://www.historiasiglo20.org/enlaces/espana.htm Yet, most of them lead to Spanish web sites. There are quite a few in English.

Edited by Juan Carlos
Link to comment
Share on other sites

For post-war France I would add a look at building a welfare state and a planned economy (in fact planned economy since 1945 mixed with free enterprise economy) in the time of the "Trente Glorieuses" and during Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou's governments (1958-1974). It was an era of growth of economy, industrial modernization, birth and growth of a society of consumption, major social and cultural mutations. I would especially insist on the sixties and the cultural turning point of 1965 and I would speak of the social movements in may 1968.


You can read

- novel : Georges Perec, Things : a story of the sixties

- history

Jean Fourastie, Les Trente Glorieuses, Fayard, 1979

Henri Mendras, Alistair Cole, Social Change in Modern France : Towards a Cultural Anthropology of the Fifth Republic, Cambridge University Press, 1991

Serge Berstein and Jean-Pierre Rioux, The Pompidou Years, 1969-1974, Cambridge University Press, 2000

Serge Berstein, The Republic of de Gaulle 1958-1969, Cambridge University Press, 1993

David Drake, Intellectuals and Politics in Post-War France (French Politics, Society and Culture), Palgrave Macmillan, 2002

Robert Gildea, France since 1945, Oxford University Press, 2002

Richard F. Kuisel, Capitalism and the State in Modern France : Renovation and Economic Management in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press, 1981

David L. Looseley, The politics of fun. Cultural policy and debate in contemporary France, Berg, 1997

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Laurent is absolutly right with the 1960's in France.

For EEC and french matters, you can highkight the 'empty chair policy' in 1965 by De Gaulle in the European Council. It has stopped the European Integration. In fact, during a press conference, General de Gaulle express doubt on the will of Great Britain to join the EEC. Negotiations on EEC enlargement enter a period of crisis in 1963.

On De Gaulle you can look at this website in English:


One can tell that De Gaulle tried to show the independance of France: another example is the NATO case...France withdraws from NATO integrated military Command. You can link it with the run for ABomb ownership.

Something you can add is (perhaps) the Mitterrand era (1981-1995).

The first two years of his presidency are quite spectacular, nationalisation of the economy, abolition of the death penalty, ...

http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/france/gb/hi...stoire07_1.html (in english)

But the most important thing is the Franco-German cooperation:

The hand-in-hand ceremony in 1984 in Verdun is one of the turning point for Europe and the beginning of a new era:


In french the Franco-German relations with some photos:


It could be useful for your student with this example to understand why we use the term 'OLD Europe'

Last link for France and EU:


Jean Philippe

Link to comment
Share on other sites


some aspects which I personally belive are important to understand the history and development of Western Germany and/or the German Democratic Republic.

Even though might be seen as one aspect of the Cold War in Europe the history of the division of Germany is important. The war and post-war conferences are likely to be part of a curriculum about the Cold War (they are part of our own curriculum) so that it might be a good idea to analyse the political development inside the four zones and why and how the two parts drifted apart.

While writing I notice how difficult it is to decide which times, aspects of post-war German history are really important; the main difficulty is that there were two German states which were really very different.

The basic and first decision is if you want to focus more on domstic affairs or foreign affairs and policy.

I personally think that focussing on domestic affairs of both parts is a very interesting and enlightening topic but I know that it is difficult to find textbooks and resources in English. I have found one for my lessons: Alison Kitson, Germany 1858-1990; Hope Terror and Revival, Oxford Advanced History; OUP. The last 30 pages of this schoolbook offer a concise survey of Germany from 1945 to 1995. The main aspects are the economic miracle in the FRG, the economic development in the GDR; the death of Stalin and the process of De-Stalinisation (do you have that word in English?); the 60's in the FRG: emergency laws; protest movement; more democracy; the origin of new movements/parties like the Greens; protest and protest movements in the GDR - especially peace movement, role of the churches; youth culture in both states.

If your focus is foreign affairs the following topics might be interesting:

- the attitude of the governments of Western Germany towards the GDR and the USSR (in the beginning no negotiations and no talks with the government of the GDR; non-acceptance of the GDR; no diplomatic realtions with countries which accepted the GDR as a souvereign state; till 1955 no contacts with the USSR; in the 60's the beginning of worldwide detente; the rise of Willy Brand and his new policy: negotiations with Poland and the GDR; the way towards reunification)

- the impact and importance of the development of European unity for Western Germany and its political status in Europe itself and the world (regaining complete souvereignty via integration and cooperation with the Western world).

I am not sure if this does really help you, but I hope it does maybe a bit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


A good series of links. I look forward to working through them to embellish my material.

If this stuff is too good something else with have to hit the cutting room floor. Ah the problems of the limited school year. But I think I have paid too little attention to Europe.

Part of the problem is the national focus. After the Cold War and the EU, all else seems to be a national history.

I do, BTW, presently use France's De Gaulle era and the implementation and backing away from the welfare state in Britain.

Thanks for the help, but by no means do I wish to dissuade any further contributions. This is my weakest link in terms of college course work.


Ray Blair

Link to comment
Share on other sites


it is true that most suggestions refer to the national history of some European states. If you do the de Gaulle era or France in the 50s and 60s it might be an interesting point to compare e.g. the state of democracy in France and Germany and find out why the students and major parts of the young generation took to the streets. May 1968 France was right in the middle of a general strike which lasted till Whitsuntide. You could include the Prague spring of 1968 and its end.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like the larger themes. In some years I do a comprehensive 1968 (US, Czech, France, CHina(ish))

Revolutionary years have been contagious in European history

1830, 1848, 1969, 1989 as examples

I love the economic consolidation time line

The fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet System is another great theme.

The Cold War is a good theme

I could do better on presenting the development of European democratic socialism

The destructive nature of nationalism where nations are too small or too whatever to become effective nations; the destructive course of ethnic nationalism in a heterogenous world can be well demonstrated in the story of the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the ethnic cleansing campaigns.

These are all things I could get into, but I have about 7 45 minute lectures for all.

Thanks again.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

Well, I wrapped up western Europe and two things really helped me give a better (and gain one) undrstanding of the postwar history of democratic europe. 1 was a text book that (while not going into great detail) gave a fairly effective summary of the political histories of the UK, France, and (West) Germany.

With my limited time I was able to cover

Atlee, Churchill, Thatcher, Blair with a conversation of the welfare state, un welfare stating, and welfare state maintanance.


Fourth and Fifth Republics De Gaulle, Algeria, Mitterand, Chirac (with a mention of the anti-trend of France swinging left when US, UK, Germany swung right and swinging right recently when the UK and Germany swung left

Germany, much more than I thought I would

Adenauer, with a mention of Erhard

Brandt, Kohl, Schroeder

and even, due to the text book, a shout out to Juan Carlos in Spain and the return to democracy.

Then a tour of the unification of Europe that included



Jean Monnet

EEC Treaty of Rome

goals of EEC


success in the 60s

expansion and loss of momentum in the 70s economy

debate of further expansion in the early 80s

somewhat surprising quick success of unification and its returned momentum from Maastricht on

finish with the Euro

once again thanks, and post a note if it seems I am off target on any of the above material.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...