War, disease and famine. Financial crashes. Domestic crises and collective crises. Professor Jonathan Steinberg’s course on European History is far from cheerful.
‘We are studying subjects that no single human being can ever totally get their minds around,’ he says. ‘Subjects like the First World War – they’re simply unknowable. They’re also unimaginable. Yet I encourage my students that the more imagination they can use on the subject, the better.’
Professor Steinberg is now a department Chair at the University of Pennsylvania, having spent 33 years at the University of Cambridge. He is known for his books on Swiss society, the Holocaust and a biography of Bismarck that was short-listed for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. He has been teaching on PKP for around six years.
He says: ‘Teaching on PKP is distinctive. The programme has a pioneering approach. No one else does anything like it. We’re condensing into five or six weeks what in an American university would take much longer. It means that as a total learning experience it has a kind of intensity. The students therefore approach it with excitement. They are eager in a way you don’t often find in US universities.’
His lectures are followed by a lively question and answer session in which students really grapple with the details of the material. At the end, they queue to ask further questions. Over the summer they will cover everything from the collapse of the Empire to the effect of the internet on our society. This year he also plans to introduce a session on the current Eurozone crisis.
It’s a remarkable broad course. Here’s an excerpt from the courses
‘As we look back on this remarkable story from the twenty-first century, we understand that the twentieth century in Europe created the world in which we now live but that new forces have begun to transform it: Islamic radicalism, globalized capitalism, inequalities of wealth and poverty, the rise of China and the internet’s effect on human behaviour. The course will attempt to give students a contemporary perspective based on a sound grasp of the past.’
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