Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Reimagining the World Wars: Contemporary Historical Fictions
Academic Year
Semester 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminar 11 x 2 Hour Seminars
Workshop 11 x 2 Hour Workshops


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 2 x 3000 word essays  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of a ranage fo contemporary postmemory fiction.

2. Discuss critically the main theories and debates within contemporary historical fiction.

3. Demonstrate an awareness of how postmemory fiction stands in relation to ongoing debates about historical fiction3. .

4. Analyse and evaluate such texts in temrs of their political, historical and social context.


  • To introduce students to a arange of postmemory fiction from the 1980's-present day and to chart the changes in approach and content over this period.
  • To consider the extent to which the production and reception of postmemory fiction is conditioned by societal factors.
  • To introduce students to ongoing debates in contemporary historical fiction and to encourage them to carry those isights over to other areas of their study.


Seminars 1 & 2: An Introduction to Historical Fiction and Postmemory Writing
1a) Writing History: the Contemporary Historical Novel
What debates have shaped recent thinking on historical fiction? Starting with excerpts from Hirsch, Ricoeur, White and Hutcheon, we will look at the development of the postmodern historical novel, using Ian McEwan's novel Atonement (2001) as the core text.
1b) Workshop: what is historical fiction? Student-led presentations and discussion.

2a) Writing War: Contemporary Views and Art Spiegelman's Maus
We have asked what an historical novel is, now, what is a war novel? Who writes them, and what do we expect from these two genres in terms of theme, style and authorial intention? Are these categories of novels useful in terms of a text such as Maus (1991) which moves between the past and the present? Can Hirsch's concept of postmemory be transferred to other second-generation trauma narratives?
2b) Workshop: 'Battle of the Books', Maus vs Schindler's List (screening of Schindler's List followed by debate on representing the Holocaust).

Seminars 3 & 4: `The future of the past': Our haunted present.
3a) `The past won't fit into memory without something left over; it must have a future' (Joseph Brodsky). Pat Barker, Regeneration (1991). What does Barker's depiction of shell shock, gender and the home front tell us about 1917 and 1991?
3b Screening of the 1997 film of Regeneration, followed by student-led discussion on pre-issued themes.

4a) Transgenerational Haunting. Graham Swift, Shuttlecock (1981). The transmission of trauma to the second/third generation; troubled conceptions of masculinity.
4b) Workshop: Masculinity and trauma. Student-led presentations and discussion.

Seminars 5-10: Old Voices, New Perspectives: reclaiming the past.
5a) Ways of Seeing [the War]. Adam Thorpe, The Rules of Perspective (2005) 'The Good German'; using innovative narrative perspectives to draw the reader into a process of discovery.
5b) Screening of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006), followed by discussion of experimental, alternative ways of representing the war.

6a) Queering the Past. Sarah Waters, The Night Watch (2006). A new type of second generation emerges. Reinscribing Gay and Lesbian history; narrative invention and appropriation.
6b) Screening of the 2011 BBC TV adaptation, and discussion of the role of the happy ending.

Reading week

7a) The Birth of Multicultural Britain: Andrea Levy, Small Island (2004). A new 2nd generation speaks its history for the first time; expanding and complicating notions of `Britishness' and postcolonial discourse.
7b) Workshop: Legacies of the war: race, class and gender. Student-led presentations and discussion.

8a) What, and who, do we forget to remember? Biyi Bandele, Burma Boy (2007). The first novel to portray the experiences of African soldiers fighting for the Allies, this 2nd generation work also reminds us of a forgotten arena of the war, asking us why we remember and commemorate what we do and neglect other areas.
8b) Screening of Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory (2008), and discussion of representations of the role of soldiers from the British Empire in contemporary culture.

9a) What is a historical novel? Binjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments (1996): what is a historical novel? Questions of appropriation and authenticity from the module revisited and revised.
9b) Workshop: The ethics, and limits, of representation. Student-led presentations and discussions.

10a) What can fiction do with history that history can't? Module Summary and Reflection. Group discussion.
10b) Screening of Mel Brook's The Producers (1968). Summative discussion of the cultural uses of World War Two.

Brief description

This module examines contemporary novelistic responses to war, focusing on the Second World War (1939-1945). It introduces students to the concept of postmemory, defined by Marianne Hirsch as being distinguished from history by a sense of profound personal connection and from memory by generational distance. The module asks students to employ this concept in analyzing several key issues: why do authors keep returning to the events of their parents? and grandparents? generations? How are their responses conditioned by cultural, social and political factors, and how are they shaped by, and how do they shape, current trends in contemporary literature? This module will interrogate the complexity and variety of recent fictional responses to war, paying particular attention to generational issues, asking what World War Two means to us now, and what these texts can tell us about the relationship of history and fiction.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number No
Communication Written communication in the form of essays. Oral communication in class discussion/presentation.
Improving own Learning and Performance Developing own research skills, management of time.
Information Technology Through the development of transferable communication and research skills.
Personal Development and Career planning Through the development of transferable communication and research skills.
Problem solving Formulating and develooping an extended argument.
Research skills Developing advanced study
Subject Specific Skills Detailed analysis of literary texts and evaluation of broad intellectual concepts.
Team work N/A


This module is at CQFW Level 6