Module Information

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

Course Delivery



Due to Covid-19 students should refer to the module Blackboard pages for assessment details

Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment First essay assignment  1 x 2500 word essay  50%
Semester Assessment Second essay assignment  1 x 2500 word essay  50%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit first assignment  Resubmit failed or missing 1 x 2500 word essay  50%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit second assignment  Resubmit failed or missing 1 x 2500 word essay  50%

Learning Outcomes

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

1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of a range of contemporary post-memory fiction.

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

3. Demonstrate an awareness of how post-memory fiction stands in reltion to ongoing debates about historical fiction.

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


This module will:
  • introduce students to a range of post-memory fiction from the 1980's-present day and to chart the changes in approach and content over this period.
  • consider the extent to which the production and reception of post-memory fiction is conditioned by societal factors.
  • introduce students to ongoing debates in contemporary historical fiction and to encourage them to carry those insights over to other areas of their study.

Brief description

We will examine contemporary novelistic responses to war, focusing on the Second World War (1939 - 1945). It will introduce you to the concept of post-memory, defined by Marianne Hirsch as being distinguished from history by a sense of profound personal connection and from memory by generational distance. We will ask you 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.

Estimated student workload:
Contact time: 20.5 hours
Reading and preparation: 100 hours
Independent study preparing assignments 79.5 hours


Seminar 1: 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.

Seminar 2: 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 prsent? Can Hirsch's concept of postmemory be transferred to other second-generation trauma narratives?

Seminar 3: '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.

Seminar 4: Transgenerational Haunting. Graham Swift, Shuttlecock (1981).
The transmission of trauma to the second/third generation; troubled conceptions of masculinity.

Weeks 5 to 10: Old Voices, New Perspectives: reclaiming the past.

Seminar 5: Ways of Seeing (the War). Adam Thorpe, The Rules of Perspective (2005) 'The Good German'; using innovative narrative perspectives to draw the reder into a process of discovery.

Seminar 6: 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.

Seminar 7: 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.

Seminar 8: 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.

Seminar 9: 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.

Semester 10: What can fiction do with history that history can't? Module summary and reflection. Group discussion.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number N/A
Communication Written communication in the form of essays, oral communication in seminar discussion and group presentations.
Improving own Learning and Performance Developing own research skills, management of time, expression and use of language.
Information Technology Use of electronic resources (JSTOR, websites): use of databases of digitized newspapers and periodicals; the production of written work.
Personal Development and Career planning By critical reflection and the development of transferable communication skills.
Problem solving Formulating and developing extended aruments.
Research skills By relating literary texts to historical contexts and theoretical commentaries and by synthesizing various perspectives in an evaluative arguement.
Subject Specific Skills Detailed critical and contextual analysis of literary texts and evaluation of the theoretical concepts.
Team work Through group presentations in seminars - this will involve preparation outside of class and team work within the seminar.


This module is at CQFW Level 6