HIS21230 Weimar Germany. Politics, art and the death of a democracy.

Academic Year 2020/2021

How do democracies die? It is one of the most important questions facing our times. This course covers the rise and fall of Germany’s first democracy: the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). The Republic was born of a revolution that saw the parties of liberal democracy taking 75% of the vote in elections in January 1919. Within a year the constitution they created was among the most modern in the world. Women could vote equally with men regardless of age or property. Workers could negotiate wages with employers and their exploitation appeared at an end. The leaders of Germany’s gay rights movement believed that the new Republic would give them a chance to obtain legal equality and end discrimination. Jewish life flourished. Within 15 years the optimism of the Republic’s beginnings was gone. Nazism replaced liberalism. Germany was transformed from an advanced prototype of modern democracy to a uniquely brutal authoritarian dictatorship. Germany’s first democratic experiment was dead.

This course examines the lessons of the Weimar Republic from the perspectives of politics, art, and culture. Taught by experts from the School of Art History and Cultural Policy and the School of History, it introduces students to key political situations and artistic movements in the short life of the Weimar Republic. Each week’s topic is first explored from the perspective of historical writing with a focus upon politics, elections, economics and law. The same topic is then explored from the perspective of art history and culture. Students will learn how Germans voted and how artists responded. Topics studied include revolution and the legacies of the First World War; economic chaos and the conservative backlash against liberalism; expressionism, modernist art and cinema, foreign policy, authoritarianism, political violence and the backlash against democracy. At the end of the course, students will have a better understanding of the challenges that faced Weimar democracy and of how politics and culture are intertwined with art and creativity. This historical understanding will help to inform analysis of the challenges facing democracies face today.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module, students

Will be able to analyze and evaluate conflicting historical interpretations of Modern German History

Will have acquired basic knowledge and understanding of some of the key historiographical debates about the Weimar Republic

Will have familiarized themselves with some of the most important concepts and methodological approaches to the history of art, politics and culture

Will have a fuller understanding of the rich secondary literature on the period.

Will have improved their ability to interpret primary sources

Will be able to relate the history of Weimar Germany to challenges facing contemporary democracies

Indicative Module Content:

Overview Topic List

1-2: Creating the Republic (2 lectures)

3-4: The World Upturned 1920-1923 (2 lectures)

5-6: The Republic Stabilized (2 lectures)

7-9: The end of the Weimar experiment (3 lectures)

10: Weimar’s modernity

Indicative weekly topic list:

Week 1

Lecture 1: the end of the war and the revolution of 1918-19

Lecture 2: The Arbeitsrat für Kunst and the Novembergruppe

Week 2

Lecture 1: 1919 the Weimar Constitution and the Versailles Treaty

Lecture 2: The Weimar Bauhaus

Week 3

Lecture 1: from the Kapp Putsch to the Rathenau murder (1920-1922) – focus on political crises, political violence, revolutionary aftershocks, the murders of Erzberger/Rathenau, the Organization Consul, the law for the protection of the Republic

Lecture 2: Expressionist theatre and film; Berlin Dada

Week 4

Lecture 1: The crisis year 1923.

Lecture 2: Industrial architecture in the Ruhr

Week 5

Lecture 1: : The Republic Stabilized.

Lecture 2: Experiments in Sacred Architecture

Week 6:

Lecture 1: the ‘Golden years’ of the mid-1920s.

Lecture 2: Metropolitan architecture

Week 7.

Lecture 1: the origins of the end of the Republic.

Lecture 2: Neue Sachlichkeit painting

Week 8.

Lecture 1: The breakdown of the Weimar coalition: the 1929 economic crisis, the end of the Muller government, the start of the Bruning Chancellorship.

Lecture 2: Housing Reforms

Week 9

Lecture 1: The end of the Weimar experiment 1. The end of the Weimar experiment 2: The end of the Bruning Chancellorship, the course of the Papen and Schleicher governments – street fighting, foreign policy, currency policy.

Lecture 2: The Dessau Bauhaus

Week 10

Lecture 1: Weimar’s place in modernity.

Lecture 2: Fritz Lang’s cinema; Bauhaus Collaboration and Exile

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Specified Learning Activities




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This course will be delivered online during the academic year 2020-21. To participate fully, students are expected to be online during the normal lecture time-slots. This teaching time will consist of two parts. The first will be either a live or recorded lecture by Dr Mark Jones (School of History) or Professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty (School of Art History and Cultural Policy). The recorded or live lecture will be of 20-25 minutes duration. Students will then be able to immediately join in an online seminar in Brightspace where they will interact with Dr Jones and Professor James-Chakraborty for the remainder of the teaching time. There will be at least 20 minutes per lecture for students to interact with the module coordinators. This discussion time is a core component of the course - it is vitally important that students and staff have an opportunity to discuss the lectures, question each other and develop debates. Students will be expected to comment on the weekly readings during this discussion.

The module will include use of images and film as well as the reading of primary and secondary literatures. Students will develop an area of specialisation through independent learning and they will be able to use this knowledge to complete their assessments. In line with university policies, all content delivered online will be recorded.
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: Students will complete a final 2,000 word essay due at the end of the final week of the teaching term. Week 11 n/a Graded No


Assignment: Reading Review. Students will write a one page review of one of the key recommended texts from the course literature. Week 3 n/a Graded No


Essay: Mid-term essay. Drawing upon their book reviews, students will write a mid-term essay due at the end of the reading week and of no more than 1,500 words. Week 6 n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Students will receive individual feedback on each of their three written components.

Name Role
Professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.

Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Thurs 10:00 - 10:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Wed 12:00 - 12:50