UPCES History Courses

Here you'll find the full list of UPCES courses related to History. Please note that course offerings are subject to change or cancelation based on faculty availability and student enrollment. All course subjects must be approved by your home institution for departmental credit.

Each course includes a detailed description, any cross-listed subjects, and a downloadable syllabus.


Central Europe: Shaping a Modern Culture 


This course discusses the emergence of major modernist movements and ideas in the three Central European cities: Prague, Vienna and Budapest. In the period between the late 19th century and the beginning of WWII, these cities were the main centers of the disintegrating Austrian-Hungarian Empire and, later, the capitals of three independent states—Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary, respectively. Despite the political turmoil, all the three cities became a watershed of ideas that remain to be the sources of Western culture even today, including the dominant trends in the current North American culture. Thus, we shall see how dominant ideas in the fields as diverse as religion, philosophy, science, economics, psychology, art and architecture that have shaped the 20th century culture in the West can all be traced back to the works of the Austrian, Czech or Hungarian intellectuals such as Franz Brentano, Sigmund Freud, Adolf Loos and Georg Lukács. We shall have the extraordinary opportunity to study the fermentation of these ideas “on site,” in the very places in which these ideas originated.

Central European History:Textual and Visual Representations


This course will introduce the participants to the crucial phenomena of Central European history and culture. While the turmoils of the twentieth century are covered by several UPCES courses, this class concentrates on tracing the foundations of contemporary identities and the roots of modern complexity. It covers Central European history from its origins to WWI, dealing with a wide range of topics such as chivalry and courtly culture, the Reformation and confessional conflicts, or nationalism and revolutions. All these subjects witness the evolution of social order, the search for ideal political systems, transformation of intellectual paradigms, and changes in artistic sensibilities. Every topic is studied through both key texts and emblematic images which facilitate the explanation of typical features of the given period. Close reading of sources and iconographical analysis is accompanied by extracts from films and excursions to museums and historical sites. The course will provide students with an understanding of the development of Euro-American culture and the milestones of medieval and early modern history. It will also enhance students’ interpretative skills and the competence to “read” specific cultural products which emanated from contexts quite different from their own background.

Comprehending The Holocaust


Comprehending the Holocaust (Shoah) goes beyond understanding the historical fact that six million Jews and other innocent victims were brutally murdered in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Holocaust is a lesson in what happened in our modern rational technological society and in what can happen again in spite of all trusted safety measures. What does it mean to comprehend the Holocaust – is it possible at all? We will concentrate more on the nature of modern genocides, their underlying ideological patterns and their modern features. The Holocaust as a significant and unique event in history continues to have universal implications. This mass murder has specific features that make it different from all other genocides. It is not only a historical event but rather turning-point of our history. We will go through the rise and history of Christian anti-judaism, its transformation into modern forms of anti-semitism, we will discuss what is exceptional and what is normal about the Holocaust and define the role and responsibility of the individual in modern democracy. We will learn about the role of intellectuals during the Holocaust and discuss how good people can kill other people so easily. We will also try to understand the function of Nazi propaganda and its major themes. We will touch on the phenomenon of “denying the Holocaust”, which is a modern form of anti-semitism.

Czech Culture and Society: Literary Perspective
(originally: Czech Culture and Society 1918–2018 Seen from the Perspective of Vaclav Havel's Life and Work)


The objective of this course is to help students understand Czech culture and society from 1918 to the present. Students will learn about history and culture of this era from the perspective of life and work od Václav Havel (1936-2011), Czechoslavak and Czech president (1989-2003), the most important and influential personality of modern Czech history and culture. Using my extensive experience as an editor of Václav Havel´s Collected Writings and also my personal contacts with him and with many important Czech writers and artists of modern era, I have prepared a series of thirteen lectures on twentieth-century Czech culture and society, based on Václav Havel’s life and cultural and political activities, friends, family, and associates, and wide range of interests. Together these themes present modern Czech culture in its complexity, with its many links to world literature, culture, and politics. They provide a deeper and broader understanding of modern Czech culture and society in the historical and cultural perspective. In this course, lectures are combined with interactive discussions and tutored readings from essential texts. Further contact with the subject matter will be provided through excursions to places of direct relevance for our topic and through historical documents (musical recordings, photos, films). A further aim of the course is to bring students into personal contact with important figures of Czech public life (writers, critics, politicians, artists, translators) whom I have known and worked with for decades.

Economic History of Central and Eastern Europe
(Originally: Economic History and Long-Run Development)
3 credits]


Our economic lives are constantly changing: Technological change, economic and political crises shaped the world since the industrial revolution during the last 200 years. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in particular experienced several upheavals during the last 150 years: The collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, weak political and economic institutions after World War I, ethnic cleansing after World War II, a centralized planning economy and the transition towards a market economy after 1990 are partially still visible in socio-economic figures today. A long-term perspective on the evolution of economic figures can also help to understand changes and obstacles today. The course bases on a broader understanding of economic development. Despite classical economic measures like GDP, inflation or population growth, we will also discuss so-called soft economic variables such as norms, culture, trust and social capital.

Gothic, Baroque, Modern: Arts in Bohemia Culture


This course will survey the visual arts—including some photography and film—and architecture in the Czech Lands since the Middle Ages through the 20th century, with an emphasis on the last 150 years or so. That is still a lot of material, so we shall concentrate, as far as possible on the artifacts available in Prague that we can go and see for ourselves. Throughout, we shall not cover only the Czech artists, but also other nationals who either worked in the Czech Lands, or were highly influential here. Thus we shall cover the work of the French, Bavarian and Italian artists and architects during the Gothic and Baroque times, such as the Dientzenhofers or Arcimboldo; the influence of the Norwegian painter Edward Munch on the Czech art around the 1900; the relations between the Czech and the French surrealists; etc. etc. We shall also situate art within a larger context of social and intellectual history, seeing, in particular, how nationalism, religion and ideology shaped the development of Czech art and architecture. Last but not least, we shall notice the specificities of stylistic developments in Czech art, such as the recurrences of the elements of Gothic and Baroque in the Czech versions of Art Nouveau and Cubism.

Human Journeys: Migration as an adventure and as a must


Migration has shaped much of modern European history. Some travelled to pursue adventure or science, others had to move for work, or flee war and persecution.  This course introduces students to basic concepts and analytical lenses for studying European debate on migration, with a particular attention to the Central Europe and the Mediterranean. We will read work of anthropologists, historians, legal and IR scholars, watch documentaries and listen and talk to migration policy practictioners invited for guest lectures. We will study emergence of passports, borders, and explore making and remaking of international refugee regime. The EU’s current role in sharing responsibility for protection will be of particular interest to our discussion. While it was Europeans whose plight in the 1940s has been the primary impulse for setting up the international institutions for refugee protection, the EU today is shifting responsibility for refugees to its neighboring states.  Yet, as we have seen during the 2015 European solidarity crisis (often called ‚Syrian refugee crisis‘) showed, many European citizens disagree with such policy. While number of European states closed their borders, many citizens spontaneously provided help to asylum-seekers and lobied the EU institutions and member states‘ governments to come up with a more just arrangement. Of related interest to this course will be re-emergence of ethnic nationalism and socio-economic roots of this phenomenon. After taking the course students should have a fair knowledge of drivers of forced and voluntary migration and ways societies cope with absences of those who left and strangeness of those who came. Classes are interactive, students are expected to be familiar with required reading.

Ideas behind Politics: Communism, Post-Communism, and Civil Society in Central Europe


The post-communist countries of Central Europe - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - are struggling hard to overcome the legacy of the totalitarian regime and to establish liberal democracy and free market economy. The objective of this course is to help students better understand the history of Central Europe and the ideal resources that might enable it to succeed in the transformation from communism. The students will learn recent Czech and Central European political history and get familiar with the various ways in which the predicament of these countries was reflected upon in the thought of the most prominent political theorists from the region concentrating, in particular, on the idea of civil society. We will search in the Central Europe of the 20th century and in its unique historical experience for events and figures that shaped and articulated an understanding of politics that might be viewed as the specifically Czech and Central European contribution to political problems faced by mankind in general. An indispensable touch of reality will be added through excursions to places of relevance for our topics and through historical documents (musical recordings, films).

In Love with Power: Non-Democratic Regimes in Central and Eastern Europe After 1945


This course introduces traditional and modern theoretical views on non-democratic regimes in Central and Eastern Europe in the second half of the 20th century, as well as the historical and political experience of this part of Europe from the year 1945 until the present. Following the end of World War II and the drawing of the “iron curtain” across Europe, there started a period of Soviet Union domination in Central and Eastern Europe through the decades-long rule of communist regimes in this part of the world. Political scientists most often define these kinds of regimes as “totalitarian," however, the reality is more complex, with many variations and “specific paths” (Yugoslavia, Romania). The totalitarian “core” of most communist regimes during the whole period of Soviet dominance, including former Czechoslovakia, is questioned by some authors. However, the year 1989 (“annus mirabilis”), which marked the downfall of the Soviet Union and communistic regimes across Central and Eastern Europe, was not the end of non-democratic rule in the whole region. In those unstable times, when hopes were high and democracy was not established, new leaders came to power and created very specific non-democratic regimes; Meciar's short rule in Slovakia, autocratic regimes that played the main role in the Balkan wars in the 90's (Miloševic in Serbia, Tudjman in Croatia), Kuchma's rule in Ukraine, and Belarus under Lukashenka, one of the last and still surviving non-democracies in Europe. The theory of non-democratic regimes and its tools, combined with knowledge of modern history and the current realities of concrete countries, will help us to analyze and characterize these repressive and bizarre regimes, a rarity in today’s Europe.

(Political) Leadership in Central Europe


Being a good leader is a challenge under any conditions, but the qualities of great leaders are most visible under difficult circumstance. Central Europe has been through very demanding times in the 20th century and this course will examine role of its leaders in implementing (or failures to implement) crucial and often life-preserving policies. We will grasp responsibilities of a political figure, his or her role toward the governed, as well as assignments of guilt for failure to protect those who need to be protected. We will look at lives and deeds of several important political figures from Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In doing so we will confront their autobiographical records with facts, learn quite a bit about the history of the region and understand important theories and distinctions in a general theory of leadership. In the end, students will achieve a complex picture on what distinguishing quality leadership, on theoretical preconditions to lead, as well as better appreciation of the region in which they study.

Prague as a Living History: Anatomy of a European Capital


This course and accompanying excursions will introduce students to the history of the Czech Republic and its capital city, Prague, while also showing the development of its urban structures and main social functions. By using the city of Prague as a classroom, students will gain a deeper understanding of the particularities and intricacies of urban life as it evolved through centuries. Excursions to other urban sites in the Czech Republic will allow students to compare various types of cities and their development, typical of continental European culture.

Story of Religion in the Most Secular Country
[RELIGION, HISTORY, 3 credits]


This course aims to introduce students to the paradox concerning religion: though the historical visage of Prague is very religious, Czech society is currently classified as one of the most atheistic in the World. Through excursions to interesting religious sites we will interpret various historical roles of religion and in class discussions we will explore the roots of such a high degree of secularization today. The course will provide students with an understanding of the role of religion in western societies and of interactions between religion, culture and politics. We will also examine potential prospects for the future.