One of the downsides of being a historian of the 20th century is that one teaches about war — a lot. In the 2009-2010 academic year, I taught courses on World War I, World War II, History and Memory of the Holocaust, and Europe in the Modern World (which, of course, included both world wars and the Holocaust).
This coming academic year will be another year of World War II. I am scheduled to teach the Europe in World War II lecture course in the fall. In the spring, I will teach a seminar course on Remembering and Commemorating World War II in Europe. War is a challenging topic to teach — it is a fascinating topic that provides an opportunity to look at military, political and social aspects of history, but it is also tragic and often horrifying.
This will also be a challenging year because it will be the first time I’ve taught university-level courses as the primary instructor. Two years ago I was a teaching assistant working under a professor. This year, it’s all up to me. In addition to wrapping up my research here in Lithuania, I am already preparing for the fall lecture course. I won’t be able to write actual lectures until I am back in Seattle and I have access to my books and notes from the previous courses. However, I’m developing the lecture schedule and finding readings for weekly assignments.
I’m also keeping an eye out for materials for the seminar next spring. The seminar will look at various challenges and conflicts in commemorating World War II in Europe. Some possible topics — how the war has been commemorated in Germany (how does a country explain that it started a world war?), memorializing the Holocaust (how does one turn a death camp into a museum?), confronting collaboration with the Nazis (so many possible examples), and Stalin’s role in the war (still a hot topic in Russia). One topic that I definitely will cover is commemorating World War II in the Baltics during Soviet times. The Soviet Union was a member of the Allies and therefore a victor in the war. May 9 — the date of victory day for the Soviet Union — was celebrated in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. However, for the Baltic countries, the war wasn’t experienced as a victory because it resulted in occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union. Once these countries became independent again in 1991, many of the statues were removed, which resulted in a public conflict in Tallinn, Estonia over a statue known as the Bronze Soldier.
I might just show the video below, made in Vilnius in 1980. It’s a great example of how World War II was commemorating in the Soviet Union.
Thanks to Litlocal for the link to the video!