The Historical Background of Current Events


Dr. Reinhard Duessel



If the events on 11 September 2001 indeed “changed the world”, as many commentators believe, we just experienced the end of a rather brief period of recent history: the period between the end of the Cold War and the day when passenger planes became attack missiles.  It is the objective of this course to provide overviews on major developments during that period in an inter-disciplinary perspective. The emphasis given to particular developments will depend upon their relevancy for our understanding of current events. As far as necessary, we will trace back some of those developments to the decades before 1989. This will certainly be the case for developments in the Islamic world. Our goal is to understand the recent – and not so recent – past in order to understand the present.


Teaching Method:

Each class will be divided into two parts.

·        First hour: A lecture providing historical overviews.

·        Second hour: Discussion of current events against the background of the information provided by the lectures.

The second part will be an exercise in practical news analysis. Students are encouraged to focus on particular issues, to follow those issues as they are unfolding from week to week, and to trace the respective historical backgrounds. This can be done either individually or in small groups.



  • As a general orientation on the history of the 20th century you may have a look at:

Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes (London, 1994)

Mark Mazower, Dark Continent. Europe’s Twentieth Century (London, 1998)

Keith Robbins, The World Since 1945 (London, 1998)

  • Two books to think about as far as economic issues are concerned:

John Gray, False Dawn (London, 1999)

Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (Oxford, 1999)

  • As a preparation for the course I suggest making use of news sources as they are available on the internet. Our major sources during the course will be the online versions of the New York Times and  the British weekly The Observer. In addition to that we will rely on the website of BBC News.

An updated reading list will be provided at the beginning of the course.



Oral presentation, mid-term exam, final exam. Each 33.3%