HIS2320 – Coming to Terms with a Nightmare: World War II, Axis Occupation, and Historians after 1945

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

Choose semester

Course content

For many countries in Western Europe, World War II and Axis occupation marked the greatest crisis in twentieth century history. Taking the example of France, Norway, and Denmark, the course will show that defeat and occupation, collaboration and resistance, survival and compromise were some of the central categories of experience during those years. Different coping strategies evolved as the French and their European neighbours sought to deal with the changing circumstances they faced between 1939 and 1945. The legacy of the war was understandably divisive so that the historiography of the subject since 1945 has been written against a changing backdrop of political conflict, official commemoration, social change and the uncomfortable emergence of repressed memories. This makes the topic an ideal one for exploring the relationship of professional history-writing with political and ideological history formation and with questions of memory and commemoration. How independent historians are from such processes and whether they may be inspired or compromised by them will be key issues for study. The shifting relationship between collective memory and collective amnesia in France, Norway, and Denmark will also be central to our analysis of the different works of academic and popular history which will be studied. Most of the key works have been written in English or translated that no knowledge of French, Norwegian and Danish is necessary.

Learning outcome

On successful completion of this course, you should be able 

  • to identify the main features of the history of World War Two in France, Norway and Denmark
  • to think about the different ways in which professional historians have approached the subject since 1945 and why such differences have come about
  • to analyse the principal debates between different schools of historical thought on France, Norway and Denmark in World War Two
  • to reflect on the public nature and applications of history as shown through official and unofficial memory, the refusal or acceptance by the state for past events, the impact of social groups lobbying for recognition of the past in new ways
  • to think about the role of the law and trials as instruments for confronting history
  • to supply an individual synthesis based on critical reading of the secondary literature and the historical or artistic works dealing with France, Norway, Denmark and World War Two
  • to write essays defending such a synthesis


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Recommended previous knowledge

30 credits in humanities or social sciences.

A good ability to read, write and understand English is required for this course.


  • The course will be taught in twelve two-hour sessions, the classes will consist of both lectures and seminars.
  • The first hour of the class will normally consist of a lecture in the first week of each theme and where the themes last a fortnight, a discussion of an extract or extracts of key works of history (or occasionally a film) relating to the theme in the second week.
  • The first week will consist of two short interactive and multimedia lectures, one on the history of France during the Second World War and the other on the place of the war in memory and politics since 1945.
  • A study of the historiography of a period or theme requires a good knowledge of how memories of the period or theme, and attitudes towards it, evolved subsequently, during the period in which the histories under consideration were written. Only in this way can the writing of history be understood as a historically-determined activity.
  • Students should build on these two opening lectures in their own reading and make sure that they have a good grasp of both the events studied and the various interpretations of these two dimensions of the course.
  • The remainder of the course will be divided into themes, each revolving around a different aspect of the history-writing and historiography of the subject.


Compulsory assignments:

  • Participants shall write an obligatory exposé (1.5 to 2 pages) on a topic of their choosing but within the framework of the course, to be submitted by the penultimate week of the course. If accepted – subject to possible revision – this will qualify for the final examination. More information will be given in class. The exposé has to be accepted in the semester you are handing in the term paper.
  • Obligatory participation in seminar discussions in 9 out of 12 seminars.

This is how you apply for a valid absence from compulsory activities/compulsory attendance .



The final examination will take the form of a term paper:

  • 4,000-5,000 words (approx. 8-10 pages).
  • based on the exposé, students will choose their topic and research question with the help of the lecturer.
  • the term paper is to be handed in Inspera.
  • the file must be submitted in pdf-format and we stress that the student is responsible for making sure that the files are readable. If you need assistance in converting your file into pdf, we recommend that you follow these instructions.
  • The file must be named with your candidate number (not your name) and the course code (HIS2320/4320)

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The exposés and  term papers must be written in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Spring 2020

Offered on an irregular basis.


Spring 2020

Teaching language