Books for the European History Syllabus

The following books are works that take a much more narrow path towards collective historical analysis vis-à-vis European studies; however, they can be extrapolated to address political, social, and economic matters during a particular periodization. Students tend to find the following works enjoyable to read. The following works at one point have been a part of my course syllabus. I originally wrote this blog post as a guest author for the Second Baptist School’s AP European history blog by Phil Sinitiere.

1. The Burgermeister’s Daughterby Steve Ozment addresses a scandal of a rebellious teenage girl in 16th century Germany (of the German States). This is a work of both social and intellectual history as Ozment indirectly uses a popular narrative style of writing to address Reformation history.

2. The Cheese and the Wormsby Carlo Ginzburg looks at elite and popular culture from the point of view of Menocchio, a miller who is fairly educated. Menocchio’s trial records illustrate the confusion by those of popular culture who struggled to understand the religious and social questions of the 16th centuries inquisition.

3. The Thirty Years Warby Ronald Asch looks beyond the political game. This particular epoch was transformative in the early process of state building. Asch looks at the significance this conflict had on the feudal regions of Germany and the continual enforcement of the Augsburg Treaty (circa 1555).

4. A Daily Life in Rembrandt’s Hollandby Paul Zumthor is an excellent read; it is true that it reads more like a travel guide than a dense work of historical topicality; it is Zumthor’s use of adjectives that paints a region enriched by trade and advanced by liberal values (constitutionalism). Moreover, Zumthor’s work covers much of the more tested content elements in a fairly entertaining way; it is required reading at Houston Christian High School. I suggest reading it before or after you have read [or watched] The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.

5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and King Leopold’s Ghostby Adam Hochschild address the evils of western modernity and imperialism, which is associated with the Berlin Conference. Both works are classics and highly entertaining. Furthermore, they raise a number of questions about fate and humanity, as well as matters of race and superiority. Conrad’s work is by far the more complex as he injects an emotional element into the structural make up of literary analysis.

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7 thoughts on “Books for the European History Syllabus

  1. A Tale of Two Cities would be a good addition for a book that measures the social and political transformation that took pace starting in France at the end of the 18th Century.

    I just finished (re)reading it. I remember reading all (or parts) of it sometime in high school. However, I don’t think one can truly appreciate the religious, political, and social implications as a young adolescent. The book had more meaning this time around.

    Of course, one has to be able to withstand the verbose and often vexing Romantic prose of Dickens.

  2. Sigh!! I miss taking history classes. It’s been over 15 years since I took one. I must say that my favorite class was on Ancient history going up thru the dark ages.

    Reading your blog rekindled some of my passion.

  3. S.C. Denney — I was much older when I read Tales; I am lucky in that many of the students I teach have already read it; the English department requires it. I like the book. I try to pull in as much of it as I can into our discussions. It is a great example of evil and man in his natural state. Oh, that sounds like Thomas Hobbes again. The first book of the three is by far the most difficult.

    Roland — I am not a big Ancient person. Much of what I teach starts at 1450, though I have to link that period back to earlier formations. Are you reading any good history books right now?

  4. Not at the moment. Stricktly fiction right now.

    Are you fimilar with Robert Leiki (I think that is his last name) and his book George Washington’s War (and others)? I love his style of writing. I have read that one, Delievered From Evil and War of 1812.

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