21G.061 | Spring 2004 | Undergraduate

Advanced Topics: Plotting Terror in European Culture


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This interdisciplinary course surveys modern European culture to disclose the alignment of literature, opposition, and revolution. Reaching back to the foundational representations of anarchism in nineteenth-century Europe (Kleist, Conrad) the curriculum extends through the literary and media representations of militant organizations in the 1970s and 80s (Italy’s Red Brigade, Germany’s Red Army Faction, and the Real Irish Republican Army). In the middle of the term students will have the opportunity to hear a lecture by Margarethe von Trotta, one of the most important filmmakers who has worked on terrorism. The course concludes with a critical examination of the ways that certain segments of European popular media have returned to the “radical chic” that many perceive to have exhausted itself more than two decades ago.

Focus for this term: Germany, Ireland, and Italy. Conducted in English, but students are encouraged to consult original sources when possible.


The course will examine cultural and historical moments of terrorism in European culture and media. Students will be expected to construct arguments of their own about the issues raised. The course places a premium on excellence in communication; papers and oral presentations account for nearly 100% of the final grade. Students are expected to demonstrate progress in critical analysis and expression.

Sight and Sound

Recordings of film and music will be placed on reserve at the Music Library. Students are expected to have viewed or listened to each work before the date of its discussion. Brief excerpts reviewed in class.

The method of pedagogy is based in three modes: instruction, practice, and feedback. Students are given the fullest opportunity to engage in seminar discussions. Students shall receive constructive commentary on each assignment, and will be asked to revise their work when appropriate.

  1. Class participation is essential to this course. In order to make a valuable contribution students should come prepared to each class. Assigned readings must be completed before each class meeting. A guiding question shall accompany each assignment. Students who are unable to attend a class must inform the instructor in advance, either in person or by telephone. Students with more than four unexcused absences shall be dropped from the class. 

    On most days students shall submit brief written responses (150-200 words each) to the question on the reading assignment. Although these responses will not be graded, such individual preparation will enhance class discussions. Further, regular writing practice will prepare students for longer papers, both in this course and beyond. Of the 13 questions distributed over the course of the semester students may select 10 to which they would like to respond. Students shall account for their progress with this series by consecutively marking each text (i.e. 1/10, 2/10… ). No extensions shall be granted for these writing assignments. 

    Courtesy toward others in discussions is expected. 

    Grading: Participation in class discussion and submission of ten brief written responses — 25%

  2. One of the primary goals of this course is the development and refinement of critical analysis and argument. To this end students will write three essays of increasing length. About two weeks before a given due date students must submit a brief outline of the essay they plan to write. Shortly thereafter they shall receive critical feedback. In finished essays any and all references must be cited. Essays must conform to MLA standards. A good guideline for word counts is this: 1 manuscript page = 250 words. The minimum amount of writing submitted for grades is 21 pages
    Essays are due at noon on the dates indicated. Essays submitted late without prior permission from the instructor will be penalized by one full letter grade. Essays submitted more than one week will be penalized by two full letter grades. Always keep a printed copy of your essay. 

    The first essay is a diagnostic exercise. Students are required to submit revised versions of this essay. For this assignment, only the revised essay will be graded. 

    Grading: First essay and revision — 20%, second essay — 20%, third essay — 25%

  3. In addition to the writing assignments, students will also be expected to deliver an oral presentation. Students shall prepare and present a one-page handout on the day’s reading. In these twenty-minute presentations students should provide a summary of the author’s main points, describe the historical context in which the text was produced, and open up a few questions for discussion. 

    Presentations will be evaluated according to the following criteria: insight, clarity, and, importantly, the degree to which presenters are able to stimulate the thoughtful participation of their classmates. 

    Grading: One oral presentation — 10%