Wednesday, November 02, 2011
This semester I assigned Robert Gellately's Lenin, Stalin and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe (London: Vintage Books, 2008) as the main text for my Aspects of World History 1914-1945. I am teaching the class next semester and debating whether I should continue with the Gellately or assign Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. Even though it is a 400 level class I am not sure if I could get a way with assigning them both to read. Right now the reading burden is about 75 pages a week which is a lot more than most other lecturers here assign. If I assigned both texts then the total amount of reading would be around 125 pages a week. This includes four journal articles in addition to the two books. Does anybody have any suggestions? Should I stick with Gellately, switch to Snyder, or try and get students to read them both?
Posted by J. Otto Pohl at 8:47 PM
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Why don't you give the students the choice? The motivation to read/learn is always higher if you feel you have had some say in what you are learning.
It may mean you will also have to give them a choice in regard to exam/assignments (if these are based around the texts) but is this a problem? The students are likely to talk amongst themselves about the texts so that some may voluntarily read both.
I don't think this will work because my feeling is that if it is a choice between the two then they will decide based solely on which book is shorter. The Snyder book is about 200 pages shorter than the Gellately. That would mean everybody choosing the Snyder in order to avoid an extra 200 pages of reading. I don't think length alone is a good criteria for selecting class texts.
I could be wrong, but it looks like Snyder doesn't deal as much with Lenin. In that case, I would stick with Gellately. (Full disclosure: I have not read either book.)
Is there any way you could use a portion of Snyder's book? Does Snyder have any articles? Are there any really good book reviews of Snyder's book?
As an aside, can you recommend a good biography of Trotsky? I'm not especially interested in Isaac Deutscher's hagiography. I was planning to read Robert Service's one-volume bio (2009), but Bertrand Patenaude's sharp and critical review of Service's book put me off that course. Any suggestions?
Snyder does not deal much with Lenin and that is a weakness. He also is less complete in some other ways than Gellately. The lack of coverage of Lenin is one of the reasons that the Snyder is 200 pages shorter. Since this is a 400 level class I prefer to assign whole books if they are applicable.
As far as Trotsky biographies are concerned you might want to try the one by the late Dmitri Volkogonov. It has been translated into English and is available in tradeback in the US. I have not read it, but I liked his biography of Stalin. Also I generally like the work of Service, so I would probably just ignore the negative review. A lot of people have axes to grind.
Thank you for the recommendation!
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