A History of Eastern Europe

Course No. 8364
Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D.
University of Tennessee
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Course No. 8364
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Examine the impact of the Mongol invasion, retreat, and how that impacted the origins of many Eastern European peoples.
  • numbers Understand how imperial ideology grew into highly volatile nationalism in a number of Eastern European countries.
  • numbers Peer into the worldviews of Hitler and Stalin before their pact and how they led to redrawing the map of Eastern Europe.
  • numbers Look at the underpinnings of the Nazis' plans, as well as the terrible toll they took on Eastern Europe.

Course Overview

Eastern Europe has long been thought of as the “Other Europe,” a marginalized region rife with political upheaval, shifting national borders, an astonishing variety of ethnic diversity, and relative isolation from the centers of power in the West. Yet in recent years, Eastern European nations have begun integrating with Western Europe—joining NATO and the European Union—as the region has gained a new measure of self-determination in the wake of communist collapse.

Nonetheless, Eastern Europe still maintains an aura of “otherness” and mystery, due to its relatively tumultuous timeline and complex cultural tapestry. Indeed, history haunts this region, so to truly understand Eastern Europe today, it is necessary to examine its past in the broader context of world history, asking such questions as:

  • Who are the diverse ethnic groups that make up the region, and how have they cooperated and clashed?
  • How and why have national borders shifted so frequently?
  • What is the region’s relationship to Western Europe?
  • How has the region been isolated from—and connected with—the West?

You’ll find the answers to these questions and more in A History of Eastern Europe. Taught by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, an award-winning professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, these 24 insightful lectures offer a sweeping 1,000-year history of Eastern Europe with a particular focus on the region’s modern history. You’ll observe waves of migration and invasion, watch empires rise and fall, witness wars and their deadly consequences—and come away with a comprehensive knowledge of one of the world’s most fascinating places.

This course goes far beyond issues of military and political history. Professor Liulevicius delves deeply into the cultures of this region—the 20 nations that stretch from the Baltic to the Black Seas. You’ll meet the everyday citizens—including artists and writers—who shaped the politics of Eastern Europe, from poets-turned-politicians to proletarian workers who led dissident uprisings. Breathtaking in scope and crucially relevant to today’s world, A History of Eastern Europe is a powerful survey of a diverse region and its people.

Discover the Historical Context for Today’s Eastern Europe

The story of Eastern Europe is very much in flux today. In 2014, Russia invaded Crimea during a time of chaotic unrest in the Ukraine. Slide back to the 1990s, and the Balkan states erupted into a brutal civil war that rewrote the national boundaries of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and others. Slide back another few years, and you witness the 70-year-old USSR disintegrate, leaving in its wake a hodgepodge of nations with crumbled economies and uncertain national identities.

These events are products of more than recent history—or even modern history. To truly understand the ongoing news in Eastern Europe, it’s necessary to step back a thousand years to find the foundations of today’s world.

  • See how the waves of invasions by Mongols, the Ottoman Turks, and others left their mark on Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages.
  • Trace the origins of the Slavic peoples, the Magyars, Germanic tribes, the Roma, and other ethnicities who make up the region.
  • Discover how events such as the Crusades and the Black Death led to a large influx of Jews to modern-day Poland.
  • Witness the battles, political strife, and nationalism that gave rise to nations such as Poland-Lithuania and empires in Russia, Prussia, and Germany.

Studying this history helps explain Eastern Europe’s wide mix of languages, religions, and cultures. In this course, you will see how these cultures clashed internally—and how a vast array of external enemies and empires have tried repeatedly to carve out territories or spheres of influence within the region. Professor Liulevicius brings to life the local people’s struggles—through cooperation among coalitions as well as through armed conflicts—for survival and self-rule.

Gain a New Perspective on Europe’s East vs. West Divide

Eastern Europe has long been a marginalized region—considered the home of “barbarians” by the Greeks, far-flung backwater provinces to the Romans, fair prey for the Mongols—a vast land for civilized empires to “enlighten.” But in the 20th and 21st centuries, the divide between East and West grew more pronounced as the world globalized and the United States and Soviet superpowers jockeyed for spheres of influence—epitomized by the imposition of the Iron Curtain across Europe and the rise of the Berlin Wall.

Professor Liulevicius offers you a different perspective on the last hundred years of history, beginning with the end of World War I. Whereas Western Europe viewed the Great War as a total catastrophe marked by years of stalemate and a shaky peace, Eastern Europeans viewed the war as a fiery baptism of national independence. Likewise, when the guns fell silent and stability returned to the West after World War II, a series of bloody conflicts continued in the East. And of course, the Iron Curtain that partitioned East and West for half a century has left deep marks on the Eastern Europe of today.

This course presents the grand sweep of all this history and clues you in on the context necessary to understand today’s world. Professor Liulevicius also gives you specific, unique insights that are fascinating in their own right—and seldom mentioned in the history books. Among other historical details, you will:

  • Go inside the Jewish shtetls, most of which were destroyed during World War II.
  • Gain insight into the Nazi-Soviet Pact, including the motivating worldviews of Hitler and Stalin.
  • Learn about the waves of ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe after World War II, and the resulting orphans known as “wolf children.”
  • Study the little-known Baltic Forest War, which, incredibly, continued until the late 1970s.
  • Experience daily life behind the Iron Curtain, from mass surveillance and the police state to the broken economies and worker uprisings.
  • Meet leaders such as the Yugoslavian President Josip Tito, the Polish dissident worker Anna Walentynowicz, the Czech writer-turned-president Václav Havel, and many other people who shaped the course of history.

You’ll also witness the stunning collapse of communism across Eastern Europe, sparked by mass protests and fueled by governmental ineptitude. The widespread chaos created great suffering, reshaping the region’s economies, politics, ideologies, and geographical boundaries.

Study the Cultural History of the Region

George Orwell once said, “Every joke is a tiny revolution.” Created and shared under circumstances of high pressure and risk, Eastern European jokes and satirical—or nationalistic—works of art are full of humorous and passionate expressions of resistance, defiance, despair, and the will to survive. Professor Liulevicius bridges the personal and the political in this course, analyzing the meaning and impact of widespread dark humor and introducing you to poets, writers, artists, and other cultural figures who all made an impact on Eastern European history. In fact, studying the history gives you a whole new context for understanding authors such as:

  • Franz Kafka
  • Czesław Miłosz
  • Milan Kundera
  • Václav Havel
  • Herta Müller
  • And many others

In addition, he introduces you to some authors who are relatively obscure in the West, such as Jaroslav Hašek (author of The Good Soldier Švejk, one of the funniest and most profound antiwar novels in existence), and Zlata Filipovic (a 12-year-old whose diary from the Bosnian War has been compared to the Diary of Anne Frank).

Professor Liulevicius is an ideal guide for this course, having focused on Germany and Eastern Europe during his entire academic career. From a period of study in Moscow and Leningrad in 1989, to dissertation research in Freiburg, Germany, and Vilnius, Lithuania, in the early 1990s, to his term as president of the international Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (A.A.B.S.) for 2010–12, he has spent decades pursuing and disseminating knowledge of this fascinating region. His insights into the clashes and unexpected alliances of empires, peoples, and philosophies will clarify the complex twists and turns of the narrative of Eastern European history.

In Eastern Europe, culture and politics are inextricably linked with centuries of tumultuous change, and this in-depth course will explore the intersection of these factors to give you a comprehensive understanding of the region and its status in the world today. A History of Eastern Europe is a marvelous overview of the story of an essential and often overlooked area of the globe, and will fill in many critical gaps in the social and political history of the world.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Other Europe: Deep Roots of Diversity
    Begin your course with a geographic overview of Eastern Europe, a region that begins at the Baltic Sea in the north and spans 20 countries to the Black Sea in the south. Here, Professor Liulevicius introduces you to the key themes of this course: Eastern Europe’s remarkable diversity, it shifting borders, and its separateness from—and connections with—the West. x
  • 2
    Formative Migrations: Mongols to Germans
    Examine the many waves of people who settled Eastern Europe during the ancient and medieval worlds. Ethnic groups including Germanic tribes, Slavic peoples, the Vikings, the Mongols, and many more created a diversity of language and culture. Meanwhile, the mix of Christians, Jews, and Muslims led to the region’s first political strife—and laid the groundwork for the modern era. x
  • 3
    Clashing Golden Ages, 1389–1772
    Continue your study of Eastern Europe’s development with a look at several decisive battles, including the Battle of Kosovo and the Battle of Tannenberg. You’ll see how these battles were transformed into legends—and were also key turning points for the region’s political landscape. Witness the creation of a united Poland-Lithuania, as well as the rise of modern empires in Prussia, Austria, and Russia. x
  • 4
    The Great Crime of Empires: Poland Divided
    The combined nation of Poland and Lithuania was a powerful force in the 18th century—and its dissolution is one of the great crimes of the modern era. Civil strife provided the pretext for neighboring empires to swoop in and annex the nation. Consider the results of this partition and the political problem that would plague the region for the next century. x
  • 5
    The Origins of Nationalism, 1815–1863
    Glide into the age of Romanticism, when poets surpassed politicians in setting national agendas. In this lecture, after considering the distinction between civil and ethnic nationalism, you’ll study a number of 19th-century revolutions that swept across the region—and reflect how defeat in these revolutions paved the way for empires. x
  • 6
    The Age of Empires, 1863–1914
    After poetic romanticism failed to produce a new world order, conservative politicians co-opted nationalism in support of empire building. Review the stirrings of nationalism within the Russian, German, and Austrian empires. Then turn to emerging political ideologies that laid the foundation for the world wars of the 20th century. x
  • 7
    Jewish Life in the Shtetl
    The story of the shtetl—small Jewish towns once found throughout Eastern Europe—has been significantly lost to history due to the crimes of the 20th century. Here, Professor Liulevicius reconstructs what we know about the vibrant life in these communities and how it connects to modern Jewish culture. x
  • 8
    World War I: Destruction and Rebirth
    Examine the First World War from the very different vantage of Eastern Europe. Whereas the West’s view of the Great War is one of indecision and stalemate, the war in the East was one of movement—and perhaps even a cause for celebration as the old empires were destroyed, giving room for the creation of new states such as an independent Poland, among others. x
  • 9
    From Democrats to Dictators, 1918–1939
    After the guns fell silent in Western Europe, border wars and the fight for self-determination continued in the East. Take a look at the major events after World War I, including the little-known Soviet-Polish war, forcible population exchanges throughout the region, and the rise of dictators. x
  • 10
    Caught between Hitler and Stalin
    The Nazi-Soviet Pact is one of the most perplexing occurrences in modern history. Examine this uneasy alliance and how it accommodated Hitler’s and Stalin’s plans for expansion in the 1930s and 1940s. See how borders were redrawn yet again as Germany and the Soviet Union invaded neighboring countries. x
  • 11
    World War II: The Unfamiliar Eastern Front
    Continue your study of World War II from the Eastern European perspective. Here, you’ll see how Hitler caught Stalin off guard with a surprise attack, causing the Soviet Union to join the Allies. Nevertheless, Stalin had his own plans to expand the Soviet sphere of influence. Meanwhile, in the Balkans, communist partisans had other ideas. x
  • 12
    The Holocaust and the Nazi Racial Empire
    The sheer number of casualties in the Holocaust defies the imagination. In this lecture, Professor Liulevicius guides you through this troubling history. You’ll learn about German goals and actions, Nazi collaborators who helped produce the Holocaust, and resistance from within the Jewish community and in the world at large. x
  • 13
    Postwar Flight and Expulsion
    After the war, the West saw a measure of stability, whereas Eastern Europe was chaotic as displaced populations and refugees shifted among new political territories in the wake of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. Witness the travails of some of these populations, including ethnic Germans, refugees from Soviet rule, and Jews who couldn’t return to their former communities. x
  • 14
    Behind the Iron Curtain, 1945–1953
    In this lecture, Professor Liulevicius sets the stage for the next 40 years of Eastern European history. Go behind the Iron Curtain to examine how Stalin exerted control—and how countries such as Yugoslavia were able to resist. In the years after World War II, the battle lines were drawn for the emerging Cold War. x
  • 15
    Forest Brothers: Baltic Partisan Warfare
    Find out about a fascinating conflict largely unknown today. The Baltic Forest War raged in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for many years after World War II. Learn about the guerrilla fighters who hid in the forests and attacked Soviet security forces—and then examine the Soviet tactics to stop them. x
  • 16
    Life in Totalitarian Captivity, 1953–1980
    Go inside daily life in Eastern Europe during the peak of the Cold War. After reviewing the dire economy, Professor Liulevicius delves into the apparatus of state control. Find out how secret police forces such as the East German Stasi and the Romanian Securitate oppressed ordinary citizens through surveillance and a culture of fear. x
  • 17
    Power of the Powerless: Revolts and Unrest
    As the Cold War continued, Soviet forces tightened their grip on Eastern European countries, yet dissident voices emerged. In East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, witness the revolt of proletarian workers and see how writers used secret publications and the power of the pen to protest totalitarianism. x
  • 18
    Solidarity in PolandWalesas Union
    The beginnings of the end of Eastern European communism came with the firing of a shipyard worker in Gdansk, which led to a workers uprising and the founding of the Solidarity political movement. Dive into these exciting events, from rebellion to state crackdown, and meet some of the key players who altered the course of history. x
  • 19
    Toppling Idols: The Communist Collapse
    The fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union are two of the most iconic moments in modern history. Trace the events leading up to these moments, from the newly free elections in Poland to the botched press release in East Germany that led to the opening of borders. x
  • 20
    The Turn: The Post-Soviet 1990s
    Take an archaeological tour of Eastern Europe in the wake of the communist collapse. After considering the region’s tattered economy, you’ll look at some of the secrets that emerged with the fall of the USSR and the release of Stasi files. Then consider the shift of identity that took place thanks to redrawn borders and new national entities. x
  • 21
    Yugoslav Wars: Milosevic and Balkan Strife
    In the 1990s, Yugoslavia erupted into a brutal civil war between many different ethnic groups, including Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. Unpack the many sides of this conflict, from its origins to ethnic cleansing and genocide to the country’s breakup into separate countries. Examine the world’s response to this crisis. x
  • 22
    The New Europe: Joining NATO and the EU
    Despite the breakup of the Soviet Union, NATO continued to exist, and began admitting newly liberated Eastern European countries into the organization. Reflect on Eastern Europe’s place in the western world and what joining NATO and the European Union means for the region. You’ll also explore Russia’s role in the post-Soviet world. x
  • 23
    The Unfolding Ukraine-Russia Crisis
    Survey the recent crisis in Ukraine and see how the origins of this conflict stem from the last hundred years of the region’s history, which is rife with skirmishes and shifting borders. After providing the historical context, Professor Liulevicius explains the ins and outs of the current crisis, including ethnic divisions within Ukraine and Russia’s attitude toward former Soviet territory. x
  • 24
    Eastern Europe at the Crossroads
    In this final lecture, you’ll revisit the four key themes running through this course and consider whether they still remain true of Eastern Europe today. Look at the region’s economy, politics, ethnicities, and relationships to Western Europe to consider the current state of Eastern Europe and what the future may hold. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
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  • 225-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

About Your Professor

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Ph.D.
University of Tennessee
Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford...
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Reviews

A History of Eastern Europe is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 159.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Eastern Europe Professor was excellent- knowledgable, enthusiastic,engaging and entertaining. I would purchase anything he taught
Date published: 2017-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating Well organized and presented in a totally captivating manner.
Date published: 2017-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important for understanding Easter Europe today I feel like I'm giving too many 5-star ratings these days. But over the many years I've been purchasing TGC the overall quality seems to be improving. I continue to be miffed by some low ratings. The course description clearly shows it is a12 hour course with about 75% covering the last 100 years. It is impossible to cover everything in a short course. Not having much education in Eastern European history I found this course extremely useful in understanding the current political situation in Eastern Europe. Most useful in understanding this region is the amount of migration of various ethnic groups over the centuries, the resulting conflicts, the different political systems, and rearrangement of borders. As a bonus, of sorts, you get exposed to a lot of interesting historical sites you may want to visit if you travel there !
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and interesting This course was excellent in every way. I took it as a refresher of history I studied more than 50 years ago, and I found it an excellent way to renew my knowledge of Eastern Europe, where my paternal ancestors (German from Russia) originated.
Date published: 2017-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant use of detail This was at least my fourth course, and the most recently produced, from the same teacher. He's gotten better each time. I read a great deal of history, but my grasp of Eastern Europe was poor. I found this course to be consistently engaging. The use of detailed stories was brilliant. Probably the best of the great many Great Courses I've gone through.
Date published: 2017-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from always fascinating I found every lecture to be fascinating and engrossing. I would welcome more lectures by this professor
Date published: 2017-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific course! This course was so interesting, and a great introduction to eastern European history. I didn't learn much about eastern Europe in school history courses, so this helped fill a big gap for me. Professor Liulevicius was a really good speaker and lecturer, and he was very good at analyzing movements and trends to make historical patterns clear. I really liked his recommendations of books and films that illustrate culture or provide a close-up view of historical events. The audio version of this course worked well, though it would have been helpful to have maps to look at.
Date published: 2017-07-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dreadful maps, but otherwise excellent. Horrible maps: the sea is colored yellowish-green, rather than the conventional blue. It's very difficult to get oriented and to distinguish, at a glance, water from land masses.
Date published: 2017-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting History I enjoyed learning more about Eastern Europe. I have Hungarian heritage so I was glad to find out more about this.
Date published: 2017-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Professor! I purchased the course because, while like most Americans I had some knowledge of Western European history, my knowledge of Eastern European history was lacking. The course not only greatly expanding my knowledge of Eastern Europe, it was taught the most engaging professor I've encountered in the Great Courses. Dynamic, personable, erudite and humorous, a terrific classroom personality. I hope he teaches further for the Great Courses!
Date published: 2017-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding This is one of my favorite classes and favorite professors. Dr. Liulevicius is extremely knowledgeable and it is a plus that he correctly pronounces foreign names, locations and phrases. He has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and delivers information in a fashion that never lags and is always interesting.
Date published: 2017-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A tale of hope despite tragedy This course surveys the mainly painful history of eastern Europe, through a series of well described precipitating events and key personalities, and levened with relevant contemporaneous jokes, right up to the present day. The professor's facility with multiple languages allows him to effortlessly pronounce key terms and names.
Date published: 2017-04-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great for modern history, light on context The course is focused mostly on the last two centuries - the rise of nationalism, the world wars, the Cold War and it's aftermath. I felt that it left me wanting more information about the medieval and early modern roots of the region - the wars of religion, the age of empires and so on, since those laid the groundwork for the modern era. He did a great job on the Partition of Poland, and I was hoping for the same treatment of the Kingdom of Hungary and the rise of the Ottoman Empire.
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great survey course I'm going to Europe soon and wanted to know more about the history. This course did a great job of explaining what happened during each period and the causes for the various conflicts and wars. The maps offered good visuals for the continuing border changes. Professor Liulevicius was easy to understand and brought history to life. Very interesting and well done.
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Content & Presentation I'm not a history buff, but I wanted to learn more about Eastern Europe, so I tried this course. It was fantastic - with great presentation & information & anecdotes & explanations. I found myself eager to watch the next lesson to learn what might happen next. The course book was valuable as well.
Date published: 2017-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Disentangling the Confusion that is Eastern Europe There are a great many approaches to unpacking what purports to be Eastern Europe. Fortunately, Dr. Liulevicius has chosen his usual path of clearly defined themes along with an engaging style to make sense of what is often a baffling part of the world. There are numerous challenges inherent in this study given the great diversity that exists but he makes sense of it all. As with the other 4 courses that I've purchased by him, I am extremely satisfied and find him to be one of the best professors of the Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mostly Modern History Although I am a history buff, my knowledge of the history of Eastern Europe was spotty at best. This course has helped to rectify my lack of knowledge. This is the second course I’ve taken from Professor Liulevicius (the other being “Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History”) and I felt that he was quite a bit more interested in Eastern Europ that that other course. Certainly his presentation seemed both more interested and personal than it was in the other course, leading to being more interesting as well (this may also be due in part to taking this course in a video presentation, while the Espionage one was audio only). The overall content and focus (as other reviewers have discussed—and that can also be inferred from the TOC) is on modern history. Only four (out of 24) lectures are on pre-modern history, two or three centered on the 19th century, four dealing with the era of the World Wars, leaving the final 12 lectures on the post-war era. For those as old as I, the lst half of the course deals with events within my memory. Of course there were many lectures (such as the one on the Forest Brothers) that presented facets of history unknown to me, I would have preferred more of the course to have included pre-20th century history. Other reviewers have commented that Dr. Liulevicius does not include much in the way of Eastern European culture in his course. While I think that this is a fair criticism, the course is limited to only 24 lectures, so it might not be possible to include much more owing to the constraints of the course (and this is probably also true of the timeline balance). On the very big plus side, given the constraints of the course and the areas that Professor Liulevicius chose as his focus (he is after all a professor of modern Eastern European history) the course works admirably well. It is filled with both information of which I was unaware and analysis that I would not have considered. As an example, I had not heard of Anna Walentynowicz whose firing sparked the Solidarity movement in Poland. Sort of like not knowing about Rosa Parks. Professor Liulevicius’s deft and frequent use of jokes being told by Eastern Europeans about themselves is both entertaining and enlightening. Ture enough that many today fall a bit flat, taken as they must be, out of context. Still the bring vividly to life how life was viewed by those living that life (actually a bit of culture). The one lecture devoted to culture, “Jewish Life in the Shtet” I found fascinating in informative. A lecture that calls out for more of this kind of thing to be included in the course. I suspect that this course would be more difficult to follow on audio, given the frequent visual use of maps during the lectures that showed vividly the changing map of Easter Europe. Actually for some tastes the maps would be too vivid, given the often very bright colors highlighting the countries (and for me the use of the pale green to display bodies of water in the first few lectures was disconcerting). I learned a lot and will take another of Dr. Liulevicius’ courses.
Date published: 2017-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating overview of the "other" Europe I really enjoyed and pretty much binge watched this course over 2-3 days. First of all, professor Liulevicius delivers the material in an engaging and passionate manner. Even the jokes, which probably seem unfunny to most viewers, provide interesting insights into the mentality of Eastern Europeans and what passed for comedy during those difficult times. While I appreciated the focus on WW1-onwards as it really helped put recent events in context, it did leave me yearning to learn more about the Medieval times in this fascinating and diverse region.
Date published: 2017-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful historical perspective I initially checked this course out from my public library and enjoyed it so much that I decided to purchase my own copy for replay and follow up. This instructor presented the material in a very informative and interesting way, giving insight to the a very complex subject. I would recommend this program for anyone wishing to gain an understanding of an area froth with historical importance.
Date published: 2017-04-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a good course still stuck in the cold war this course is an admirable attempt to summarize the histories of a usually overlooked region of europe. the professor delivers it well, and he’s a great storyteller, which is just what a region so rich in powerful stories deserves. it doesn’t take long however to realize that this course is simply too short. 24 lectures are just not up to the task of covering the full history of half of europe, and presumably for that reason nearly three quarters of the course concentrates solely on the 20th century. to be sure this material has the merit of being the most immediately relevant, but it’s impossible to dip your toe into all of this fascinating history without wanting much, much more. in a course which aims to tell the stories of nearly two dozen different nations it’s inevitable that not all will receive equal coverage, and if there’s one nation that emerges as the star of the course, it’s poland—or poland-lithuania. one suspects this is at least partly because of the professor’s own background, but i’m not complaining: the story of poland is extremely interesting and almost always totally ignored by the west. thus if this course helps to reinsert the polish chapter into the history of europe, that alone will be a great service. disappointingly, the professor elects to forego all nuance once we get to the communist period. everything is black and white, as if the cold war were still raging and we were listening to a speech by reagan attacking the evil empire. the professor almost seems more like a prosecutor making his case than a historian, and though it’s never stated, one can’t help but suspect he has some personal or familial connection that makes it impossible for him to be neutral. he seems to hate even gorbachev, as he is careful to highlight all of gorbachev’s mistakes but can’t bring himself to give gorbachev any credit for being the key figure in bringing the whole system crashing down. to be fair, his indictment of the communist system is thoroughly convincing. but anyone who has studied history knows that very few societies are perfectly black and white, and in my view history is more valuable when it forces us to see complexity and shades of grey than when it merely confirms our prejudices. thus i was left wondering: did none of these societies ever get anything right? were there no improvements of any kind over how things had been before? was there no one who genuinely believed in the system and was trying to make it work? as simply one example he could have pointed out that solidarity in poland was opposing the government not because they were against socialism but rather because the government wasn’t living up to what socialism promised. it was thus a battle purely on the left over what the system should really look like. were there more such struggles in eastern europe over the disparity between what socialism promised and what they actually got? i have no idea, because the professor doesn’t even mention this as a possibility. this one-sided, cold war approach also negatively affects his coverage of the post-communist period. if everything under communism was uniformly awful, we’re left wondering why the transition to an apparently superior system was so brutal. the professor mentions how hard it could be for pensioners but provides no details; he mentions the struggles at the gdansk shipyard but doesn’t tell us what those were. he talks about the nostalgia some people felt for east germany, but nothing in his presentation up to this point has given us any hint as to what they could possibly be nostaglic for. in short, there’s a persistent feeling that something significant is being left out, and it’s hard not to suspect that this omission is as much for reasons of ideology as of space. now i’m definitely not saying apologize for dictatorships or make the period seem nicer than it was; the awful facts he catalogues are not in dispute. but i am saying that partisan history is rarely good history. one doesn’t take a course on the communist bloc solely in order to learn that the professor hates communism. it’s undoubtably hard to be balanced when talking about such repressive regimes, but it’s definitely possible to try: check out prof. mark steinberg’s a history of russia for a much more even-handed account. more to the point, it’s precisely when the public has such strong political or ideological prejudices that we most need impartial scholarship. of course if all you’re looking for is evidence to support your cold war belief that communism was bad, you’ll find plenty of it here. but if you’re looking to understand why people would be drawn to such a system in the first place, and why respectable people like mikhail gorbachev continued to believe in it until the end, this course not only fails to offer any answers, it fails to even try. if i had been rating this course before we got to the communist period i would have given it five stars across the board, and i still think it’s a very good summary of eastern european history for those who know very little about it. furthermore if you’re not as fussed as i am about nuance you’ll probably enjoy this course immensely. nonetheless i can’t help but feel that an opportunity was lost here to show the communist world as something other than a simple cariacture of evil. this is still a good course regardless, but had the professor chosen a more ideologically neutral approach it could have been great.
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting History Missing in My Formal Education I really enjoyed this series. I kept carrying my laptop from room to room as I folded laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, etc. It seemed to be over too quickly. I intend to listen to another series by this professor. I also appreciate that he recommended some books to read.
Date published: 2017-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a great course (no pun intended) This is an excellent course. I suspect it will also be humbling for most of us who think we know our European history, and then discover there is so much out there that can be known, but that most narratives largely ignore. At least that was my experience. So much of our historical groundwork tends to be western or Mediterranean Europe, plus Russia--with central and eastern Europe making only occasional cameos (and usually in the context of Russian ambitions etc.). Professor Liulevicius does a great job of making sense of a history that lies right alongside “conventional” or western Europe, and often was crucial to what was going on in the west, but usually doesn’t get heard. I was initially disappointed when I saw the breakdown of the lectures only gave 2 hours to the entire pre-19th-century, but I suspect this was the correct decision: unfortunately most students probably DO lack the context for making sense of pre-modern eastern Europe in any more detail (again: at least that was MY experience), and the apportioning of the 24 lectures makes sense. A great course.
Date published: 2017-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course!! really! I've taken a lot of your courses over the years and this is one of the best. It is putting together lots of bits and pieces I have learned and the professor is very good.
Date published: 2017-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic My wife and I loved this course. The Professor's presentation was exceptional and his ability to speak several languages and add some humor to the lecture made watching this course informative and enjoyable. The Professor is a remarkably brilliant historian who loves this part of the world and his interest and love of these middle European people and their history, culture and geography comes out in every lecture. We are glad we have the DVD because we can watch these lectures again and learn more each time because the information is concentrated.
Date published: 2017-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Eastern Europe This is one of the best DVDs I've seen. The professor's organization and delivery of expansive and difficult subject matter was excellent. I watch it over and over, and it has led me to other sources. Prof. Liulevicious did a fabulous job! Thanks, to him.
Date published: 2017-01-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Missing Story of Europe This course really helps fill in the 'missing' history about Europe. It is amazing how little that western European and American history courses cover about Eastern Europe. I found the material fascinating and informative, but the course shows its age with some poor audio quality in places. It is probably time to refresh the course material, but the presenter was excellent!
Date published: 2016-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A recent hisotry of eastern Europe Prof. Liulevicious gives relatively short shrift to the early history, but enough background to lead up to the more recent past through the 20th century and up to date. The presentation is great, personal and dramatic and the series enlivens what went on in that parrt of the world in the past 200 years. Terrible tragedies and moments of bright hopes.
Date published: 2016-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating and Important Course I purchased this course because my great grandparents are from a small village in Eastern Europe, and I didn't know a lot about the history of this area. Professor Liulevicius summarized the early centuries, including the Mongol invasions and the Teutonic Knights, in just a few lectures. His focus is on the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the first fifteen years of the 21st. This way of organizing the course allowed him to go into considerable detail about the past two centuries. He takes us all the way through 2015, when Russian aggression towards Ukraine increased. Studying the history of Eastern Europe is useful, since many of the issues that have affected this area cycle throughout history and throughout the world. One of the key problems covered in this course has to do with diverse populations. Sometimes they get along despite differences, and then sometimes nationalism rises up and there is a push to separate various ethnic groups. Of course it is this hatred or fear of "other" that led to the horrors of the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing in other places. This is a well-organized course and each lecture is fascinating. We learn about strong and interesting leaders and writers, study maps to see how borders changed, and hear jokes that helped people get through tough times. Learning about history teaches us lessons about our own times. Understanding this particular historical time and place is important to us today.
Date published: 2016-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging, Insightful and Useful I moved to Russia two years ago with my family and have had the opportunity to travel throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Although I have read several history books, this course painted a complete picture of the entire region that put much of what I have seen and experienced firsthand (and read) into context. The storytelling was good and the lighthearted approach made it easy to watch many lessons back to back.
Date published: 2016-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of the History and Issues I found this to be an interesting course. In fact, I have continued to listen to it again and again and each time pick up some new insight that I missed in the first pass. I also tend to cross stitch while listening to these courses so it engages my mind while I am working on something else so it is easy to miss parts in only one pass. If it is true that those that do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it, this is a valuable tool to see the issues and risks of minimizing people's involvement and perception of what is going on "behind the scenes". The only thing I would have liked is if he had more pictures when he talked about an area because I am better with visual memory than just hearing information...though the book guide also helps with retaining information. So when he talked about the Hapsburgs - if he had an image of who that was in office at that time, etc. I also think a side-by-side map of the before/after of how things were carved up would have made a stronger impression with me.
Date published: 2016-10-27
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