The Oxford Handbook of Postwar European History


David Wise, last updated: 1st April 2013

Dan Stone (Ed.), ‘The Oxford Handbook of Postwar European History' (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012), pp. 767

In the past thirty years Europe has enjoyed a period of peace and stability virtually unparalleled in its long history. In mainstream [Social Democratic/Liberal] political thought across the continent, this development has traditionally been ascribed to the politics of the late 1940s and 1950s, and more particularly to the creation of supra-national organisations like the EEC (latterly the EU) and NATO. It is peculiar, though, that the period identified with the beginning of this stability is synonymous with one of the longest and tensest military and ideological stand-offs in European history, and that both of the organisations mentioned above were initially conceived of as partisans in a geo-political struggle.

The Oxford Handbook of Postwar European History explores this dichotomy and many other interesting issues in the development of ‘modern' Europe. As the title indicates, the scope of the volume is broad. This is not a history of the Cold War per se, but rather an exploration of the issues which might be said to have characterised the period, or which otherwise relate to the development of the Europe that we recognise today. These range from intra-continental trade to genocide and from feminism and feminist counter-culture to immigration and the construction of religious, ethnic, national and supra-national identities. To a degree all of the essays explore the concept of Europe; variously approaching it as a geographical area, an economic construct, a political ideal, or a shared cultural and historical space and examine the tensions between these different constructions. In a similar vein, certain of the authors also explore the validity of the ‘post-war' concept and its utility as an historical term.

The volume is composed of thirty five essays, divided over seven sections. Part I explores the idea of ‘post-war' Europe, both politically and geographically. Part II examines a variety of issues which were pertinent to the people of both Eastern and Western Europe in this period - for example, the construction of gender, immigration, and the cultural reach of America. Philipp Ther's essay on ethnic cleansing in particular impresses upon the reader the questionability of the idea of a ‘post-war' era of European prosperity (when used in a normative, rather than descriptive sense). Parts III and IV are closely related. Part III is largely concerned with the geopolitical relations of the Cold War, whilst Part IV predominantly deals with post-war reconstruction and the economic and social policies allied to that goal. Part V, entitled ‘Fear', addresses the culture of uncertainty which was provoked by the nuclear standoff of the Cold War era and which also proved to be a largely unanticipated result of the end of that conflict. Finally, Part VI and VII each examine how modern Europeans have (and continue to) come to terms with their past - variously by erasing it or memorialising it - and how those processes have influenced contemporary European culture.                                                  

This is a very provocative collection on a subject which will surely receive increasing attention from historians in the coming decades. Space is divided equally between eastern and western countries, and the breadth and depth of analysis employed is greatly impressive. The essays are written with a specialist audience in mind and (in many instances) assume a very detailed knowledge of political history in both the NATO and Warsaw Pact blocs. As such, this work is most likely to be suited to individuals already possessing a clear understanding of the period. It would be particularly relevant to those studying at postgraduate level and above. That said, many of the essays - particularly in Parts I - III and V - are highly relevant to twentieth century A-Level history, and could be valuable resources for teachers already familiar with the subject.                                 

Price: £95.00