u3a - German History

German History

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One does not need to be either an historian or a German reader to successfully run a U3A course on German history. All that is required is enthusiasm! It helps, of course, to have access to the internet, a printer and a certain degree of organisation.

As an example, Lewes U3A has run in consecutive years the following courses: ‘The German Democratic Republic - a failed experiment?’; ‘Modernity and the Weimar Republic’; ‘The First Unification of Germany’. Next year we hope to run ‘The Habsburg Empire and its legacy’. Two things could be noted: the largely binary nature of the titles which give an added interest and focus to any course, and the coincidental point that each year we seem to be reaching further back in German history. So logically we could run courses in future years on the Thirty Years War and the Holy Roman Empire, if not included in our next course. Having previously covered German Unification elsewhere and possibly the rise of the Third Reich being over done, I have not yet proposed covering these in Lewes.

The format that has successfully evolved for us is that we run a five session course biweekly in the Spring Term. The course is only run once, so it is always fresh. At the first session the subject is introduced in the context of its time. After the refreshment break (the most important bit), the group of up to 30 members are voluntarily divided into four or five sub-groups, each group of 4 to 6 people choosing an aspect of the subject from a long and varied list previously circulated to members by e-mail. It helps if you prearrange a facilitator (someone you know from a previous course perhaps, with some knowledge of the subject) to guide each group. According to the aspect chosen the groups are numerically numbered to present sequentially at the following four sessions. The aspects chosen could be of a sociological, cultural or personal nature, not necessarily straightforward history. At each session, each group presents hopefully with as many members as possible saying something, reading something or using a Powerpoint Presentation including perhaps video or audio sources. The key to success is getting the members of the group to bond together, exchanging e-mail addresses and meeting extra-murally in a café or someone’s house, obviously again all voluntarily and that’s why the break is important.  Note that not everyone wishes to be involved, nor can make every session.

Hopefully, the facilitators report back to the convenor on progress being made before the groups’ presentations are due and the facilitator could provide guidance and encouragement where necessary. Sometimes the convenor will wish to provide an introduction to the session to ensure continuity or fill a gap. Questions and discussions are invited at the end of each session. The final session of the course could conclude with a summing up or a debate, for example, ‘was the German Democratic Republic a failed experiment?’

It is useful if a list of sources for interested members is made available before the course starts. The resources could include Wikipedia, You-tube, i-player and standard school texts. Googling Amazon would give one a general idea of the books available on the subject, many of which can be purchased second hand for as little as 1P plus post and packaging and arrives in a few days. It is not necessary to purchase the latest edition for a historical subject.

I would be very pleased to provide further advice and ideas for courses. An example of a recent Lewes U3A course can be found on

Good Luck with your course!