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HIS 312 : Totalitarianism in the 20th C: Professor's Instructions & Topics

Library Research Guide

Professor's instructions:

Argumentative Research Essay

You are responsible for writing a historical research essay on one of the following topics:

  1. A fascist state or movement outside of Italy and Germany

  2. A communist regime outside of the Soviet Union and China

  3. A dissident individual or group under a fascist or communist regime

For examples of topics and questions in each category, see the list below.

Whichever topic you choose, your paper should be an argumentative research essay, crafted to prove a thesis based on research in secondary sources (for some topics, the use of primary sources may also be feasible and appropriate). The paper should be 8-10 pages (strict maximum of 10 pages), double-spaced.


This is an argumentative research essay, which means it must be (a) based on careful and well documented research, and (b) designed to prove a thesis, or main point. A thesis should clearly answer a question about a historical period, person, event, movement, etc.  A simple summary of some topic in the history of totalitarianism will not do – you need to have a perspective that you are supporting. Make sure you have a well-thought-out thesis before you begin writing!

Your essay should be well organized, logically argued and supported by historical research. Correct and effective writing is important; avoid errors of spelling, grammar and style.

For help with all aspects of your paper, I recommend you consult Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 6th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010), especially chaps. 4 & 5.

Topics and Questions

The following are examples of topics under each category:

1. Fascist or Quasi-Fascist Movements or Regimes (outside of Italy and Germany)

  • Arrow Cross (Hungary)
  • Iron Guard (Romania)
  • British Union of Fascists
  • Falange (Spain)
  • Ustashe (Croatia)

2. Communist Regimes (outside of the Soviet Union and China)


East Germany






North Korea


3. Dissidents under Communist or Fascist Regimes

  •       White Rose (Germany)
  •       Martin Niemöller (Germany)
  •        Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Germany)
  •        Claus von Stauffenberg (Germany)
  •       Solidarity (Poland)
  •        Lech Walesa (Poland)
  •        Vaclav Havel (Czechoslovakia)
  •       Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Soviet Union)
  •         Liao Yiwu (China)


Many historical questions are possible within each topic, but some examples of questions (to which your thesis would be the answer) for each group of topics include:

·         For fascist movements: Why was / wasn’t this movement successful in seizing power? For fascist regimes: Was this regime totalitarian in its aspirations, and did it succeed in bringing about a totalitarian state?

·         For communist regimes: Why was the regime able to come to power? To what extent was this regime totalitarian in practice?

·         For dissidents: Why did this person become a dissident / why did this particular dissident movement arise? Why did the dissident or movement succeed (or not succeed) in gaining popular support?

Research Requirements

You are required to use five or more scholarly sources of good quality that are relevant to your topic. Internet sources are not permitted, with the exception of scholarly journal articles accessed online through the library, and in some cases, primary documents available online (check with me first). Start looking for sources early so you can make use of the Inter-Library Loan system. The use of journal articles is recommended.

Most essays will rely largely on secondary sources. The use of relevant primary sources is encouraged, but not required. You may wish to consult with the instructor about the suitability of a given primary source.

       Sources should be specific to your topic. Encyclopedias and general histories can be useful for getting general information, and if you use them you should cite them, but they will not count toward your total number of sources. The best sources are books or journal articles that are specifically about your topic. Your secondary sources should also be as up-to-date as possible – in most cases this means more recent than 1970. If you want to use an older source, please consult me (Prof. Flatt).

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