I am almost at the finishing line for the course I'm currently studying - AA312 Total War and Social Change: Europe 1914-1955. I've completed all of the coursework and I'm just putting together my final tutor marked assignment of 4,000 words (there are six assignments in total). The exam still looms on the horizon, but that (and my final result) is not going to alter my opinion of the main body of the course. So, now seems as good a time as any to share my thoughts about this course.
This level 3 course explores the relationship between total war and social, cultural and geopolitical change. Topics covered include the nature of warfare and the differences in the conduct of the two world wars, revolution, the effect of war on the lives of everyday men and women, the holocaust and genocide, film and propaganda, and the division of Europe following World War II. For anyone who's already used to Open University history courses, you'll know that the course writers don't attempt to tell you what happened; they give you the tools and information you need to figure it out for yourself. Therefore, this is a course that requires a great deal of hard work and analysis on the part of the student.
I'll start off by saying that I have, during the course of this year, learned an immense amount about the two world wars, even though I've only really scratched the surface as it's a vast subject to cover. I have consumed so much information that I really do worry that my noggin will explode if I try to cram one more fact into it. It has been mentally taxing (in a good way), but also emotionally taxing. I found it incredibly difficult, and perhaps other students have too, to study the two conflicts in an objective manner. I grew up with grandparents who talked openly about World War II (my grandfather fought in Burma); the war had only been over for a quarter of a century when I was born and it's never felt remote from me. And who can examine the events of the Holocaust (a subject which I chose to explore for my final assignment) in any depth without being affected emotionally? So, it's been quite a draining course.
The level of reading required is a bit overwhelming too, though looking back I find it difficult to discern between reading that was necessary and reading that was taken on by personal choice due to the fact that the subject is just so fascinating.
The stack of white books (bottom left) in the photograph below are the course books provided by the Open University (click on the image to see a larger photo). The two books on top of those are the set books which you have to buy: Europe, 1880-1945, by J. Roberts, and Total War and Historical Change, edited by A. Marwick, C. Emsley, and W. Simpson (I found the former to be a bit tedious to be honest).
You are, apparently, supposed to be able to complete all of the assignments, aside from the final one, without needing to go beyond these course books and the two extra set books, but I found it necessary to look elsewhere all the same (as have other students). So, the books piled on top of those just mentioned are those I bought to flesh things out a bit. The Upheaval of War: Family, Work and Welfare in Europe, 1914-1918, edited by R. Wall and J. Winter, is an excellent book which I found to be invaluable. I also recommend The Origins of the First World War by A. Mombauer. Mein Kampf was not so great (Hitler liked the sound of his own voice, even on paper), but it provided insight into the inner workings of the Führer's mind.
The pile of books on the right, all containing information about the Holocaust and Nazi racial policy, were used to complete the double TMA of 4,000 words at the end of the course. There was a choice of eight topics, so there was something for everyone, and I chose the Holocaust. From looking at the suggested reading lists that accompanied the other seven subject choices, I imagine that students who chose one of those had similarly tall piles of books to get through. In particular, I found The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution, by Christoper Browning, and The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945, by Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann, to be excellent.
As you really need access to the books for a prolonged period of time, borrowing them from a library (if there are any left) isn't a practical option, so your book bill can mount up a bit. The Upheaval of War alone was £40, and I had to buy secondhand copies of Reworking the Past and From Weimar to Auschwitz from the States (at an overall cost of £80), as there were none available in the UK (well, not that I could find at the time anyway).
I also bought a few dvds: A Film Unfinished: Nazi Propaganda and the Warsaw Ghetto, The World At War: The Ultimate Restored Edition, and the BBC documentaries The Nazis - A Warning From History, Auschwitz: The Nazis & 'The Final Solution', and The Great War. I spent quite a few hours in front of my computer watching those; The World at War has a whopping great 11 discs and The Great War has 6.
You may by now be getting the (accurate) impression that this course takes over your entire life. It is rather exhausting and sometimes distressing, involves an immense amount of reading and at times threatens to scramble your brains, but it is consistently fascinating and highly rewarding. For me it has sparked a somewhat obsessive interest that will probably remain for the rest of my life. I would recommend this course to anyone with even the faintest interest in the two world wars. Unfortunately, it will run for the last time next year (the final registration deadline is the 3rd January 2013).