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Unit information: Prague: A Tale of Three Cities in 2016/17

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Unit name Prague: A Tale of Three Cities
Unit code MODL30017
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Chitnis
Open unit status Open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts


In folk etymology, Prague is the ‘city of the threshold’, where peoples, stories and histories meet, collide and overlap and where contradictory accounts can both be true. This unit will explore, through a series of case studies, how Czechs, Germans and Jews have shaped the identity of Prague from the tenth century to the end of the Second World War. Through examples like Rudolf II and his support of art, science, alchemy, astrology and the occult, and the Jewish Golem legend, we will discover ‘magic Prague’. The Prague of political and cultural conflict will be revealed through the study of defenestrations, Prague’s role in the Thirty Years War, competing Czech and German nationalist revisions of Prague’s history in the nineteenth century, and the 1939-45 Occupation and its aftermath, which effectively ended the ‘tale of three cities’. And Prague, the ‘forgotten capital’ of European Modernism, will be remembered through the study of writers like Kafka and Meyrink and the inter-war Avant-garde. Throughout, our focus will fall simultaneously on the historical figures/episode/period and their subsequent historiographical reinterpretation and cultural representation by different Prague communities.

The unit aims:

  • to ask how Prague has generated and become associated with particular images and ideas;
  • to interrogate its particular status and history as a multi-cultural and cross-cultural site;
  • to open up the ways in which figures, episodes and periods in the city’s history have been reinterpreted in the construction of particular narratives and myths, down to the present day;
  • to teach and practise the close examination of cultural artefacts on the one hand and their analysis as the building-blocks of broader research on the other.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will be able to

a) Demonstrate, to a standard appropriate to level H, a knowledge of the history and culture of Prague, and an understanding of a city as a set of cultural expressions;

b) Deploy an appropriate range of theories and methodologies through which to explain such expressions and interpret the city’s multi-cultural, multi-lingual past;

c) Articulate an advanced understanding of the development of narratives and myths through the historiographical and cultural reinterpretation of figures, episodes and periods;

d) Analyse in close detail examples of such reinterpretation in primary and secondary literature, including memoir, literary texts and film;

e) Independently identify and analyse patterns in this process of reinterpretation over a longer historical period and/or a range of distinct genres;

f) Present independent judgements in writing in an appropriate style and at a high level of complexity.

Teaching details

Two-hour seminars

Assessment Details

3000-word essay (60%, ILOs a, b, c, e, f)

2000-word commentary (40%, ILOs a, b, c, d, f)

Reading and References

  • Richard Burton, Prague: A Cultural and Literary History, New York: Interlink, 2003.
  • Gary Cohen, The Politics of Ethnic Survival: Germans in Prague, 1861-1914, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981 [rev, 2006].
  • Peter Demetz, Prague in Black and Gold: The History of a City, London: Penguin, 1998.
  • R.J.W.Evans, Rudolf II and His World: A Study in Intellectual History, 1576-1612, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.
  • Cynthia Paces, Prague Panoramas: National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2009.
  • Angelo Ripellino, Magic Prague, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994.