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Devouring films and novels for Cleveringa-seminar

The Second World War is a never ending experience for those who lived it. This is what Cleveringa professor Carol Gluck and her students concluded following a critical reading of ‘De Aanslag’ by Harry Mulisch. Mulisch’s novel took centre stage in Gluck’s Honours seminar.

Carol Gluck

Historical truth in fiction

Gluck’s seminar ‘Narratives of World War II’ questions the role of the Second World War in both history and our memory. Peculiarly, the American historian does not place (scientific) non-fictional sources  at the heart of the seminar, but film and fiction. She argues that films and books are also historical products and contain historical truth. That is why they can also be used as historical sources.

Cleveringa chair

Gluck’s Honours Class is part of the Cleveringa chair, which she holds this academic year (2014-2015). In November 2014 she delivered her inaugural address, the Cleveringa-oration,  on how the Second World War is remembered throughout Asia.

Class about 'De Aanslag' of Harry Mulisch

Lively discussions

On Thursday 12th February, Gluck and the students discussed ‘De Aanslag’, a famous novel by Harry Mulisch. The novel narrates the life of Anton Steenwijk, whose parents were executed during the war after the dead body of a party member of the Dutch National Socialist Party (NSB) was placed on their doorstep. The lectures give Gluck and the students the opportunity to start lively discussions about the topic at hand. Furthermore, Gluck cautiously assists the students to allow them to gain new insights by themselves. At the same time students also point out new insights to her – for example, implications she had not yet fully observed.

Not black-and-white

The group has noticed that topics are not always as black and white as assumptions point them out to be. It is practically impossible to determine who was good and who was bad. Additionally, coincidence and change play a major part in the course of history. Gluck ultimately determines that “unless the world perishes there will always be wars”. To lift the mood she adds: “Unless you have never lived a war”.

Gluck during her Cleveringa-oration


Vera Bouwer, enrolled in China Studies and English Language and Culture, praises professor Carol Gluck. “She is tremendously passionate and puts herself out for the students. The lectures stimulate critical thinking, and made me think about many aspects of the war I would never have thought about. For example, by watching the film ‘Come and See’, we were able to discuss the role of former Soviet sphere countries like Poland and Ukraine during the Second World War.”


Dennis Roos, student Computer Science, is very enthusiastic as well. “It is very different than most other lectures, i.e. lecturers speaking and students listening. This lecture really stimulates lively discussions, and the lecturer and the student are treated as equals.” Moreover, she says that participating in the lecture has been a refreshing experience and very different from Computer Science.”I’ve always been interested in history and literary analysis, so this lecture is perfect for me.”


Gluck endorses Roos’ words. “The discussion ís the lecture, which means that I learn both from and with the students. There is no ‘professor’ in the classroom.” Furthermore, Gluck says that she, as a Cleveringa professor, is honoured to work with committed students. “And Leiden is a beautiful city with an amazing university. I feel very welcome here.”

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