SBC history class travels to Europe this summer

Posted on February 02, 2016 by Janika Carey

World-War-I-trenches-in-Belgium “Belgien, Flandern, Hooge-Stellung.” Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2008-0085 / Hildenbrand, Hans / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons
Sweet Briar College students and alumnae will have the chance to tour the battlefields of Europe as part of a study-abroad class this summer. Taught by history professor John Ashbrook, “Industrialized Killing — The World Wars, the Holocaust, and Memory” takes place June 6 through July 3.

The course, which also includes visits to several concentration camps, begins on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and winds its way through other locations in France, as well as Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland.

“I am excited about taking a group of motivated students and alumnae on a very ambitious trip that focuses on my two favorite academic topics: war and genocide,” says Ashbrook, an expert in the politicization of identity and warfare in modern Central and Eastern Europe.

Mount-Lagazuoi-in-Italy One of many stops on Ashbrooks’s European road trip: “Mount Lagazuoi War Trench Cortina d’Ampezzo Italy” by Anais Goepner Melendez - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 es via Wikimedia Commons

“I am especially excited about doing the outdoor tours on World War I battlefields in five different countries over the course of a month.”

Because the class covers a lot of ground — literally — participants should be able to do a “fair amount of medium walking and hiking, with small bursts of moderate climbing,” says Ashbrook. The group will travel between the various countries by car.

He also cautions that “those with a more delicate psyche may wish to think twice” about joining the class, adding that participants are expected to take part in all aspects of the trip.

Among other locations, students will visit the D-Day museums and cemeteries in Normandy, the Somme battlefields, the concentration camps in Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau, as well as Oskar Schindler’s factory and the Lublin Ghetto.

“I hope the students will begin to understand how modernity and technology facilitated the industrialized killing that characterized the first half of the twentieth century in Europe,” Ashbrook says. “It stands as a warning to those who embrace politicized identities and depend on the state to direct their energies and philosophies.”

This is not the first time he has taught a history class on location in Europe. In 2006, Ashbrook and his wife, who is Croatian, took three students to Prague, Krakow and Budapest as part of a course on Eastern Europe.

Auschwitz “Auschwitz (2433532973)” by Antony Stanley from Gloucester, UK – Auschwitz. Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Ashbrook says he has “always been interested in war and extremist ideologies.” His research has focused on the politicization of identities, regionalism and nationalism, the expansion of the European Union into Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and combatants’ experience in World War I. His first book, “Buying and Selling the Istrian Goat: Istrian Regionalism, Croatian Nationalism, and EU Enlargement,” was published in 2008.

“I am very much interested in how intellectual developments and philosophies, both of which seek to create unattainable utopias, often lead to instances of mass murder and authoritarianism,” he explains.

The cost of the trip is $4,000 for enrolled Sweet Briar students and $4,500 for alumnae and guests. That includes airfare, but participants are responsible for booking their own flights. Full payment is due March 4. For more information about the application process and other details, email Ashbrook at The class carries three credits at the 200-level.