HST692: Prisoners of War in the Twentieth Century

HST692 Canadians captured by the Germans at Poelcapelle. War of 1914-1918

15 credits

Module Leader: 


Module Summary

The major conflicts of the twentieth century saw millions of servicemen taken prisoner. Many succumbed to ill-treatment and starvation and many others were held in captivity often for many years after hostilities were over. This module provides a methodological and contextual introduction to the topic by comparing the internal economic, political and social factors that determined the belligerent powers' treatment of prisoners, as well as reflecting on prisoners' experiences through memoir material. It will also draw on the cognate discipline of international law in examining the role of international conventions in protecting prisoners, both in Europe and the wider world.

Module aims

This module aims to further your knowledge on the treatment of prisoners of war in the twentieth century. It will employ a comparative framework to provide an analysis of the two world wars and between different theatres in the same wars. It will also focus on the workings of international conventions within warfare through a case study of their formulation and application to prisoners of war, and how their use has influenced conventions in the present day.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to demonstrate:

  1. A good knowledge of the subject area and the sources available for the wider study of the topic;
  2. An awareness of the specialist and historical techniques required for an understanding of the topic;
  3. An understanding of how the study of prisoners of war fits into the wider historiography of twentieth century military history and the development of international legal norms;
  4. Enhanced bibliographical skills;
  5. Enhanced critical skills.


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five two-hour seminars where you will choose or be given tasks that will contribute to the seminars in the form of audio-visual or oral presentations. In each case, there will be discussion of content, debate and the sources used to compile such presentations. You will, in addition, have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to discuss your written work for this module.



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will complete an essay to a maximum of 3,000 words where you will be expected to explore the context, strengths and weaknesses of primary and secondary sources for the study of military and international history in general, and POW history in particular.


Selected reading

  • Heather Jones, Violence against Prisoners of War in the First World War: Britain, France and Germany 1914-1920 (Cambridge, CUP, 2011)
  • S.P. MacKenzie, The Colditz Myth : British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany (Oxford: OUP, 2004)
  • Bob Moore and Kent Fedorowich, Prisoners of War and their Captors in World War II (Oxford: Berg, 1996)
  • Bob Moore and Barbara Hately-Broad, Prisoners of War, Prisoners of Peace (Oxford: Berg, 2005)
  • Brian MacArthur, Surviving the Sword. Prisoners of the Japanese, 1942-1945 (London: Time Warner 2005)
  • Toshiyuki Tanaka, Hidden Horrors. Japanese War Crimes in World War II (Boulder CO: Westview, 1996)
  • Tilak Raj Sareen,  Japanese Prisoners of War in India, 1942-1946 (Folkestone: Global Oriental, 2006)



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