1.0 Introduction
When writing a dissertation it is important to choose a topic within your subject area that allows for discussion and critical evaluation with a view to producing some novel understanding. There is a need to be focused on a particular aspect of the topic chosen with the view to generating something beneficial for the academic community at large that should be effectively outlined in the abstract to your piece. However, it is also particularly important to choose an area you find interesting and feel confident in with a view to highlighting your academic abilities. Even knowing this may leave you feeling like you have no idea where to start. To help you to write a superb history dissertation, this article provides suggestions of topics for you, covering the areas of the Crimean War, Napoleon, Italian Unification, German Unification, First World War, Great Depression, Mussolini, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Second World War.

2.0 The Crimean War
The Crimean War is considered the first ‘modern’ conflict that influenced the course of all future wars in what was effectively a throwback to the time of Richard The Lion heart, with a conflict over ‘The Holy Land’ to be resolved. If you are looking to write your history dissertation on the Crimean War, the topics suggested below will give you an idea of where to start.

  • What was the main cause of the Crimean war?
  • Why could the Crimean War be considered to be a ‘modern’ war?
  • What was the most important event in the Crimean War?
  • Examine and explain French policy during the Crimean War.
  • What were the effects of the Crimean War?
  • What role did religion play in this conflict?
  • What one event served to settle the Crimean War?
  • Why did so many attempts at peace fail?
  • Why did the war end when it did?
  • Why is the involvement of women in the war considered to be so significant?

3.0 Napoleon III
Napoleon III was the first President of the French Republic and the only Emperor of the Second French Empire. He rebuilt Paris to mirror what he had seen in London to improve living standards among the nation’s people, but his military policy has been called into question. Possible topics for your history dissertation on Napoleon III could include:

  • How and why did Napoleon III come to power?
  • What was Napoleon III’s attitude towards the Vienna system and how did he put this policy into practice?
  • What were the key facets of Napoleon III’s economic and social policies and how did they serve to allow him to retain power?
  • Was Napoleon III driven by a desire to liberalise or to rule?
  • What were the main problems that faced Napoleon III when he came to power and were they successfully overcome?
  • What was the significance of the role Napoleon III played in the Crimean War?
  • How did Napoleon III’s ‘authoritarian’ system of government differ from those of previous French Emperors?
  • What were the key principles behind Napoleon III’s foreign policy?
  • What was the key reason for Napoleon III’s demise? Why was it so significant?
  • How would you consider Napoleon III’s legacy to have influenced relations in Europe since his demise?

4.0 Italian Unification
This was the political and social movement that served to unify the different states of the Italian peninsula in the 19th century. It began with the end of Napoleonic rule and the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and ended with the Franco-Prussian War, as Italy took shape as one nation for the first time. If you are looking to take a step back from British history when writing your history dissertation, perhaps you could research the Italian Unification.

  • What were the main causes of Italian unification?
  • What were the biggest problems facing the newly formed united Italian government and how were they resolved?
  • Evaluate Cavour’s contribution to Italian unification – was he the key reason why Italy was successfully unified?
  • Which was more important to unification – economics or foreign policy?
  • What impact did the unification of Italy have on the functioning of the Vienna system?
  • How did Italy’s approach to foreign policy reflect that of other nations at this time?
  • Why had Italy existed for so long in a state of ‘disunity’?
  • Evaluate whether Italy’s unification served to improve people’s standard of living?
  • How successful was Italy’s unification? Did unification really achieve anything?
  • Why did Italy eventually fall to be susceptible to Mussolini’s fascist rule? Is this a sufficient marker for the success of Italy’s unification?

5.0 German Unification
Germany was effectively unified in 1871 when Otto von Bismarck managed to unify all the independent states into one nation. But there is some debate surrounding about whether or not there was a master plan to unify Germany or whether the aim was in fact to merely expand the Prussian State. The history of Germany and the German Unification lends much to discuss within your history dissertation.

  • Was German unification always inevitable? Consider the events that led to unification to effectively determine whether Germany was always heading towards it.
  • In what ways did German unification represent a victory for German liberals during this period? Discuss.
  • Explain the significance of the Schleswig Holstein crisis to German unification – was it the key reason why unification was achieved?
  • How important was Bismarck to the unification of Germany?
  • Was Germany’s unification a success?
  • What was Germany’s biggest achievement upon its unification?
  • What failings did Germany’s unification fail to address?
  • Did Germany’s unification serve to remove the divisions within society and government?
  • Why was Germany’s unification so important for European society at this time?
  • Consider the reasons why Germany’s unification was so important.

6.0 The First World War
Although the war was ostensibly a global one, it predominately took place in Europe after a chain reaction of war declarations, leading to war on several fronts. It broadly encircled the European continent with an astronomical loss of life that was only ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The First World War is a major part of history that we have all heard about, however may not know all of the details. For your history dissertation you could research further into one of these topics:

  • Of the following events – (a) The Morocco Crisis (1905-1906); (b) The British agreement with Russia (1907); (c) The Bosnia Crisis (1908); (d) The Agadir Crisis (1911); (e) The Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913); and (f) The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand – evaluate which led to the start of the First World War?
  • Was any one party to blame for the First World War, if so, who and why?
  • Why was there so much unrest and rivalry amongst the European nations in the early part of the twentieth century and how could this be said to have led to the outbreak of war?
  • Why did Gavrilo Princip assassinate the Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Was the reasoning for this decision misguided?
  • Why were the great powers of Europe able to contain the Balkan crises of 1912 and 1913, but unable to prevent this developing into a European wide war in 1914?
  • Why did German attitudes change towards Austria during this period? How could this change in attitude be said to have led to the outbreak of war?
  • How did events going on in the rest of the world at this time lead to the outbreak of war in Europe?
  • “Now we know where our enemy stands. Like a flash of lightning in the night, these events have shown the German people where its enemy is When the hour of decision comes we are prepared for sacrifices, both of blood and of treasure” (From a speech made in the German Reichstag in November 1911 in Balfour. M The Kaiser Cresset (1964)) – How could it be argued Germany’s entry into the war was based on paranoia within government that influenced the general public in their push towards war?
  • “The British Government cannot undertake to declare war, for any purpose, unless it is a purpose of which the people of this country” (Note to the Cabinet from the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, in May 1901) – What were the reasons why Britain entered the war and were they the right ones?
  • Did the war achieve anything? Was it successfully resolved?

7.0 Britain 1918-1939 & The Great Depression
Between the two World Wars, Britain was faced with numerable problems that various governments sought to resolve for the good of society as a whole. But whilst successive governments were criticised, some significant advancements were made. The Great Depression is a period of British history that is perhaps overlooked more than it should be. Research in this area would make for very interesting reading for your history dissertation.

  • What were the main problems facing Lloyd George’s government in the immediate aftermath of war and how successfully were these resolved?
  • How and why did the Labour government fall in this country in 1924?
  • Why were the effects of ‘The Great Depression’ so bad in Britain?
  • How did the way that the country was being run by the government in this period only serve to exacerbate the effects of ‘The Great Depression’?
  • What polices did the government introduce in an effort to resolve the ‘The Great Depression’ and did they achieve anything to limit its effects?
  • What were the main problems faced by the government in this period and were they ever effectively resolved?
  • What factors outside of Europe caused ‘The Great Depression? What was the most influential factor? Was it the economic breakdown in the US?
  • Why did the world economy ‘boom’ and ‘bust’ so quickly?
  • When the Second World War started was Britain ready for war?
  • What was Britain’s greatest achievement in this period and its biggest failing?

8.0 Mussolini’s Italy
Mussolini effectively became a dictator in Italy in 1922 and governed the country through the advancement of his fascist ideology. But although he initially won a great deal of popularity, he made the mistake of siding with the Nazis in the Second World War, to his cost. Perhaps you could discuss this or other topics involving Mussolini for your history dissertation.

  • Why was Mussolini able to come to power so easily? What failings of the previous governments had made Italy so susceptible to fascist rule?
  • Why was fascism such an interesting alternative to the Italian people?
  • What is the concept of ‘totalitarianism’ and how ‘totalitarian’ was Mussolini’s system in Italy?
  • Critically evaluate Mussolini’s period of rule – could it be considered successful on the basis of the benefits that accrued to the people?
  • What happened in 1922 to ‘free’ the Italian Republic to Mussolini’s government and why was this event so significant?
  • How and why, once Mussolini had attained power, did the public’s view change?
  • Choose one event and consider why this could be considered to be the defining moment that led to Mussolini’s downfall – why is this even so important?
  • Consider whether Mussolini had the same level of control in Italy that Hitler had attained in Germany and explain your answer through the exploration of social, political and economic factors.
  • How well does Mussolini’s government compare to what had previously gone before in Italy?
  • How did Mussolini’s style of government serve to overextend Italy’s resources during the Second World War?

9.0 Nazi Germany
Hitler effectively came to power as the ruler of Germany through a succession of clever coups and policies. His Nazi Party utilised their propaganda to effectively overtake the last threads of democracy still provided for by the remnants of the Weimar Republic, as the Nazis sought to implement their ideology in Europe. Nazi Germany is key to the history of many countries within Europe, and indeed the world, and would be an excellent area to base your history dissertation on. Some key questions are listed below.

  • Why did the Weimar Republic’s collapse serve to make Germany so susceptible to the rise of the Nazis?
  • What was it about the Nazis that made them so popular with the nation’s people?
  • What was the Nazi party’s biggest failing that led to its downfall?
  • What did National Socialism stand for? Does the Nazis’ understanding serve to tell you anything about how to run a successful government?
  • Why was Adolf Hitler able to stay in power for so long in view of the fact that this period of German history is looked upon with such shame by its people today?
  • Why was Hitler so successful in his handling of domestic affairs up until 1939?
  • What were the key successes of Hitler’s government? Why did they not serve to offset his failings?
  • What was Hitler seeking to achieve when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939? Is there anyway Hitler could have achieved his policy goals in this regard? Why did he not achieve the domination and control he was seeking?
  • What were the Nazis most successful policies? Why did they succeed?
  • Why did the German people not respond more forcefully in an effort to prevent the Nazis policies from taking hold in relation to their dealings with the Jewish population of mainland Europe?

10.0 Stalin’s Russia
Russia was effectively dominated by one man who wielded as much power as any tsar from 1924 until his death in 1953. Difficult problems faced Russia when Stalin came to power in 1929 as he attempted to deal with all of these problems with a view to forming a better Russia. Stalin is a prominent figure to research on, lending much to discuss in a history dissertation.

  • Why was Stalin able to rise to power in Russia?
  • What were the main problems facing Russian society and how did Stalin resolve them?
  • What was Stalin’s approach to governing Russia and was it necessary?
  • What were Stalin’s biggest successes and failings and why were they so significant?
  • How did Russia move from being one of the West’s staunchest allies during the Second World War to being universally feared thereafter?
  • Why was the USSR allowed to expand to encompass other countries when a similar policy in Nazi Germany led to war?
  • Consider the differences between communism and fascism through an evaluation of Hitler and Stalin’s policies, with a view to determining whether they are in fact the same politically.
  • How and why did communism spread to other parts of the world?
  • To what degree was Stalin’s style of rule in Russia different from Lenin’s?
  • How far could Russia’s policy goals under Stalin be considered legitimate?

11.0 The Second World War 1939-1945
Unlike the First World War, the Second World War was a war of more rapid advancement and was a complex affair with major campaigns right across Europe – without including those throughout the rest of the world – as the war was effectively the protection of freedom against the threat of conquest. Such an important event in history would make for excellent reading as a history dissertation.

  • Why did the Second World War start? What was the cause?
  • Why did Allies accept the US’ desire to not enter the war straight away? Would the US’ entry have been accepted if the Allies were winning?
  • What was the key event in the war that led to the war’s result? Why is the event you have chosen so significant?
  • How did Britain survive for so long as the key resistance to Nazi Germany’s complete conquest of Europe? What factor was particularly significant?
  • When did the Axis powers lose the war? Why?
  • What were the effects of the war upon European society in its aftermath?
  • What was the most significant military operation during the war? Was it one the Axis powers were actually successful in?
  • Why were the Germans almost completely successful until 1941? How did they so spectacularly lose their position of ascendancy?
  • How great was the US’ impact upon the war? What changed when they entered the conflict in Europe?
  • Could the Second World War have been resolved peacefully at any point?

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