Short course

Dictatorship, Censorship, and Propaganda: Historical Perspectives

Online course details



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5 Units, 4 hours study per unit

CPD hours

20 CPD hours


Self-guided online learning



Online course description

Over the course of five units, this free online course explores the histories of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler, the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, and the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong. It covers a range of issues relevant to the history of these authoritarian regimes, including the use of terror and violence, how propaganda was produced by the state and received by ordinary citizens, as well as the ways in which ordinary people collaborated with or resisted state authority. Finally, it also explores how present-day Germany, Russia and China deal with the complex legacies these three regimes have left.

The course will not only give you an understanding of key events and developments in the history of three of the most well-known and notorious authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century but will also provide you with an appreciation of how these events and developments have been interpreted by historians, and how (and why) these interpretations have changed over time.

Dictatorship, Censorship, and Propaganda: Historical Perspectives introduces you to how historians read different types of primary sources, and how these sources can be used to support different interpretations of the past. Finally, we encourage you to think about the relevance of the themes you will study to present-day politics, culture and society, to consider what the histories surveyed here tell us about how people behave when faced with authoritarianism, and to think about how we can apply this knowledge to the twenty-first century.

Who is this course for?

This course is for anyone with an interest in modern history and politics. We particularly welcome students of History and Politics at schools and colleges and hope that the course will give you an insight into what it is like to study these subjects at university.

A flag with a picture of chairman mao on it
Bust of Stalin
German 1940s postage stamp

Structure, certificates and assessment

Throughout the learning process you will be awarded a Digital Open Badge for completing each unit. These are internationally recognised by many employers and educational institutions and will allow you to display your study achievements, even if you only wish to complete a specific unit.

Upon finishing the course, you will be issued an E-Certificate featuring all earned badges and stating that you have completed the full course, so that you can add it to your CV or education portfolio.

If you're interested in exploring what else University of Derby Online Learning has to offer, browse our online courses.

An accredited provider of the CPD Standards Office

We are proud to be an accredited provider of the CPD Standards Office for our online short courses and free courses, demonstrating that they conform to CPD best practice and are appropriate for inclusion in a formal CPD record.

Accredited CPD Centre Logo - The CPD Standards Office, CPD Provider 60069, 2024-2025

Course units

The course is made up of 5 units, each will require approximately 4 hours of study.

This unit introduces the ways in which historians understand the origins and dynamics of totalitarian regimes, focusing on Germany under Adolf Hitler, the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, and the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong. Adopting a comparative approach, learners will encounter key debates, such as the debate whether ‘totalitarianism’ is a useful term to describe these regimes, introducing them to the nature of academic debate that is central to the study of history and politics at university.

This unit focuses on terror and coercion tactics used by authoritarian regimes, including the use of censorship, secret police forces and concentration or labour camps, while also exploring the limitations of these tactics. It introduces leaners to key scholarly debates, as well as helping them understand how historians and university students make use of official archival documents to explore the past.

This unit explores how authoritarian régimes, faced with the limitations of coercive strategies, made use of propaganda to persuade citizens of the supposed value of their political ideas. It introduces learners to academic approaches to reading newspapers, posters, and other propagandistic outputs as primary sources. It encourages learners to reflect on how they can apply the analytical skills acquired by doing this to present-day politics.

This unit explores to what extent ordinary people in their everyday lives did things that either strengthened or undermined the grip of authoritarian regimes. It discusses whether pressures ‘from below’ are partly to blame for the radicalization of certain regimes, and to what extent different forms of opposition and resistance to established authority were possible. In doing this, it encourages learners to think critically about key primary sources used in the study of history at university, including diaries and published private letters.

This unit discusses how states remember legacies of authoritarian regimes, covering postwar German attempts to come to terms with the Nazi past as well as the recent nostalgia for leaders such as Stalin in present-day Russia. It introduces learners to ways of interpreting material culture, including monuments and architecture, as sources that can help us understand both historical and present-day politics. In doing this, it encourages leaners to reflect on the contemporary relevance of the historical case studies explored across the course.

Learning outcomes

By completing this course, you'll:

Course requirements

How to enrol

All of our free courses are delivered through an easy-to-use online learning platform, which you can enrol from directly.

What you will need

The course is free and widely available for anyone to take part in regardless of age, location or education status. You will need to agree to the terms and conditions before you start the course which will be available when you enrol.

However, there are some basic requirements. You will need access to the internet whether it is on your PC, tablet, mobile or other electronic devices, as well as a valid email address to register with our online learning environment in order to take part in the course.

Once registered, please be aware that all study for this course is online and so you will need to be able to engage with this via a personal device, preferably a computer or laptop, for the stated duration of the course.

The learning platform is compatible with screen reader technology to assist those with visual impairments.

Thomas Neuhaus speaking to colleagues at an event

Dr Tom Neuhaus
Course author

Tom is Head of the Discipline of Humanities, responsible for managing programmes in History, English, Creative and Professional Writing, Publishing, American Studies, and Popular Music in Society.

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Cath Feely

Dr Cath Feely
Course author

Cath is a lecturer in modern British and European history and heritage, with research interests in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British Cultural, Social and Intellectual History.

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Contact us

If you want to find out more about studying a short course, please contact us and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

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