Centre for Continuing Education

Swiss Moments in Time Course: From Julius Caesar to the 20th Century

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

The world as we know it today has been shaped by events of the past. Learn about history the smart way with History courses at CCE, The University of Sydney.

This course will provide those with an interest in Swiss cultural achievements and Switzerland’s history and culture as perceived by others, an opportunity of developing this interest in depth through an examination of significant moments in Switzerland’s cultural history.


This course will focus on extracts from masterful writers, artists, and musicians including Julius Caesar, Rousseau, Voltaire, Rossini, Lord Byron, Gottfried Keller, Frank Martin, Konrad Witz, Angelika Kauffmann, Etienne Liotard, Heinrich Fuseli, and Hodler, and aims to deepen your appreciation and understanding of outstanding moments in the history of Switzerland, from ancient Roman times to the mid 20th century. The course will concentrate on the changing environment, both physical and social, and as participants develop their familiarity with the works of literature, music and art studied, they will develop their understanding of the importance of this environment its inspiring outstanding creative endeavour.


At the end of this course, participants should be able to:

  1. Have a deeper understanding of the different personalities studied, their achievements and varied physical and cultural environments in which they lived.
  2. Be able to appreciate the very important role of literature, music and art in defining Swiss identity and enshrining its history and legends from the ancient Roman period until the mid 20th century.
  3. Be competent in discussing the very significant social and cultural changes that occurred over this long time frame, from Romanization, through Austrian domination in the medieval period, the development of the Swiss Republic, the Enlightenment, the founding of the Swiss Federation, to Switzerland’s role in the modern world.
  4. Enjoy a more informed enjoyment of the writers, composers and artists covered in the course.


This course will begin with a study of extracts from Book I of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, which records his victory over the Celtic inhabitant of Switzerland, the Helvetii. We will then look at the rapid Romanization of the new province and its Roman remains as evidence of this. Moving to the Enlightenment, selections from the writings of Geneva-born Jean-Jacques Rousseau will then be studied, together with extracts from Rousseau’s contemporary Voltaire, who lived at Geneva for some years. The work of these writers will be complemented by the paintings of the 18th-century Swiss artists Angelika Kauffmann, Etienne Liotard and Heinrich Fuseli. Through the opera ‘William Tell’ of 1829 by Rossini, we will examine the legendary medieval Swiss hero and Switzerland’s medieval heritage. Lord Byron’s outstanding poem ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’ will then be studied, together with the beautiful castle of Chillon in which the poem is set. From the mid to later 19th century, we will study some of the short stories of Gottfried Keller, one of Switzerland’s greatest writers and the art of the landscape painter Hodler. We will conclude with a study of some music of Frank Martin, a native of Geneva, against the background of Switzerland in the 20th century and against the background of Switzerland’s outstanding ecclesiastical architecture and the art of Konrad Witz and some of his contemporaries.

Intended Audience

This course is suitable for adults and undergraduates interested in literature, art, music and cultural history, and particularly Switzerland and its diverse French, German and Italian cultural mix and heritage.

Delivery Style



Digital images, opera DVD, CD recordings, printed handouts with literary extracts.

Recommended Reading

  1. Gallic Wars, Book 1 by Julius Caesar, tr. W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn, Sacred-Texts, 1869
  2. The Prisoner of Chillon by Lord Byron
  3. Short Stories by Gottfried Keller, The German Library, Bloomsbury, 1982


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Certificate of completion