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Rethinking the Cold War


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: David Brydan
  • Assessment: one essay of 5000-5500 words (100%)

Module description

The Cold War dominated the second half of the twentieth century. While usually considered as a nearly five-decade rivalry among the two superpowers, Russia and the United States, the Cold War was also a global process that permeated everyday life, culture, science and political thought in profound ways. Some argue that the Cold War is 'history', others that it never ended, still others point to the forming of a New Cold War. In either case, the legacy of the Cold War has had a lasting effect on the contemporary political, social and cultural landscape - and on its own historiography.

We will examine Cold War histories by shifting the focus away from international relations and military history to the many ways in which the Cold War shaped life in international organisations, national governments and personal experiences on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Taking both Eastern and Western approaches, ideologies and interpretations seriously, this course will also offer to step outside Western-heavy perspectives and examine the Cold War in a balanced way within and without the conventional binary.

Indicative Module Content

  • The beginnings: Communist takeover
  • A nuclear age: big science, big weapons
  • Iron or nylon curtain? Interactions between East and West
  • Ideologies of oppression: colonialism and segregation vs. collectivisation and gulags
  • Socialism or welfare? Ideas of state East and West
  • Heated moments in a Cold War: conflicts within and without
  • The global Cold War: the Non-Alignment Movement
  • Beyond a divided world: the International Geophysical Year and the Outer Space Treaty
  • Lifestyle and consumerism: from the Kitchen Debate to the socialist car
  • The end?

Learning objectives

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

  • display a good knowledge of the major themes in global cold war history
  • handle primary sources with confidence and demonstrate the ability to use them as a means of critiquing current paradigms
  • think critically about the scales (local, regional, national, global) of historical research, and how to select a scale appropriate to a given research question
  • situate the environment within wider debates about the development of the historical discipline.