The International History of the Cold War, 1945-1989

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Nicholas Ludlow SAR 2.16


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The Cold War dominated the second half of the 20th century, but until recently we had only an imperfect sense of what it was all about. Historians wrote about it, of necessity, from within the event they were seeking to describe, so that there was no way to know its outcome. And because only a few Western countries had begun to open their archives, these accounts could only reflect one side of the story. Cold War history, hence, was not normal history: It was both asymmetrical and incomplete. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent partial opening of Soviet, Eastern European, and Chinese archives have revolutionised the field. Everything we thought we knew is up for reconsideration, whether because of the new documents available to us, or as a consequence of being able to reflect on how it all came out in new ways - given that the historical discipline has evolved methodologically as well.

The course will provide an introduction to key topics in the new, international history of the Cold War. The selected topics vary from the study of specific Cold War crises to the exploration of broader themes such as the roles of ideology and technology.

Course objectives: (i) To equip students with comprehensive knowledge of the international politics of the Cold War; (ii) To offer a firm basis for more advanced historical work in this area; (iii) To provide some of the factual grounding and conceptual apparatus necessary to understand the contemporary world.


Recorded lectures. Classes on campus, or via Zoom as circumstances dictate.

Students are expected to keep up with readings for weekly meetings, and to participate in the class discussions.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

Barrass, G, The Great Cold War (2009); Gaddis, J L, The Cold War: A New History; Hanhimäki, J & Westad, O A, The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts; Leffler, M P, For the Soul of Mankind (2007); Leffler, M P & Painter, D, Origins of the Cold War (2005); Reynolds, D, One World Divisible: A Global History since 1945 (2001); Sarotte, M, 1989 (2009); Westad, O A, Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations, Theory (2000); Westad, O A, The Global Cold War (2005);


Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the ST.
Presentation (15%) and class participation (15%) in the MT and LT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2019/20: 49

Average class size 2019/20: 13

Capped 2019/20: Yes (60)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information