The Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Vladislav Zubok SAR 3.13


This course is available on the MA in Asian and International History (LSE and NUS), MA in Modern History, MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course examines the origins of the Cold War and the dynamics of its rise during the period from World War II to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It looks at long-term trends as well as specific events in order to elucidate how the Cold War originated and evolved. It deals with the Cold War as international history, covering the period from a wide variety of geographical and national angles: while some meetings necessarily centre on an individual state or a bilateral relationship, there will be others that deal with a wider region or with global trends. Intellectually, therefore, the course stresses the transformation of the field from the study of (primarily American) national foreign policy to a broader international approach.

There are seminars on the following topics: Introduction. The Origins of the Origins, 1917-1943; The Breakdown of the Grand Alliance, 1943-1946; The Division of Germany, 1945-1952; The Sovietisation of Eastern Europe and the Yugoslav Exception; The Marshall Plan and the Foundation of NATO; Nuclear Weapons, Science, and Technology at the Start of the Cold War, 1945-1952; The Communist Victory in China and the Origins of the Korean War; The Korean War; Grand Strategy I: The Soviet Union and the Post-War World, 1945-1953; Grand Strategy II: The United States and the Post-War World, 1945-1953; Cold War Liberalism and McCarthyism: Anti-Communism and the Cold War in American Politics and Culture, 1947-1954; The Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1954-1962; Indochina Wars: From the French Indochina War to the Eve of American Intervention; Eastern Europe from 1953 to the Aftermath of the 1956 Revolutions; The Berlin Crisis, 1958-1962; From the Cuban Revolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1958-1962; Grand Strategy III: Soviet Foreign Policy from Stalin's Death to the Cuban Missile Crisis; Grand Strategy IV: US National Security Policy from Eisenhower to Kennedy; World Economy, Technology, and the Cold War; The Ideologies, Identities, and the Cold War.

There are lectures (joint with HY206) covering the following topics: The Breakdown of the Grand Alliance, 1943-1946; The Division of Germany; The Iron Curtain; The Marshall Plan and the Foundation of NATO; The United States and Japan, 1945-1965; The Outbreak of the Korean War; The Sino-Soviet Alliance; The 1956 Hungarian Revolution; Technologies, Weapons, and the Arms Race; The Cuban Revolution and the 1962 Missile Crisis; Culture and Mindsets.


The School aims to run in-person seminars, subject to circumstances, with some online provision if and where necessary. The twofold emphasis of the seminars is on working with the historiography and with the primary sources, in order to understand how historians have interpreted (and re-interpreted) the origins of the Cold War in light of their access to new sources.

Recorded lectures from HY206 The International History of the Cold War will also be available to HY463 students.

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

Formative coursework

Students are required to make brief historiographical notes for each seminar starting from week 3, to give two oral presentations during the year and to submit one 3000-word formative essay in the Michaelmas Term (the second essay is assessed, see below).

Indicative reading

M.P. Leffler/O.A. Westad (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War; J.M. Hanhimäki/O.A. Westad (eds), The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts; J.L. Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History; V.M.Zubok, A Failed Empire.


Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (25%, 3000 words) in the LT.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 16

Average class size 2020/21: 17

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information