The International History of the Cold War, 1945-1989

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Nicholas Ludlow SAR 2.16


This course is available on the BA in History, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and History, BSc in Politics and History and BSc in Social Anthropology. 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.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

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 week 6 of 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.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2021/22: 50

Average class size 2021/22: 13

Capped 2021/22: No

Lecture capture used 2021/22: Yes (LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.