The Roots, Origins and Dynamics of the Cold War, 1917-1962

This information is for the 2023/24 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

As the world drifts from US-Western domination to new uncertainty, the Cold War came back to haunt imagination of policy-makers, media, and broader public. The developments and crises of the distant past survived to our day as the centrepiece of modern international history, a starting point for comparative analysis of international affairs. The Cold War triggered and/or accelerated many crucial developments that shaped the modern world, such as liberal globalization, de-colonization, anti-imperialist and non-aligned movements, statal-military-scientific complexes, global consumerism, environmentalism, human rights, and more. Yet do we understand the Cold War itself? Or we only see “the shadows” of it created by liberal Western memories and historiography? Intellectually, the course maps out the transformation of the international history from the field of (primarily American) national foreign policy to a multi-versal international approach. This course focuses on the examines the roots and origins of the Cold War from Soviet, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese sides, as well as through the eyes of American and British actors. The course marshals the elements of economic, cultural, and social histories to clarify 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, specific conjunctures, policy-makers’ strategies as well as mass fears and cultural stereotypes. As an international history, the Cold War was the first truly global war: it left no continent untouched, it shook local as well as national politics, its destructive and liberational impacts shaped the ideals, fears, and aspirations of several generations. The course consists of seminar discussions, with intense engagement in historiographies and focused insights into more remarkable documentary revelations.

In addition to seminars, students attend lectures delivered within HY206 and 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.


20 hours of seminars in the AT. 20 hours of seminars in the WT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

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 changing methodological toolkit and source base.

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 Autumn and the Winter terms.

Formative coursework

Students are required to give two oral presentations during the year and to submit one 3000-word formative essay in the Autumn Term (the second essay is assessed, see below).

Indicative reading

M.P. Leffler/O.A. Westad (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War; V. Zubok, A Failed Empire; O. A.Westad, Cold War: A World History;


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

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2022/23: 8

Average class size 2022/23: 8

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT & 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.