Examining the legacy of Henry Kissinger


Faculty: Associate Professor, Dr Roham Alvandi, Department of International History
Phelan US Centre Research Assistant: Sajjad-Ali Mohajerani-Irvani, Department of International History

Sajjad UGRA

Author

Sajjad-Ali Mohajerani-Irvani

Department of International History

I would love to continue being involved with historical projects as studying and engaging with History are so essential to me. This program has allowed me to show that my relationship with History goes beyond just the classroom and that I am serious about pursuing it beyond university.

As one of the most controversial figures in Cold War history, Henry Kissinger continues to feature heavily in scholarly and public debates. Over 40 years after leaving office, the academic literature on Kissinger continues to grow parallel to the evolving opinions about the former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Having enrolled in Dr. Roham Alvandi’s course, Henry Kissinger and the Global 1970s, my research for the Phelan US Centre has been deeply intertwined with my own studying of Kissinger.  

Beyond his controversial approach to diplomacy and political power, Kissinger’s worldwide involvement in the many major events of the 1970s means Examining the Legacy of Henry Kissinger is a project which encompasses many historical topics, each with their own respective literature. Dr. Alvandi explained that the efficiency of his research would be aided by a database of all academic work related to Kissinger. As Dr. Alvandi’s research assistant therefore, I was tasked with searching through all these topics, finding the literature relevant to the study of Kissinger and the world he influenced, and creating a comprehensive bibliography. Dr. Alvandi and I laid out the initial sub-headings for the bibliography and over the course of the research, I expanded the coverage of the bibliography.  

Methods

My methods of research evolved as the bibliography grew. Initially, it was important to ensure that all major academic articles and books were listed. These were easily found through the LSE Library database. Each find would lead to another scholarly work since the bibliographies of key books and articles would reveal more literature relevant to researching Kissinger. While these basic methods could provide many results, these results were not always relevant to Kissinger. The challenge of the research was therefore to filter the literature for what would actually be of use for Dr. Alvandi’s research. For example, the literature on a topic such as the Vietnam War is vast and my priority was to make sure that what I was including in the bibliography provided substantial coverage of Kissinger’s role.  

The literature on other topics, such as the New International Economic Order or even Kissinger’s early life in Germany, were not as easily discovered through standard methods of online research. Instead with the advice of Dr. Alvandi, I took to identifying the key scholars of each sub-topic and then checking their academic profile for relevant publications. In addition to this, my research required an in-depth search of the major history journals for their publications on Kissinger. Thanks to the LSE, these journals are all available online; this not only helped me evaluate their usefulness for Dr. Alvandi’s research but also meant he would have easy access to them when needed.  

Results and Conclusions

What I discovered from my research is that there has been a change in the historical focus on Kissinger. Much of the older scholarship focuses on Kissinger’s relationship with Nixon and his influence over the “Opening to China”, the Arab-Israeli conflict and of course, the Vietnam War. While Détente and Grand Strategy continue to dominate the historical debate, historians are today giving attention to other important topics such as Kissinger’s relationship with the Third World/Global South, especially within the context of decolonisation. Similarly, the more recent literature on the Nixon Doctrine has questioned previous interpretations of this American foreign policy. Dr. Alvandi himself has re-examined the American relationship with the Shah of Iran in the 1970s, highlighting how the Shah, like other regional allies of America such as Indonesia or Argentina, exploited the Nixon Doctrine in pursuit of their own national goals. A consequence of these ongoing developments in the debate surrounding Kissinger is that the bibliography must constantly grow if it is to cover everything related to the former Secretary of State. My research was a part of Dr. Alvandi’s ongoing work on Kissinger; I hope it serves him well in his latest project which will undoubtedly be an exciting examination of Kissinger’s legacy.  

Personal Reflections

I am very grateful to the US Centre and Dr. Alvandi for this opportunity. Being able to have Dr. Alvandi as both a teacher and a supervisor has been very important to my university experience as I consider him a great source of advice. As someone who intends to continue with history as a career, research experience is invaluable. Seeing how the research of academic projects develops into scholarship has been fascinating. 

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