The Cold War: Confrontation and Diplomacy in a World Divided
Mark Atwood Lawrence ’98 PhD
University of Texas at Austin

For half a century, the Cold War defined global affairs. On the broadest level, it was a geopolitical conflict, pitting the democratic-capitalist West against the communist East. The history of the Cold War is the story of wars, crises, arms races, and diplomacy. But the Cold War also seeped into everyday life in innumerable societies, profoundly affecting politics, economics, ideology, and culture in ways grand and mundane.

This course will survey the Cold War from its origins in the 1940s until its end in the late 1980s. The goal is not to march systematically through the complex events of these years. Rather, the goal is to focus on major interpretative questions that have provoked debate among scholars, journalists, memoirists, and other chroniclers over the years. We will focus on the decisions and outlooks of the leaders who shaped the broad contours of the Cold War, but we will also consider the ways in which those choices shaped the lived experiences of ordinary people.

The course will begin by asking how the Cold War got started. We will then address why the Cold War, initially focused on Europe, became a global conflict. The third and fourth sessions will examine why the Cold War lasted so long by considering why periods of improved superpower relations in the mid-1950s and early 1970s gave way to heightened Cold War tensions in the early 60s and early 80s. The final session will examine why the Cold War ended in the late 1980s.

Books to Purchase for Assigned Readings:

Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall, America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Jeffrey A. Engel, Mark Atwood Lawrence, and Andrew Preston, editors, America in the World: A History in Documents from the War with Spain to the War on Terror (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014).

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