Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST2471: The United States and the Cold War

Department: History

HIST2471: The United States and the Cold War

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 48 Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level one module in History.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • HIST2831.


  • To introduce students to an understanding of American foreign policy during the mid to late twentieth century and offer insights into how and why the United States sought to maintain its role as the preeminent global power against the backdrop of the Cold War.


  • The module will enable students to gain an understanding of major themes in the history of US foreign policy over the duration of the Cold War.
  • The emphasis will be on international relations and military affairs. The period covered embraces the breakdown of the wartime alliance between the US, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain, the origins of the Cold War, and how the conflict evolved through a series of crises, limited wars, and diplomatic initiatives thereafter. These will include: (1) the Berlin Blockade and Airlift; (2) the Korean War; (3) American deployment of covert warfare in the Sino-Soviet bloc and the third world; (4) the Indochinese and Vietnam Wars; (5) the second Berlin crisis; (6) the Cuban Revolution and Missile Crisis; (7) detente with the Soviet Union and China, and the factors that led to its decline and abandonment; (8) the so-called "New Cold War"; and (9) the end of the Cold War-proper.
  • The course will go beyond a mere surface study of international events. Rather, we will encounter, and seek to explain, the evolving dynamics of the Cold War and broader international relations, and the changing ways in which American policymakers responded to real and perceived threats to US interests and security. A crucial dimension of the module will be the examination of key primary source material as well as the pertinent historiography.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • To understand the assumptions and objectives that informed successive American administrations in their pursuit of power, influence and security in a changing global environment dominated by the Cold War.
  • Ability to engage critically with some relevant primary source material and to assess the way other historians have used evidence.
  • Ability to identify relevant secondary literature from the vast and rapidly expanding scholarship on the subject.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Integrating primary and secondary sources in a skilled and sustained manner
  • Engaging in deep, careful analysis of primary sources, while confronting methodological and conceptual challenges associated with advanced research.
  • Evaluating historical interpretations and encouraging students to position themselves within existing debates
  • In addition students will acquire subject-specific research skills including archival work and exploiting web resources such as Early English Books Online and State Papers Online.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.)
  • The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments
  • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • Lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • Seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
  • Assessment:
  • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge.
  • Summative coursework will test students ability to communicate ideas in writing, present clear and cogent arguments succinctly and show appropriate critical skills as relevant to the particular module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 16 16 in Term 1 1 hour 16
Seminars 7 7 in Term 1 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 177
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3,000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or assignments 1,000 words total, not including footnotes and bibliography where relevant 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative work done in preparation for and during seminars, including oral and written work as appropriate to the module. The summative coursework will have a formative element by allowing students to develop ideas and arguments for the examination and to practice writing to similar word limits.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University