Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST31L3: Culture war: Battling for hearts and minds in the Cold War

Department: History

HIST31L3: Culture war: Battling for hearts and minds in the Cold War

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 18 Location Durham


  • A Pass mark in at least two Level 2 History Modules


  • N/A

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • N/A


  • To develop an advanced understanding of the history of the ‘cultural cold war’;
  • To develop knowledge and understanding of concepts such as propaganda, soft power and cultural diplomacy;
  • To evaluate critically the opinions of scholars of the cold war;
  • To develop advanced reading of different types of primary material;
  • To contribute towards meeting the generic aims of Level III study in History.


  • The cold war between the US-dominated capitalist West and Soviet-dominated communist East overshadowed the second half of the twentieth century. This was not simply a conventional military and political struggle, involving the relentless build-up of nuclear arsenals and proxy wars, it was also a cultural and ideological contest, a kind of ‘Cultural Olympics’ in which countries on both sides competed to demonstrate the superiority of their respective values and ways of life. This ‘cultural cold war’ was fought with weapons such as books, films, radio, television, exhibitions, ballet, theatre and music. Artists and intellectuals were drawn – sometimes knowingly, sometimes unwittingly - into the global struggle to win over hearts and minds.
  • This special subject focuses on these less familiar cultural dimensions of the cold war. We aim to explain why battles over culture became so central to the conflict and compare how three of the major players - the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union – made unprecedent use of cultural diplomacy in pursuit of their objectives. We will study a range of audio-visual and textual primary sources, from pop music and magazines, to deepen our understanding of the different ways states seek to exercise soft power and influence global public opinion.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A deep understanding of the cultural cold war;
  • A sophisticated understanding of the changing historiography of the cultural cold war;
  • The ability to analyse critically a diverse range of primary material, including both visual and textual sources;
  • The ability to interrogate concepts such as propaganda, cultural diplomacy and soft power.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Challenging students’ assumptions about the past and reflecting on the nature of the discipline (and, where appropriate, interdisciplinarity) at an advanced level
  • Appreciating how historical knowledge is produced, what forms it takes, and the purposes it serves
  • Reflecting on students’ own historical consciousness and practice.
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:
  • 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;
  • tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen 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 essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge' research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 Termly in Terms 1 & 2 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 2 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 540
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Essay 2 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Source Analyses 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2,500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography); preparation to participate in seminar and tutorials; at least one oral presentation, and practice source/gobbet work.

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