HST674: International Relations and the Early Cold War in Britain

15 credits (Semester 2019-20: Spring)

Module Leader 2019-20: Aaron Ackerley

Module Summary

The Cold War significantly changed the parameters of international politics and shifted the balance of power in international relations. As a major international player and an imperial power, Britain was especially affected by these changes. Yet the Cold War was more than a diplomatic conflict. It also had a profound impact on British society and culture.

By encouraging you to bring together diplomatic, social and cultural history, this module examines the ways in which British policy-makers and British society slowly adapted to these changes in the key period from the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the Korean War. A variety of primary sources, ranging from diplomatic records to audio-visual sources and popular literature will be consulted.

Module aims

This module aims to give you a solid grounding in key elements of contemporary British history in the period immediately after World War II. You will undertake a structured programme of readings, presentations and discussions, exploring in a variety of ways the diplomatic, political and social history of the Cold War in Britain. The discussions will be linked to particular themes, such as the impact of the beginning Cold War on British popular culture; the Cold War and family policies and lifestyles; and the interaction between international relations and domestic political developments. Particular emphasis will be placed on the use of a variety of historical methodologies, ranging from ‘traditional’ diplomatic to more recent approaches informed by the linguistic turn. In this way, the module also serves as an introduction for non-specialists who wish to develop interdisciplinary approaches towards contemporary history.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to demonstrate:

  1. An in-depth understanding of a key period of contemporary British history;
  2. A practical understanding of the problems and opportunities associated with different approaches towards handling evidence in this period of British history;
  3. An awareness of the contribution made by other academic disciplines to our understanding of the Cold War in Britain;
  4. An ability to engage critically and independently in current historiographical debates on these issues;
  5. An ability to elaborate and defend an intellectual position and to present scholarly arguments and historiographical debates both orally and in writing.


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour classes. Each will focus on a particular theme (Britain and the origins of the Cold War, Britain and the Marshall Plan, The Cold War and British imperialism, The battle for heart and minds: British Cold War intelligence operations, British society and the early Cold War). It will be located around its discussion in the historical literature, considered in broad context. This is a field with a very rich and growing body of primary and secondary literature which relates to wider debates about the nature of historical investigation. Classes will enable you to share knowledge, debate controversial issues and listen and respond to the views of others in a structured environment. You will, in addition, have an individual tutorial with the module tutor in which to discuss the work you will write for assessment for this module.



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a paper (not more than 3000 words) which demonstrates an ability to handle bibliographical resources and which explores one of the key themes raised by an in-depth study of a particular topic in modern history.


Selected reading

  • Rolf Ahmann et al., eds., The Quest for Stability: Problems of West European Security, 1918-1957 (Oxford, 1993)
  • Alan Bullock, Ernest Bevin. Foreign Secretary (London, 2002)
  • P. M. H. Bell, John Bull and the Bear: British Public Opinion, Foreign Policy and the Soviet Union, 1941-45 (London, 1990)
  • Michael Dockrill, British Defence Policy Since 1945 (London, 1988)
  • Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (London: Penguin, 2002)
  • Geraint Hughes Harold Wilson's Cold War: The Labour Government and East-West Politics, 1964-1970. Vol. 67. (Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2015)
  • Gerard J. De Groot, The Bomb: A Life (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004)
  • John Paul Delacour Dunbabin. The Cold War: The great powers and their allies. (Routledge, 2014)
  • Stephen Fielding, et al., England Arise! (Manchester, 1994)
  • Jim Fyrth, Labour’s Promised Land? (London, 1995)
  • David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945-51 (London, 2007)
  • Robert James Maddox, The new left and the origins of the Cold War. (Princeton University Press, 2015)
  • Ross McKibbin, Classes and Cultures (Oxford, 1998)
  • Alan Milward, Reconstruction of Western Europe (London, 1992)
  • Bill Moore, Cold War Sheffield (Sheffield, 1990)
  • Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour in Power, 1945-51 (Oxford, 1984)
  • Markku Ruotsila, British and American Anticommunism before the Cold War (London, 2001)
  • Alban Webb, London Calling: Britain, the BBC World Service and the Cold War. (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014)



*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.