Charles Lipson
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Charles Lipson

Peter B. Ritzma Professor

Political Science Department

University of Chicago

5828 S. University Ave.

Chicago, IL 60637


World Politics in the Twentieth Century: The Cold War, A History

Political Science 21600 & 32600
Charles Lipson

University of Chicago
Syllabus, Autumn 2009

Course: 1:30-2:50 Monday and Wednesday, Kent 120
Professor Lipsonís office is Pick 418B; his office hours are: Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30

If you e-mail Mr. Lipson or your TA about this course, please put the words PS216 somewhere in subject line


Course Description

This course surveys the Cold War (1945 until 1989/91). It makes full use of documents that were released only after the Soviet Union collapsed.

To cover so much material, even in a survey fashion, requires intensive reading. This is a heavy reading course, and, I hope, an equally rewarding one. The assigned readings are heaviest during the first half of the course since you will be researching and writing a longer paper during the second half.

Class presentations utilize multimedia extensively and feature computerized maps, graphs, historical photos and paintings, and newspapers from the period. To give a flavor of the period, I sometimes include propaganda posters and political cartoons. The slides presented in class are not available online.

This course is intended for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in the social sciences, particularly those working on international relations. It is not a course in international relations theory and does not presume any prior knowledge of it. Rather, its goal is to provide historical grounding for theorizing about international relations. There are no prerequisites for this course and no assumption that you have taken other courses in international politics or current history, although such courses would enrich your understanding and would not duplicate this course.

This is one of five related courses I offer on historical dimensions of international politics. I usually offer one such course per year. Each can be taken independently.

Undergrad & Grad     

World Politics from the 1490s to 1815: A History

Political Science 213 & 323
Great Power Politics in the Nineteenth Century: A History Political Science 214 & 324
World Politics in the Twentieth Century, 1914-45: A History Political Science 215 & 325
The Cold War, 1945-1991: A History Political Science 216 & 326
Big Wars: Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Political Science 291 & 392
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Required Books

The readings rely on four books. Please purchase all of them.

Overview (read first) John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History D843 .G22 2005
Early Cold War Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace D1058 .T718 1999
General History Melvyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War E183.8.S65 L44 2007
Soviets in Cold War Vladislav B. Zubok, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev DK274 .Z825 2007
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Basic Course Requirements

There are three course requirements, in addition to the list of assigned readings.

  1. short paper on origins of Cold War: five-page paper on any aspect of the period 1945-50
  2. timeline/dictionary on one issue or time period: chronology of events in one issue (such as nuclear deterrence) or time period (such as the end of the Cold War), plus an annotated list of people, places, and events related to your chronology. There should be approximately 15 events in timeline, plus 15 items in dictionary
  3. major paper: a fifteen to twenty page paper; must cover the same subject as your timeline/dictionary; you may choose one of two basic approaches. A 15 page paper is fine, but you may write a 20 page paper if you wish to use it for your "Long Paper" requirement in Political Science. The paper may be either::
    1. a research paper on any topic related to the Cold War. (It may overlap the topic of your short paper but may not include any text from that paper)
    2. a review of historical writings about one major period, country, or event, such as this example (this must cover the same topic as your timeline/dictionary)

There are no examinations in this class.

For your short paper: Pick any aspect of the early Cold War and write a brief paper on it. Examples: the division of Germany, the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO, rebuilding Europe, rebuilding Japan, the origins of the Korean War, the civil war in Greece, and so on. This paper must be done by you individually. You can use any books or articles you wish; that is, you are not restricted to the assigned books. Ideally, the paper goes beyond a mere recounting of facts and develops a clear argument or interpretation. (Question: can the paper include material outside the 1945-50 time period? Yes, it can include material before or after the time period, but the "center of gravity" of the paper should be between 1945 and 1950.)

For your timeline and dictionary: Pick one issue or theme within the time period of the course and create (a) a timeline of major events related to that topic and (b) a dictionary of key people and events for that same topic, with brief descriptions. If possible, please put the exact day of any event you list. The timeline and dictionary may be done individually or, if you wish, as a small group project with friends in the class. This is a real opportunity for group learning.

Question: Do the timeline and dictionary need footnotes?
Answer: No, not for the class. But you might wish to include them for yourself so you can easily cite an item if you refer to it again in your longer paper.

For your major paper: This paper must cover the same topic as your timeline. It must be written by you individually. You should choose between two types of papers:

  • a normal research paper on any topic related to the Cold War, or
  • a review of how diifferent historians look at some Cold War topic (for an example, see here).

You already know how to write a regular research paper, so let me concentrate on the other option, a historiographic review. Consider yourself a fair-minded "referee" among the different viewpoints. You should include at least three books or articles--more if you wish. Those works should cover two or three perspectives on your topic. First, you should lay out the different perspectives clearly and coherently. What are their varied strengths and weaknesses? Where do they agree and disagree? Where do they emphasize different issues and different evidence? You may wish to conclude by explaining which perspective (or combination of perspectives) you find most convincing and why.

Please note that this is not an original research paper. It is an essay discussing key debates among historians on a major international issue, such as the origin of a specific war or the breakdown of an alliance. It should be an informed, critical review of the historical literature on a selected time period or topic. In effect, you will serve as an informed "referee" of a debate among historians on a topic that interests you.

Questions and Answers about the major paper. Students asked me these questions. Here are the answers for everyone.

Question: I have changed directions since writing the timeline and dictionary and would like to write a my major paper on a different topic. Can I do that?
Answer: Yes. Just let your TA know. You are not required to write a new timeline. It might help, though, to make a brief timeline and dictionary on the new topic for your personal use. Believe me, it really helps to know this background material thoroughly before you start writing your major paper.

Question: Does the paper need to cover a topic mentioned in the lectures or readings?
Answer: No. Write on any topic related that interests you as long as it is related to the Cold War..

Question: Can the paper cover events before 1945 or after 1991?
Answer: A little bit, but not too much. The paper's "center of gravity" should be during the Cold War but it can include some material before or after that time period..

Question: My paper covers a topic between 1945 or after 1991, but I'm not sure if it is closely related to the Cold War. Does it need to be?
Yes. The paper needs to focus on some issue (a) within the Cold War time frame and (b) related in some way to Cold War issues. In other words, this class deals specifically deals with the Cold War rather than with the broader topic of modern world history.

No Plagiarism: The timeline, dictionary, and major paper must all be your original work. Of course, you will need to consult reference works and scholarly monographs, in print and online. But you must scrupulously avoid any significant "borrowing" (especially verbatim borrowing) or any "cutting and pasting" from others' works. That would misrepresent other people's work as your own and is plagiarism. When you rely on others' work, be sure to cite it fully and use quotation marks to denote any verbatim usage.

Plagiarism is a basic violation of academic rules and will result in failing the course. If you have questions, please consult my book Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success, either the first or second edition.

Please note that all co-authors of the timeline and dictionary are held jointly responsible for ensuring the academic integrity of the work, just as they are held jointly responsible for its quality.

Grading: Your final grade is on four aspects of the course:

  • Short paper . . . . . . . . . 25%
  • Timeline & Dictionary . .10%
  • Long paper . . . . . . . . . .55%
  • Section particpation . . . 10%

For a detailed discussion of the timeline and dictionary, including examples, click here.

For a detailed discussion of the historiographic essay, click here.

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Administrative Details

Books are available at UC/Barnes & Noble Bookstore and the Seminary Cooperative Bookstore.
Books are also on reserve at the Regenstein Library;
Chalk: this course has a Chalk site, where most materials can be accessed. I have uploaded PDFs of articles and chapters of non-required books to the site.
Undergraduates normally enroll in PS 216. Graduate students enroll in PS 325.
Students have weekly discussion sections, which will be assigned in Week 2 or 3, after registration for the course is final.
There will be a lecture on Monday of Thanksgiving Week but not on Wednesday.

If you are graduating this quarter: your final paper is due on the day after Thanksgiving (that is, Friday during the Thanksgiving break). You must tell your TA in advance that you are graduating, and you must send the final paper to the TA as an attachment by 5 pm on that Friday. That's the only way we can get your grades in on time.

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When Are the Papers Due?

Week 4 Five-page paper on some aspect of early Cold War (1945-50). Due at Wednesday lecture.
Week 7 Dictionary and Timeline are due at Wednesday lecture; give to your TA.
For a detailed discussion of the timeline and dictionary click here
Week 8 A brief description of your proposed major paper is due at your section meeting. The description should be 100-200 words, plus a list of 2 or 3 books and articles you intend to use in the paper.
Week 11
Exam Week
Major paper is due Wednesday of exam week, 3pm, Pick 418 (Lipson office).
You may write a research paper or a historiographic essay. For a detailed discussion of the historiographic essay, click here
If you are graduating this quarter, your major paper is due earlier, on the day after Thanksgiving (Friday) by 5 pm. Should be sent to your TA as an attachment.

All papers must have a title and must include your name, phone, and e-mail address. Pages should be numbered. Please staple.

Extensions: Extensions will not be given routinely. In unusual or especially difficult circumstances, however, students may request an extension an assignment. The request must be in writing (by letter or e-mail) and should give specific reasons why the extension is needed. All requests must be made via e-mail directly to the appropriate teaching assistant (not to Mr. Lipson). If any special extension is granted, then the paper must be turned in by date given by the TA. Except for cases of serious illness or personal difficulties, no extensions will be made for any date later than Friday, 4 p.m., on the first week of the following quarter.

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Resources for Writing Longer Papers on the Cold War

Here are valuable resources for any paper related to the Cold War:

  • Journal of Cold War Studies (available online at the Reg; hard copy at D839.J68)Cold War History (journal available online through the Reg; hard copy at D839.C65)National Security Archive (external link provide; these are declassified documents held at George Washington University)Cold War International History Project (external link provided) Foreign Relations of the United States (online or hard copy at JX233.A3; these are volumes of declassified documents, organized by year and subject)
  • You may also find useful articles in two journals (online or hard copy)
    1. International Security
    2. Diplomatic History

Main Topics and Required Readings
plus Supplementary Readings and Speeches

Overview of Entire Cold War

John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (read the entire book; it is an essential overview)

Cold War in Europe: The Early Years

Melvyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind, Chapter 1 Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, Chapters 1-4

Vladislav M. Zubok, A Failed Empire, Chapter 2

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The German Problem

Trachtenberg, Constructed Peace, Chapters 5-9

Zukok, Failed Empire, Chapter 3.

Cold War Spreads to Asia: "Red" China and the Korean War

Robert Service, Comrades: A History of World Communism, Chapter 24. (Available on Chalk; the book's call number is HX39 .S414 2007)

Nuclear Dangers and Stable Deterrence

Zukok, Failed Empire, Chapters 4.

David Alan Rosenberg, "The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960," International Security, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Spring, 1983), pp. 3-71. (Should be available on Chalk.) Also in Steven Miller, ed., Strategy and Nuclear Deterrence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 113-182. (Regenstein: U263.S770 1984)

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Cuban Missile Crisis

Zukok, Failed Empire, Chapters 5.Please explore some of the wonderful online resources at the John F. Kennedy Library regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis, including transcripts and recordings of the secret Presidential meetings assessing the crisis and deciding how to respond.

Optional (for those working on the topic): For US policy: Sheldon M. Stern, Averting ‘The Final Failure’: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003)

For Soviet policy: Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, One Hell of a Gamble : Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964 (New York : W.W. Norton, 1997).

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Battle for the "Third World"


No assigned readings

Optional: George Herring, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, 3rd ed.

The Opening to China

Review Gaddis, The Cold War, Chapter 4.

Lorenz Lüthi, The Sino-Soviet Split (Princeton University Press, 2008).
Chen Jian, Mao’s China and the Cold War (University of North Carolina Press, 2001)


Robert Service, Comrades: A History of World Communism, Chapter 27. (Available on Chalk)Vladislav Zubok, "The Soviet Union and Detente of the 1970s," Cold War History Vol. 8, Issue 4 November 2008, 427 - 447 (Available on Chalk)

Zukok, Failed Empire, Chapters 7-8.

Reagan and Gorbachev

Melvyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind, Chapter 5

John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (review Chapter 6)

The Collapse of the Soviet Empire and the End of the Cold War

Melvyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind, Chapter 5 (review)John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (review Chapter 7) Zukok, Failed Empire, Chapter 10. Philip D. Zelikow, "The Suicide of the East: 1989 and the Fall of Communism," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 88, No. 6 (Nov/Dec 2009), 130-140. (Available here and on Chalk)

Optional: Online exhibition entitled Voices of US diplomacy and the Fall of the Berlin Wall (suggested by student in our class. Thanks!)

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