Changing the way history of the Cold War is taught in schools across the United States and Europe

Submitting Institution

London School of Economics & Political Science

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

In partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History Arne Westad convened three week-long summer seminars for school-teachers between 2009 and 2011 on the Global Cold War. Co-taught by Tanya Harmer and Svetozar Rajak, the seminars introduced 87 participants to new research, primary sources and teaching methods. Teachers came from different types of schools across North America, Russia, Eastern Europe and the UK. As a result of these seminars, many changed their syllabi and altered classroom practices to incorporate new information, analytical frameworks and sources. The seminars also led to unique international networks of teachers and students and planning for new modules on the International Baccalaureate.

Underpinning research

Research Insights and Outputs:

The seminars that Westad, Rajak and Harmer ran in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute were underpinned by their own research and publications on the Cold War, spanning 2006 - 2013. Their research challenges old assumptions that the Cold War was merely a bipolar superpower conflict centred on a nuclear arms race. As proponents of de-centred, global approaches to international history, Westad, Rajak and Harmer emphasize the multi-dimensional nature of the Cold War and the central role of ideology in determining it. Their research is multi-archival in scope and innovative in breadth. It has set a new series of intellectual agendas that are also of great importance to the teaching of history at the secondary, high school and sixth-form levels. The aim of the seminars is to help reshape the way in which those who teach at these levels in the state/public and private sectors organise and frame the study of the Cold War in all its dimensions.

Westad is a pioneer of the new global history of the Cold War. Having won the Bancroft Prize, the American Political Science Association's Michael Harrington Prize and the Akira Iriye International History Book Award for The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times [1], he co-edited a three volume Cambridge History of the Cold War with Melvyn Leffler that was published in 2010 [2]. It is the leading account of the Cold War existing today and represents a key source for scholars, students and teachers of all levels inside and outside academia. Bringing together scholars from around the world, Westad and Leffler have provided a comprehensive global history of the conflict and its legacies. The Cambridge History also incorporates new thematic issues in Cold War scholarship such as the roles that demography and consumption, women and youth, science and technology, and ethnicity and race played. Indeed, through its various thematic, geographical and national angles, it signifies a transformation of the field.

As one of the contributors to the Cambridge History of the Cold War, and a scholar with unprecedented access to Yugoslav archives, Rajak is an historian of Yugoslavia, the Balkans and the Cold War. His work [3, 4] posits that Yugoslavia's relationship with the Soviet Union was not merely a bilateral relationship, but rather had ramifications for relations in the Eastern Bloc, the global Communist movement, the Non-Aligned movement and the dynamics of the Cold War world at its most crucial juncture.

Harmer's research [5,6,7] focuses on the history of the Cold War in Latin America and draws on Chilean, Cuban, Brazilian, US, British, Polish and East German sources. Her publications are the first serious examinations of revolutionary Cuba's involvement in Latin America, Brazil's intervention in Chile, and Chile's relations with Latin America, the Soviet bloc and the Third World during Salvador Allende's presidency. She argues that the history of the Cold War in Latin America had its own regional dynamics, logic and chronology. She is also a leading figure when it comes to using Latin American sources and approaching Latin American history from regional perspectives.

Key Researchers:

Arne Westad has been at LSE since 1998 and is Professor of International History at LSE and Co-Director of LSE Ideas — a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy. Svetozar Rajak is a Senior Lecturer and has been in LSE's Department of International History since 2007. Tanya Harmer has been a Lecturer in the Department of International History since 2009.

References to the research

1. Westad, O.A., The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge University Press, 2006). LSE Research Online ID: 20391


2. Westad, O.A., and Melvyn P. Leffler (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Cold War, vols.1-3 (Cambridge: CUP, 2010). Available from LSE on request


3. Rajak,S., Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union in the early Cold War: reconciliation, comradeship, confrontation, 1953-57 (London: Routledge, 2010). LSE Research Online ID: 25289


4. Rajak,S., "The Cold War in the Balkans, 1945-1956: From the Greek Civil War to Soviet-Yugoslav-Normalization" in Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (eds), Cambridge History of the Cold War, Volume I: Origins (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010a). Available from LSE on request


5. Harmer, T., Allende's Chile and the Inter-American Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of Carolina Press, 2011). DOI: 10.1080/14682745.2012.686593


6. Harmer, T., "Brazil's Cold War in the Southern Cone" Cold War History, 12: 4 (2012). DOI: 10.1080/14682745.2011.641953


7. Harmer, T., "One, Two, Many Revolutions? Cuba and the Prospects for Revolutionary Change in Latin America, 1967-1975" Journal of Latin American Studies, 45: 1 (2013). DOI: 10.1017/S0022216X1200123X


Evidence of quality: publications in top presses and journals; award of prizes.

Details of the impact

Framed around Westad, Rajak and Harmer's research, the Global Cold War seminars (held in 2009, 2010 and 2011) have had a profound impact on the way in which teachers think about the Cold War, how they impart their knowledge about it to students and how those students then conceive of world history and contemporary international relations [A]. At each seminar there were approximately 30 participants from different types of schools from across North America, Russia, Eastern Europe and the UK.

Asked by Gilder Lehrman immediately after the seminar how useful it would be for future teaching and increasing the use of primary sources in the classroom 75-90% of participants consistently described it as very good or excellent [GL Evaluation Reports, 2009-11: B].

Surveyed in January 2013 [C], former participants also testified that the seminars had a "tremendous", "huge" and "great" impact on their teaching [Q3 of 2013 survey; Kang Testimony: D, E]. As a direct result of advice, encouragement and instruction they received at the seminars, respondents commented on how the seminar changed their use of primary sources, technology and audio-visual materials in the classroom as well as their ability to include new perspectives when teaching the Cold War. The overwhelming majority of respondents emphasized that Westad, Rajak and Harmer had vastly improved their understanding and knowledge of the global Cold War and given them "expertise and confidence" (Q10-6). "I learned from outside the US perspective, using the most accurate research" one participant testified, "They broke through revisionist history and made this complex subject relevant and understandable" (Q3 -21). Felicia Kang, a teacher at St Anne's School in Brooklyn, testified that Harmer had helped her learn about "a huge chunk of the globe that was very overlooked... I entered assuming that the great powers determined what happened in what you might call the non-aligned nations... I came away with a) more curiosity to find out what indigenously happened and b) more of a recognition that this was a big gap in my curriculum; I wasn't covering any of this..." [Kang testimony, D, E].

Formal changes to syllabi made by teachers who attended the seminars varied. Participants wrote of subsequently including in-depth teaching on Korea (Q6-6); a Cold War dimension to Middle East classes (Q6-9); "World War II simulation", a "popular culture unit on lit[erature] and film, Skype interviews with individuals who formally lived "behind the wall" (Q5-14); "a Crisis Analysis unit" incorporating information on the Cuban Missile Crisis and China/Taiwan crises and revising a War on Terror unit that brought together information learned during the seminar and a power point presentation to offer new perspectives on "the interconnectivity" of events in on Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan (Q6 -23). Kang ran a new elective the year after she attended the seminar as a result of the seminar that spent a month on Cuba and the Third World [Kang Testimony: D, E]. Those more constrained by IB/AP syllabi also reported having moved the focus "away from bipolar/great powers to a more global conversation" (Q6 -14).

Teachers also reported that their students responded very positively to changes made. As one put it, "Students respond enthusiastically to the projects and tasks" implemented as a result of the seminar: "When an instructor is better able to answer students' questions because of extra time and effort expended, the class responds by working harder too." (Q8-23). A teacher at Tambov Lyceyum 6 in Russia set up an online project in 2010 with a teacher at Palmer Ridge High school in Colorado that allowed their students to communicate with each other entitled "The Cold War is long ago: Getting to know each other" (Q9-11). This project fostered familiarity and shared awareness between these students and teachers across inherited ideological divides. Indeed, one of the reasons participants would most recommend the seminar was because it brought teachers from former antagonist countries together and offered the opportunity for them to exchange personal and professional insights that changed the way in which they subsequently teach the history of Cold War (Q10-13, 22). Another teacher encouraged students to look at how lessons from Cold War crises can be used to analyze contemporary crisis situations (Q6-22) and one teacher reported that "The Cold War now comes alive — they see how it changed the face of the world, how these fears still drive us today. Many students have grandparents who fought in Korea and Vietnam — this explains why."(Q8-22). Kang reported that classes on the Third World and Cuba sparked students' interest in writing their research papers on these subjects and exploring Latin America. Her elective on the Cold War also ran for 3 years after the seminar. Next year she will be teaching a course on Communism that will focus on China and Cuba, inspired directly by the Gilder Lehrman seminar and drawing on Westad and Harmer's insights offered at the seminar (Kang testimony: D, E). These kinds of benefits have reached students across the world from very different kinds of schools. The majority of respondents to the 2013 survey (a quarter of all those who attended the 2009-11 seminars) taught in public schools, but others came from independent/private schools, a religious school, an international school based in Central America and a high school in Russia.

The Cold War seminar has also influenced the work of one teacher now serving as a consultant to the International Baccalaureate Organization at The Hague and a National Park Service employee who works on permanent exhibitions visited by thousands of visitors (Q8-11, 16). The IBO consultant noted that in designing a new IB Group 3 course on Global Politics he found that the Cold War seminar had influenced him to advise "exploring ways this new offering course can use primary documents." (Q8-16).

These are only snapshots of the results of the three seminars that ran between 2009 and 2011. Yet they accurately reflect the seminar's core aim, namely to change the way in which the history of the Cold War is taught at school level across the globe and, consequently, how people from very different backgrounds understand each other and the world they live in. Aside from improving school education of the Cold War itself through lectures, Westad, Rajak and Harmer's goal in sharing their multi-archival research and new approaches to the study of history was to encourage teachers to impart greater empathy, tolerance and understanding across continents and boundaries to the hundreds of students they come into contact with and help educate. They communicated their research and ideas through traditional lectures and informal discussions. These discussions were not confined to the classroom but were rather part of intensive conversations about teaching methods and historiographical approaches that took place throughout the week. The teachers were not expected to read the whole of the Cambridge History of the Cold War or recent monographs and articles (some of which came out after the seminars) published by Westad, Rajak and Harmer. However the three of them shared primary sources they had used for their research, discussed how they used them in the classroom and conveyed precise details of their findings, conclusions and analytical approaches. "Participating in the seminar will have an immediate and long lasting impact on your life as a teacher" one participant wrote, "It is eye opening to interact with archivists and historians doing the work of interpreting history. It increases your personal knowledge and expands how students view you as an educator. It is well worth your time!" (Q10-21).

Sources to corroborate the impact

All Sources listed below can also be seen at:

A. Gilder Lehrman Summer Seminar on the Global Cold War Syllabus (2009, 2010, 2011)
Source files:

B. Gilder Lehrman Evaluation Reports from Global Cold War seminars (2009-2011) Source files:

C. Participant Surveys of those who attended the Global Cold War seminars between 2009 and 2011 (December-January 2013)

D. Teacher Testimony: History teacher at Saint Ann's New York, Brooklyn - 16 March 2013. This source is confidential.

E. Syllabus, developed by History teacher at Saint Ann's New York, Brooklyn, on the Cold War as a result of the seminar Source files:

F. Online information about Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminars: