Contemporary World since 1945 Syllabus

Teaching Assistants and discussion sections are particularly important in a class this large and with subject matter that can be complicated. TAs will be your discussion leaders and have primary responsibility for grading your work. You should discuss issues with them; they hold regular office hours for this reason. You should also feel free to discuss your ideas and questions with the professor.

Purpose: Students are expected to read and learn about historical developments in the post World War II era and appreciate the historical roots of these issues. The lectures, discussions, readings, tests, and papers have two primary goals: 1) to develop a student's understanding of the issues we confront daily and 2) to improve her or his critical thinking and ability to present and defend a position. Consequently, students are encouraged to ask questions and to respond to issues raised by instructors and other students. Since this class is also part of the multi-cultural curriculum, we will compare our assumptions and experiences with those of other cultures.

Topics and Themes:

The course will be divided into three general topics: 1) The Cold War and Its Legacies, 2) Lesser Developed Countries: Independence, Decolonization, and Dependency Theory, and 3) Religions and the Middle East. During each of these units we will try to be sensitive to the complexity of most issues; economies, resources, culture, religion, language, the military, demographics, geography, historical context, and still other factors often affect government and individual objectives and decisions and everyday life.

In this class you will be asked to evaluate themes like: components of decision making; the differences between perceptions and reality; the role of culture in domestic and international relations, compatibility of tolerance and ideology; tension between rights of individual and society; the relationship between technology and policy; strengths and weaknesses of mono-causal arguments; debates about structures or individuals as primary causes of events; components of nationalism; and applicability of stereotypes.

Assigned Reading: Several articles, excerpts from books, and documents are in a Coursepack available at Student Stores or Reserve Reading in the Undergraduate Library. In addition, portions of the following books will be required reading:

Slavenka Drakulic, How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed

Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Le Ly Hayslip, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, A Grain of Wheat

David Grossman, Sleeping on a Wire

T. E. Vadney, The World Since 1945

I recommend that each student read a newspaper with good international reporting and try some of the national newspapers online. The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor are available online or in copy at reduced rates for students. I also recommend purchasing an inexpensive historical atlas like Hammond's Historical Atlas of the World.

All books will be available at the Student Store and on reserve in the Undergraduate Library.

Grading: Final grades will be determined as follows: discussions and discussion essays/projects 35%, first test 10%, mid-term 25%, and final exam 30%. Discussions are an important part of the course. As the grade format indicates, students are expected to be present and prepared for all discussions and to participate.

Education Technology Projects: Students have several options for projects during the course of the semester. They must complete three projects (you may repeat an the use of education technologies once, if you apply the module to a different region) during the course of the semester. For more specific information about each option, visit our web site.

  1. Quantitative Content Analyses—students may compare national constitutions, speeches, newspaper articles, or other approved materials by using the method outlined on our web site. If you wish to use online newspapers, is a useful gateway.
  1. Comparative demographic studies—students may compare demographic data from a minimum of four countries. After reviewing information on education, mortality, literacy rates, climate, geography, etc., try to think of correlations between the data on nations and the nation's history.
  1. Interactive Maps—this project seems more ambitious in the sense that it requires more knowledge of programs like Macromedia's Flash or ESRI's ArcView. Students must present a visual display of changing national boundaries or changing demographic data according to several nations within a region. See the web site for additional information.

Lecture Schedule (Lecture titles are to be understood as presenting issues, not necessarily as statements of fact. Textbook readings are not listed below.)

I. The Cold War and Its Legacies

Several questions to reflect upon as you study this material: What do we mean by a multi-polar or bipolar world? What are the implications? Could we accurately speak of a communist bloc? Did new technologies, or the lack of them, drive policy? Why do some individuals have a nostalgic view of the Cold War? Is our worldview now less ideological?

  • Origins of Cold War: When Did It Start?
  • Living the Cold War
  • Reserve Reading, article by Paul Fussell
  • Discussion
  • Soviet Union in Transition
  • Coursepack, Section I
  • Discussion
  • Yugoslavia
  • Read Drakulic's Café Europa
  • Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution?
  • Discussion
  • Poland and Solidarity
  • A Reunified Germany?
  • Coursepack, Section II
  • Discussion/Test
  • Mao's China?
  • Reasserting Mao's China
  • Chang, Wild Swans
  • Discussion
  • United Nations and Multilateral Organizations
  • Cold War Settlements and Recurrent Problems

II. Lesser Developed Countries: Independence, Decolonization, and Dependency


Several questions to reflect upon as you study this material: What accounts for the different paths experienced as more entities become independent? Why do we speak of structures (economy, government, demographics) and leaders as we analyze the history of nations? What are the origins of dependency theory? How do you assess it as an analytical tool? Is the colonizing nation important to the post-colonial era? What do we mean by center and periphery?

  • India
  • Algeria
  • Mid-Term
  • Vietnam and the French
  • Hayslip, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
  • Vietnam and the Americans
  • Discussion
  • South Africa
  • Coursepack, Section III
  • Ireland and Break from British Rule
  • Discussion
  • Kenya and Break from British Rule
  • Read Ngugi's, A Grain of Wheat
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: Example of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia)
  • Discussion
  • The Nations of Central Africa
  • Dependency Theory and other Analytical Frameworks
  • Coursepack, Section IV
  • Discussion
  • Argentina and Mass Politics of Peronism
  • Nicaragua
  • Coursepack, Section V
  • Discussion
  • Obstacles and Opportunities for Developing World

III. Religions and the Middle East

Several questions to reflect upon as you study this material: What do we mean by religious states? Could structural issues supersede ideological questions in this region? Why must we be careful using terms like Muslims and Jews?

  • Muslim Religions/Culture
  • Read Grossman's Sleeping on a Wire
  • Palestinians and Jews
  • Discussion
  • Israel and the Arabs
  • Ideologies and Structures