Beyond a Bipolar Cold War: Teaching Global Geo-Politics 1945-1973

USA BlueOverview: 

The Cold War is the name the U.S. has promoted to describe the international world order that lasted from 1945-1991.  Norwegian Cold War historian Odd Arne Westad notes in his award winning work The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times  that “the Soviets never used the term officially before the Gorbachev error.”  Still. emerging from the destruction of World War II, two “super powers,” the USA and the Soviet Union, led two coalitions of nations in a world order based on a constructed simplified binary.  Yet, this duality was never fully exclusive.  Moreover, a third group, the Non-Aligned Movement, resisted the super power construct and vision of world order. Main countries involved included Indonesia, India, Yugoslavia, Egypt, and Ghana. However, membership expanded to nearly 100 nations during the “Cold War Era.”

The ubiquity of standardized narratives reinforces a history that is rarely, if ever, challenged. In fact, more nuanced, analytical responses on tests that challenge the dominant explanation would be penalized or marked as wrong. The demands of contemporary education, globalization, and new scholarship about the Cold War invite alternative perspectives of the Cold War Era.  Providing these opportunities for students develops critical thinking skills they will use to engage with information in a complex global world.

Essential Questions:

  1. How can Cold War periodization be altered beyond the standard rendition – 1945-1991?
  2. What are the limits of the Cold War binary narrative?
  3. To what extent does our understanding of the Cold War impact our contemporary political-ethical-cultural world views?
  4. What nations are given agency (the power to act) and what nations are presented as passive/marginal players during the Cold War?

Module Resources:

  1. Scholar Screencast, by Joseph Golowka
    • Recording:  23 Minutes
    • “If we take a global view of the Cold War, the conflict looks very different. The thirty years following World War Two saw the rise of large revolutionary nationalist movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America that sought to end foreign domination of their nation.”
  2. C3 Inquiry Lesson
  3. Secondary Sources/Informational Texts
  4. Primary Sources


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One Comment

  1. I was on a three high school teacher team who taught 11th grade 20th century US history within a global context. The last third of the course was post 1945, and was able to generalize the anti imperial and independence movements that so dominated those decades. Some would argue it still does. This course operated from 1969 to 1990, approx. Jim Hill

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