An International History of the Cold War

The Cold War dominated the second half of the 20th century, but until recently we had only an imperfect sense of what it was all about. In the past, historians used to write about it from within the event they were seeking to describe, so that there was no way to know its outcome. And because only a few Western countries had begun to open their archives, these accounts could only reflect one side of the story. As a result, Cold War history was once asymmetrical and incomplete. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent partial opening of Soviet, Eastern European, and Chinese archives have revolutionized the field. Everything we thought we knew is open for reconsideration, whether because of the new documents available to us or as a consequence of being able to reflect on how its outcome in new ways thanks to methodological developments within the discipline.

This course will provide an introduction to key topics in the new, international history of the Cold War. Through this course, I hope to break down the stereotypical understanding of the Cold War as a military competition between the Western and Eastern Blocs by bringing in the lived experiences of the peoples in the global south, the evolution of mass culture and media in different parts of the world, the roles of ideology and technology, and the emerging networks of interdependence that bound societies together in new ways. This course will also provide some of the factual grounding and conceptual apparatus necessary to understand the contemporary world.

World War II and Southeast Asia 

In August 1945 the US dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, bringing to an end the Second World War (or WWII). Yet in Southeast Asia, the end of the three year, 9 month and 1 day occupation by Japan marked only the beginning of another round of intense conflicts. Events of 1941-45 led to destabilization of every country in the region and dramatically affected the ability of Western colonial powers to regain their colonial territories. Japan presented to Southeast Asian countries renewed hope and renewed fear but changed the way the people in the region thought of themselves in any event. As a result, revolutions of national independence were waged in nearly every Southeast Asian country after WWII ended. Was Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia the same as Western colonization, only on a more intense scale time-wise? Or were Japan’s “crowbar” effects crucial for the development of postwar independence movements? How do we understand WWII in relation to the birth and rise of a new Asian world?

In this class, we seek to answer these questions by studying WWII in Southeast Asia through a country-by-country approach. For each country or group of countries, the following aspects will be discussed: Situations before the outbreak of the war, especially with regards to Western colonial powers; the timeline of Japanese invasion and involvement; the economic, political and cultural changes that occurred during the Japanese occupation; the end of the war and post-war repercussions.

A History of Modern Indonesia

This course will examine the historical forces that shaped a collection of islands spread across the equator named by the Dutch colonizers as “the Netherlands East Indies” into today’s Indonesia—the world’s fourth most populous nation and the largest Muslim-majority democracy with the most enthusiastic users of Twitter and Facebook. The course serves two purposes: first, to provide some of the factual grounding to understand a profoundly important neighbour of Singapore; second, to use modern Indonesia as a pair of lenses to investigate a number of broader questions: How can a sense of statehood be forged upon a kaleidoscopic body of territories with diverse ethnicities, languages and belief systems? What caused the economic underperformance in some formerly colonised countries despite their rich natural resources and an abundance of labor? Is violence unavoidable in times of radical political changes in developing countries? We will also look at issues such as the entangled and embattled relations among nationalism, Islam and communism, the longstanding question of interethnic conflicts as well as the ongoing tension between the center of state power and the periphery.

Historiography: Theory and Methods

Do historians uncover the truth, organize the facts and formulate possible causal explanations or just tell stories that sell? Can history be written “as it actually happened”? Are all human histories always provisional and conditional? How is a reconstruction of the past possible given that historians cannot rethink the thoughts of the dead or relive their lives? Are historians unfairly imposing the questions of the present to the past? Is the writing of history ultimately a power game that ensures the dominance of those who possess it? In a world in which an ever-growing chorus of voices is heard, what are the criteria by which a historical work can be held as valid?  With the coming of the digital age in humanities and social sciences, will history ultimately perish as a discipline and profession?

In this course, we will discuss the aforementioned questions by examining history’s relationship to science, postmodernism, colonialism, nation building, gender, identity politics and globalization. Building on the basic skills acquired in HH 1001: What is History, this course offers a more advanced introduction to the theories and methodologies underpinning our craft. The first part of the course (weeks 1-6) offers a chronological overview of the evolution of Western historiography in the twentieth century. These sessions show the history profession’s early embrace of positivism and scientific models and later encounters with postmodernity and multiculturalism. The second part of the course (weeks 8-13) offers a thematic survey of the field at present, bringing in questions on texts and contexts, narratives and subjectivity.

Foucault's Panopticon

History of Global Capitalism

History of Global Capitalism introduces you to the discipline of economic history. Beginning with the rise of capitalism in the West, the module tracks the development of capitalism, its spread throughout the world, and the challenges it has faced. The module also introduces the major themes and debates in the new field of the history of capitalism, including the Industrial Revolution, the East-West divide, the entanglement of economics and geopolitics during the two world wars and the Cold War, and the increasingly important roles of gender and technology in our discussions on capitalism. We will also look at case studies of post-WWII America and China’s Economic Reforms starting from the late 1970s.

This course also helps you to develop the skills to turn textual as well as numerical data into analytical historical writings. Through this course, you will become familiar with the different approaches to economic history and the methodological developments in the field, and learn what kinds of sources economic historians use and how they use them.