PIR-30152 - Britain and war since 1945: War, Cold War and society
Coordinator: Helen Parr Room: CBB2.005 Tel: TBC
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 6
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office:

Programme/Approved Electives for 2023/24


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2023/24

This course offers an in-depth look at Britain's policies towards war and Cold War since 1945, and the multiple relationships between Britain's external policies and domestic politics, society and culture during the Cold War. Broadly speaking, it uses primarily a historical perspective to ask what was Britain's role in the Cold War, why and how did Britain fight wars, both during and after the Cold War, and how did the Cold War affect British people?
The module begins with an examination of how we can frame Britain's international power in the Cold War period, and then considers Britain's nuclear weapons policies, and protest and resistance about them. It entertains in detail the reasons for and implications of Britain's civil and home defence policies, and considers the plans government drew up to cope (or not) with apocalypse.
It then moves on to contemplate in more detail how Britain fought wars of Cold War and decolonisation, and how Britain's external policy affected the lives of British people, particularly people called up into the military, or people who chose to join it. It considers the changing Cold War in the 1980s, and how Britain's international role was reconfigured as the Cold War ended, and how the legacy of Britain's history as a leading international power lingers, and why and how, and with what consequences, Britain used military force in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Students also have the opportunity to examine primary sources about the period, to investigate Britain's world war two films, to visit the National memorial arboretum, and to imagine what it would have been like to be a conscript in Korea, a paratrooper in the Falklands, an anti-nuclear protester or what would have happened if nuclear war had come to Cold War Britain....
Suggested reading:
Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (Penguin, 2003)
Richard Vinen, National Service: Conscription in Britain, 1945-63 (Penguin, 2012)
Helen Parr, Our Boys: The Parachute Regiment, the Falklands War and 1980s Britain (Penguin, 2018)
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars; British military failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (Yale, 2011)
David Edgerton, Warfare State: Britain, 1920-1970 (2005)

The module aims firstly to enhance the students' knowledge of Britain's post-1945 foreign and defence policies; secondly to enhance the students' knowledge of relationships between Britain's external relations, domestic politics, society and culture in the context of the Cold War and after; and thirdly to provide skills in historical data retrieval (documentary and other sources) and analysis.

This module examines the reasons for, and implications of, Britain's stance during the Cold War. It explores Britain's international power after the Second World War, examining the rationales underpinning Britain's nuclear policies and also why and how Britain fought wars of Cold War and the end of Empire. It considers the connections between Britain's external and domestic politics, society and culture, specifically by examining how Britain's overseas policies were contested domestically, and how Britain's global role affected people's lives, particularly the lives of those compelled or choosing to join the military. It considers how the end of the Cold War affected Britain's global position, and examines why, and with what consequences, Britain has used its military power in the contemporary era.

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes


Study hours

11x2 hour tutorials or interactive lectures - 22 hours
22 hours structured engagement with online resources (preparation for tutorials or interactive lectures, using provided online resources)
6 hours collaborative activity online in preparing group work on second world war films
5 hours of fieldwork - trip to National Memorial Arboretum to explore methods of memorialisation of war
40 hours preparation of case study
55 hours preparation of essay 2

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Case Study weighted 40%
1,500 word case study
Students will be asked to write an analysis of a case study surrounding the experience and memory of the world wars, or Britain's nuclear weapons policy. The case studies will include: memorialisation of world war one, experience of the home front in World War Two, representation of the British experience of World War Two in films, reasons for developing nuclear weapons, anti-nuclear protest, or British nuclear war planning. This includes a creative writing option in which students are invited to write an imagined scenario, based upon the knowledge and evidence of Britain's home and civil defence policies, of what would have happened had a nuclear war occurred.

2: Essay weighted 60%
2,000 word essay
Students will be required to write an essay on a given question, from a choice of questions related to the changes in Britain's world role, e.g. from Empire to Europe and Europe to Brexit, the use of British military force, the consequences of the use of British military force, and relationships between society, politics, culture and the use of British military force