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The University of Southampton

HIST3218 Nuclear War and Peace, Part I

Module Overview

This module will acquaint you with the facts, cases, theories and debates necessary to understand the history of nuclear weapons from their invention during the Second World War to the 1968 Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1968. Nuclear history is unique in at least three respects. First, the advent of atomic and thermonuclear weaponry has epitomized humanity’s ascent to becoming the primary geological actor on the planet – the arbiters of the Earth’s fate so to speak. Second, the strict secrecy that has surrounded military nuclear programs has been pierced by a flurry of recent revelations from worldwide archives, casting new light on the history of nuclear strategy, diplomacy and policy. Third, the merciful non- use of nuclear weapons since 1945 means that nuclear strategy relies heavily upon theory. Evidence for our claims about nuclear weapons, whether they make major wars more or less likely or whether proliferation is a good or a bad thing, to reference two examples, is scant because no nuclear weapon has been used in anger since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. By the end of the semester, you will gain enough knowledge of the subject to support informed judgments about such key concepts as nuclear arms control, deterrence, non-proliferation, mutual assured destruction, and Global Zero.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • possess a broad knowledge base about why and how each nuclear-weapon state in existence by 1968 developed and oriented their nuclear programs in addition to the international crises and negotiations that resulted
  • be conversant in the science and technology behind fissile material production, warhead design, delivery vehicles, blast effects and countermeasures
  • familiarize yourself with a wide range of scholarship in nuclear studies, and the main arguments and evidence for theories about deterrence, arms control, proliferation, disarmament, non-use and international relations as a general subject.
  • form sophisticated opinions about the costs, benefits and risks that nuclear weapons pose
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • work independently and unsupervised for extended periods of time on complex tasks
  • display effective time management
  • interact purposefully, productively and confidently with both your tutor and peers
  • discuss course material fluidly, precisely, creatively and with appropriate use of terminology
  • make valuable, critical and valued contributions to discussions and debates
  • write speedily yet fluently for extended periods, clearly articulating your ideas
  • skim, select and summarize complex material
  • write in a mature and sophisticated style, with professional-level prose and presentation
  • apply the skills acquired during the module to problem-solving and policy-making
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • collect, analyse, synthesize and interpret a wealth of primary and secondary material
  • comment fluently on complex historical and theoretical debates, with appropriate use of evidence in argumentation
  • demonstrate a range as well as a depth of knowledge and insight about historical cases studies and theoretical models that feature nuclear weapons
  • exhibit an understanding of the differences between national, transnational, international, supranational and global fields of analysis
  • draw upon your acquired knowledge in debate, essays, role play and under timed conditions


A special feature of this module will be its examination of the tension between historical empiricism and generalizable theory and accordingly the major schools of thought used by scholars and practitioners to make sense of international relations: realism, liberal internationalism, and constructivism. Furthermore, you will consider the meaning of the nuclear revolution in relation to other major narratives about the late- twentieth century, including the cold war, United States hegemony, postcolonialism and globalization. An indicative list of seminar topics would include Morality Week 1: The Manhattan Project and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Week 2: Nuclear weapons and the origins of the cold war Strategy Week 3: Nuclear deterrence and Eisenhower’s nuclear strategy Week 4: Strategic stability and the British nuclear program Week 5: Flexible response and tutorials on the historiographical essay Week 6: Crisis management in Berlin and Cuba Norms Week 7: The non-use of nuclear weapons Week 8: The antinuclear movement and a writing day for the historiographical essay Geopolitics Week 9: Nuclear proliferation in the 1960s and tutorials to discuss dissertations Week 10: No seminar – writing week for essay Week 10: No seminar – writing week for essay Week 11: Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and South Asia Week 12: Preview of semester two – Anarchy versus order

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module is structured as a series of primary source and secondary literature discussions about a particular historiographical controversy or theoretical debate related to nuclear weapons. A representative list of seminar themes would be how nuclear weapons can be evaluated in terms of morality, strategy, norms, and geopolitics. Seminars will begin with an exploration of a particular historical case study and the various interpretations that historians have used to understand it, which will then serve as a basis for weighing whether different theories about nuclear weapons (e.g. deterrence or the nuclear taboo) conform to the empirical record. Teaching methods include: • Seminars will entail focused reading and rigorous analysis of primary sources in conjunction with wide-ranging and penetrating discussions of landmark historical and theoretical literature on the subject of nuclear weapons since the Second World War, accompanied by forays into the core historiography of the global cold war, international relations and American power since 1945. • Role play to help you grasp and appreciate the motivations, constraints, aims and contexts that policymakers work in and with in the United State and elsewhere in the world, and familiarize them with landmark moments in the history of nuclear weapons and the early-to-middle cold war • One-on-one appointments to provide guidance and feedback on research, writing, and dissertating Learning activities include: • Analysis and interpretation of selected primary documents • Consideration and comprehension of seminal historiographical and theoretical debates • Substantial preparatory reading and personal study • Individual participation in seminars and group work on seminar themes • Intensive individual research and writing • Engagement in historical re-enactment, role play, debate and group presentations

Preparation for scheduled sessions58
Completion of assessment task40
Follow-up work100
Wider reading or practice50
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Robert Jervis (1984). The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. 

Francis J. Gavin (2012). Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age. 

Sean L. Malloy (2008). Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb against Japan. 

Nina Tannenwald (2007). The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons since 1945. 

Kendrick Oliver (1998). Kennedy, Macmillan, and the Nuclear Test-Ban Debate, 1961-63. 

Thomas Schelling (1966). Arms and Influence. 

McGeorge Bundy (1988). Danger and Survival: Choices about the Bomb in the First Fifty Years. 

Shane J. Maddock (2010). Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present. 

Campbell Craig (2008). The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War. 

Scott Sagan and Kenneth Waltz (1995). The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate. 

Jennifer E. Sims (1990). Icarus Restrained: An Intellectual History of Nuclear Arms Control, 1945-1960. 

Graham T Allison (1971). Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

Marc Trachtenberg (1999). A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963. 

David Holloway (1994). Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956. 

Matthew Jones (2010). After Hiroshima the United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945-1965. 

Gabrielle Hecht (1998). The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. 

Hedley Bull (1961). The Control of the Arms Race: Disarmament and Arms Control in the Missile Age. 

A. A. Fursenko and Timothy Naftali (1997). One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964. 

John Wilson Lewis (1988). China Builds the Bomb. 

Scott Sagan (1996). Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons Three Models in Search of a Bomb. International Security. ,21 , pp. 54–86.

Avner Cohen (1998). Israel and the Bomb. 

Robert Jervis (1989). The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. 

Martin J. Sherwin (1975). A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance. 

Thomas C. Reed (2009). The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation. 

John Baylis (2015). British Nuclear Experience: The Roles of Beliefs, Culture and Identity. 


Assessment Strategy

1. You will write a historiographical essay (2000 words) on a subject of his or her choice. The aim of the assignment is to acquaint you with existing literature on a research question that she or he would like to follow up on in the research paper and potentially their dissertation. You will present an abstract with a short summary of the key debates in the literature about a particular case study of theoretical matter along with a list of ten secondary sources by week 4. The essay must be turned in with a cover sheet and bibliography at the end of week 8. 2. You will write a research paper (3000 words) on a topic of his or her choice. The goal of the assignment is to explain a significant event, topic, or debate in the international history of nuclear weapons from 1945 to 1968. You will present an abstract with a title, abstract, brief outline, and annotated bibliography with at least five secondary and five primary sources (e.g. newspapers, novels, memoirs, archives, digital collections, personal papers) selected by week 5. The final papers must be printed and turned in with a cover sheet and bibliography at the beginning of week 11. 3. The final exam will consist of a take-home gobbet examination in which you will contextualize and interpret in light of prevailing historiographical and theoretical opinion three extracts from primary or secondary source material. You will be provided with guidelines early in the module, and each week’s source analysis will refer to the requirements of the examination to ensure that you are confident with the manner in which they will be assessed.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 40%
Research essay  (3000 words) 40%
Take-away exam 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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