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The University of Southampton

HIST6121 Digital Frontiers: Conflict in Cyberspace, 1967 – present

Module Overview

Cyber space, although a relatively new domain, has already accumulated a fascinating history of expansion, exploitation, and engagement. Since the first emergence of computer networks in the late 1960s, nation states, non-state groups, and individuals have used the interconnected machines for strategic purposes, espionage, theft, influence, and even direct conflict. Unfortunately, these issues of national and international security have too often been relegated to matters of information security. A failure among both policy makers and cyber professionals to appreciate the history of cyber conflict, and to learn from the lessons it offers, has doomed both the U.S. and U.K. governments to repeating mistakes of the past. Through its carefully selected case studies, this module breaks down the traditional barriers between policy “wonks” and technology “geeks”, revealing that far from being a non-intuitive space, the cyber domain can - and should - be studied in the same way as a traditional domain, with a distinct history, and valuable lessons to be learned from its past. Finally, the module challenges the perception that the cyber domain changes as rapidly as the technology that sustains it. It revels the continuity of the challenges which face governments and citizens seeking to utilise this most double-edged of domains, and invites you to consider solutions to these enduring problems.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Have developed a broad knowledge of the most significant security incidents in cyberspace over the past five decades
  • Be familiar with the emerging range of scholarship on cyberspace history, and the main historiographical arguments emerging in this recent field of study
  • Have formed an understanding of the double-edged nature of the cyber domain for the U.S. and U.K.
  • Have considered the most effective ways to secure cyberspace while maintaining individual liberty, privacy, and access
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
  • Make valuable, critical and valued contributions to discussions and debates
  • Write speedily yet fluently for extended periods, clearly articulating your ideas
  • Understand how the study of history can be used to inform policy decisions
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Complete an assignment using some of the methods and source materials explored in the module
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gather, assimilate, synthesise and interpret a range of primary and secondary material
  • Fluently comment upon complex debates, citing relevant evidence in support
  • Demonstrate significant depth of knowledge and insight into the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of strategic approaches
  • Draw upon your acquired knowledge in debate, essays and under timed conditions


For some weeks, the module will utilise flipped lectures, using pre-recorded lectures as a key part of seminar preparation. These lectures will cover the specific case studies of events in cyber space, from important hacks to legal debates, as well as detailing the slow evolution of cyber policy from 1967 to the present day. The seminars can be split between two themes: those which explore the benefits brought to the U.S./U.K. by the expansion of cyberspace, and those which examine the challenges this introduces. Each example will reveal the enduring nature of the contemporary challenges facing policy makers and cyber professionals, tracing current debates and threats back to their roots. Indicative seminar content: DARPAnet and the birth of cyberspace Globalization via cyberspace The Reagan administration the roots of cyber insecurity A “cyber Pearl Harbor” SA/GCHQ, Five Eyes and global surveillance WikiLeaks, Snowden, and the war on leakers Chinese cyber espionage Russian cyberattacks (Estonia, Georgia, U.S. 2016) Olympic Games: Stuxnet, Flame, Duqu – the first cyber weapons The Arab Spring and digital revolutionaries ISIS and online terror Power and statecraft in the digital age

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: Flipped lectures for additional learning support (see above) Group discussions and source analysis National Security Council roleplay activity Learning activities include: Preparing for assessed presentation Problem solving Research and essay writing

Independent Study130
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Fred Kaplan (2016). Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War. 

Gordon Corera (2014). Intercept: The Secret History of Computers and Spies. 

James Bamford (1983). The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America’s Most Secret Intelligence Organization. 

Jason Healey (ed.), (2013). A Fierce Domain: Conflict in Cyberspace, 1986 to 2012. 

Tom Fletcher (2016). Naked Diplomacy: Power and Statecraft in the Digital Age. 

P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman (2014). Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know. 

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan (2015). The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and The New Online Revolutionaries. 

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen (2014). The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. 

Andy Greenberg (2012). This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Hacktivists and Cypherpunks Aim to Free the World’s Information. 

Kim Zetter (2014). Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 80%
Individual Presentation  (10 minutes) 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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