Having taught classes on The War Game before, I was genuinely fascinated to see if teaching a class that involved the grim and disturbing Threads would be any different.
The fascinating thing about this seminar was the variety of opinions on the film. Some found it deeply disturbing and moving, others realised the impact it must have had, but were less shocked by the visceral imagery and storyline.
One thing that the class allowed me to do was articulate why I ended up teaching a course like this. Threads had a major (and terrifying) impact on me from a young age, and that terror is one of the reasons I ended up studying nuclear issues: a need to understand what made me so scared as a kid. Threads, the Greenham Common protests, post-apocalyptic cinema in general, and the news media all had a significant impact on me growing up. Teaching a course such as this is an outgrowth of that.
The image to the right scared the holy living hell out me. In fact, it still does. The image of the bandaged, badly burned, rifle-wielding traffic warden is one of the enduring images from the film. There’s something peculiarly British about this: the traffic warden as almost universally despised low-level authority figure, made in this case literally faceless and carrying the ultimate symbol of post-apocalyptic authority.
Important aide memoire for self: those subjects that you really, really know a lot about, have done extensively researched, and that you’ve produced scholarly work about. Those are the ones that are hardest to teach.
For this part of the course, we turned our gaze towards proliferation and the developing world. In particular, the West’s interactions with the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. Which just so happens to be the subject of my doctoral thesis. The intent behind this was twofold: 1) to explore how the media influences perceptions about national (or what they perceive as transnational) nuclear programmes. 2) to explore attitudes towards national nuclear programmes within governments.
This list of ‘Ten Cold War Films Worth Watching‘ by James Lindsay at the Council on Foreign Relations infuriated me (OK, maybe not infuriated. ‘Mildly irritated’, perhaps). Not because the films aren’t worth watching (indeed, many of them are solid gold classics that you should certainly view) but that the list was so English-language, US-UK focused in its content. But then again, the same blog brought us ‘The Cold War in 40 Quotes‘. 36 of which were by American figures, representing (as does the film list) the highly US-centric view of the Council on Foreign Relations.
I would still encourage people to watch the films on Lindsay’s list, but I think we can look more widely at Cold War cinema in order to gauge how the experience affected film-makers from a much broader spectrum, in terms of nationality, genre, and perspective. Hence, I present my list of ten Cold War films worth watching. I will admit, the list is still horribly Euro-centric and very personal.
A slightly shorter than usual commentary on the Nuclear Cold War class, as I’m currently immersed in marking semester essays for…my Nuclear Cold war class.
In week 8 we examined arms control in the 1970s, obviously looking at stuff like SALT, ABM, the PNW treaty, and so on and so forth. Before we got stuck into that, I had each class split into two groups and – on whiteboards – draw a big mind-map of ‘the nuclear Cold War’ up to 1970. Like the dullard I am, I only photographed the two from my afternoon class.
Today – as almost everybody is doubtless aware – is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a momentous event in modern history and one that I still vividly remember from my childhood. In the popular mind, that rush of people though gaps in the wall represented the end of the Cold War. Therefore, I thought I’d do a list of nine pieces of Cold War scholarship that I think represent the best of what’s out there. This is by no means authoritative or complete, it’s simply a selection of works that I admire or find find particularly useful (and are, in many ways, reflective of my own research interests).
I should open by saying that last week was probably pretty hellish for the students on my Nuclear Cold War course. Honours essays all tend to be due at roughly the same time. That means there were a lot of people having to write two or three 3000-word pieces at the same time. Challenging. And challenging from a pedagogical point of view as well: how do you approach a class where you that – for good reasons – students will not have devoted as much time to reading and preparation as they would in other weeks?
With that in mind, I approached the class a little differently. The first half would be devoted to student presentations and a brief discussion of nuclear proliferation. The second half was devoted to answering technical essay writing questions and… Continue reading
One thing I completely forgot to mention over the past few weeks. my colleague Mark McLay and I have started a podcast. It’s called American History Too! and is aimed at undergraduates and others interested in US and international history.
The name is a play on the American History 2 pre-honours course that we both teach on at the University of Edinburgh. Although, it has to be said, the podcast is in no way associated with the university or the course.
So far, we’ve covered colonial era slavery, the creation and ratification of the Constitution, and President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. Next up: the Civil War.