Tag Archives: The War Game

Atomic Triggers

19 Aug

Stillman-Hiroshima-690

Note: Stemming from further useful discussions on social media, I’ve added some additional comment at the end of this piece. The original post remains unchanged.

Recent discussions about ‘trigger warnings’ in higher education have been all over the place, resulting in a predictable mishmash of reasoned argument, straw men, and pointless tosh. Rather than boringly attempt to give yet another take on the issue as a whole, I’d like to address how I see this intersecting with my own teaching of nuclear history. I’d also like to add my support for the term ‘content warning‘ in this context (the linked article usefully discusses this).

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Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Conclusions

13 Jan

NCWIt’s well over a month now since the conclusion of my first foray into teaching honours-level history (and only a couple of days until I start teaching my second course). Time to take stock, to assess, and to examine the good and the bad. In this post, I aim to summarise the course, look at how things ended up when compared to how I imagined they would, and think about ways to improve the course for future offerings. Hopefully, this reflection and analysis will make me a better teacher and make the course better in future.

The Good

I was delighted to see students responding to my enthusiasm for nuclear history, engaging with subjects they had never studied before, and coming to their own considered conclusions. Furthermore, I was very pleased to see from the feedback that the course had encouraged many students to think more about contemporary nuclear issues and how they relate to the Cold War.

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Nuclear Fallout on the American History Too! Podcast

23 Dec

Magazine Fallout Shelter Rendering ( coverpage )As part of our ongoing podcast series, Mark and I recently recorded an episode on the origins, importance, and public awareness (and lack thereof) of nuclear fallout in the 1940s and 50s.

In the podcast, we managed to cover a fair bit of ground. We talked about the origins of ‘the bomb’ (wherein I waffle about Einstein, Frisch, Peirels, etc), the differences between the A-bomb and the H-bomb, the 1954 Castle Bravo test, the Strath report, and then Mark cuts me off as I hit my stride about The War Game! To be fair, he’s much better at keeping the podcast running to time than I am!

It was fun to talk about something that is within my specialism, having previously discussed colonial-era slavery, Andrew Jackson, and the Gilded Age, amongst other things! As always, if there’s any feedback you have, please do let me know. You can find all of our podcasts on our Podbean website, or you can get them through iTunes.

Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Week 10, 1980s nuclear culture

25 Nov

threads_rtcoverHaving 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.

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Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Week 6, nuclear popular culture

27 Oct

This was, without a doubt, one of the classes I was looking most forward to taking: how nuclear weapons affected popular culture in the 1950s and 1960s. Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that I’m a big fan of using The War Game (Dir: Peter Watkins, 1965) as a teaching tool and discussion point. Things turned out as something of a mixed bag, however.

We’re just over a week away from the hand-in date for the big course essay, and this is quite reasonably dominating students minds. Hence, there was perhaps not quite as much preparation done as there normally would be. That being said, we had some excellent presentations on a variety of topics: civil defence and popular culture, the ‘apocalyptic imagination’ in 1950s science fiction movies, comparisons of The War Game and A Day Called X, and so on and so forth. In the main, I’ve been very impressed with the standard of presentations on this course. They have generally been thoughtful, well put together, and imaginative.

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‘The Metaphor That Ate New York,’ and Other Seminars

5 Apr

Now that the thesis is handed in, the mind of the aspiring academic turns to other things. Like, what now? I’m lucky enough to have secured some honours-level teaching here at the University of Edinburgh. It’s great in that I get to design my own courses and see how they stand up in practice.

The first course I’m working on rejoices under the snappy title of Confrontation, Proliferation, Representation: The Nuclear Cold War in Policy and in Public, 1945 to 1989 (see, I told you it was snappy).

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Teaching The War Game

2 Aug

wargameThe War Game (dir: Peter Watkins, 1965): Arguably the greatest piece of English-language cinema dealing with nuclear war.* Still potent after all these years? More importantly, still potent for those who did not live under the shadow of the Cold War nuclear threat, those for whom the terror of nuclear warfare is but an abstract notion seen in Hollywood films?

Like many others, I find The War Game a fascinating piece of work. The stark, black and white horror of the survivors juxtaposed with the studio-bound assuredness of confident authority figures. The descent into lawless chaos, society only held together by the most brutal of methods.

As part of recently teaching a summer school for 17-18 year olds, I had the opportunity to create a tutorial that assessed and examined The War Game. I was particularly interested in how people of that age group, those born after the end of the Cold War, would react to the film, how they would interpret it, and whether or not they saw it as a curiosity of the past or as a text with enduring significance.

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