Special Subject: Thinking about War in America, 1890-1990 (V1443AB)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn and spring teaching

Taking its title from Randolph Bourne's famous 1917 essay on the United States participation in the First World War, in this module you examine how intellectuals have responded to the problem of war in the twentieth century, and the specific contexts in which they have done so.

Wars forced intellectuals to make hard choices and clarify their own identity vis-à-vis the public and those in power.

This was especially true for public and policy intellectuals who are the focus of this course. Intellectuals supported, reluctantly and vigorously, national war efforts (W.E.B. DuBois, James T. Shotwell) or opposed war altogether (Emily Balch).

Others were dissenters who challenged a national consensus (Charles Beard, Noam Chomsky), while some forged careers as so-called policy intellectuals, working closely with policy makers and government bureaucrats (George Kennan, Walt Rostow). 

The geographical focus of this module is predominantly the United States, with a strong transnational dimension.

In the module you explore how intellectuals imagined their nation's emergence as a great power in a world of empires at the turn of the twentieth century, connecting U.S. commercial expansion and peace.

You also analyse how universities and think tanks became integral parts of American war efforts in the course of two world wars and the Cold War.

Topics include:

  • transatlantic pacifism in the early 20th century
  • intellectuals on the home front in World War I
  • countering the Nazi menace
  • the Cold War university
  • think tanks and defence intellectuals
  • visions of annihilation
  • nuclear strategists in the Cold War
  • intellectuals and the Vietnam War
  • winning the Cold War and the 'end of history'.


100%: Seminar

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 44 hours of contact time and about 256 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

This module is running in the academic year 2021/22. We also plan to offer it in future academic years. However, we are constantly looking to improve and enhance our courses. There may be changes to modules in response to student demand or feedback, changes to staff expertise or updates to our curriculum. We may also need to make changes in response to COVID-19. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: