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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 10: The Cold War •

The Cold War

A photograph of a German woman using a saucepan made from a soldier's helmet

Salvaged German steel helmets in a Berlin factory were made into saucepans. Here a German housewife uses one of the finished helmet saucepans in her kitchen.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London (photo reference: BU9963)


The Cold War encompasses a wide range of topics and debates stretching over the latter half of the twentieth century. There is little that cannot be studied in the context of the era, with many of the events still in living memory. The social, political, cultural and economic implications of the aftermath of the Second World War can all be researched via a wealth of resources looking at such diverse topics as the war in Vietnam and its social and political effects in the USA, the Berlin Airlift, and life in the Eastern bloc before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

There are several excellent online resources which are very useful for studying the numerous conflicts that took place during this period. The BBC has pages looking at Korea, and the Suez Crisis, and the Imperial War Museum has online exhibitions on Korea, the Falklands and on the Royal Navy's submarines. There are libraries and archives dedicated to the lives of the US presidents, all with collections online (Johnson, Truman, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Ford and Reagan). The scientific and technological advances made and life in the nuclear age can also be studied (for example, at the Nuclear Weapon Archive) as well as social theories connected to the subject, for example, American History 102 from the University of Wisconsin has a number of online lectures exploring the Cold War and its relation to American history generally, many with links to other resources.

The following is a brief introduction to some of the general websites focusing on this interesting and complex period of recent history.


Cold War: from Yalta to Malta

CNN publishes this website charting the Cold War years in twentieth–century international history. Based around the award winning television series of the same name, the site is a repository of resources on the Cold War, and a useful starting point for students. On the site it is possible to view the episode guide and focus on particular events and topics, such as the Korean war, the Cuban Revolution, the Marshall Plan, Star Wars, and Sputnik, or look at the resources on wider themes such as technology, espionage and nuclear threats. There is also a large reference area with a glossary of terms, biographies, timelines and interactive maps, as well a selection of declassified documents.

Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) was set up at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington DC in 1991. The aim of the project is to disseminate new information and perspectives on the history of the Cold War. The CWIHP is especially interested in material that was previously inaccessible in the former Eastern bloc countries.

The CWIHP aims to supports the release of materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. In order to make these documents widely available the website hosts a virtual archive/document library of material relating to the Cold War. It is possible to browse the document library in a variety of ways and also to carry out basic and advanced searches. All the documents have been fully indexed to aid searching.

Providing a valuable source of primary material relating to the Cold War, the document library is easy to browse or search and the source of all the documents is clearly stated. The CWIHP website also holds details of conferences and workshops being held, press releases, publications, new initiatives, details of its mailing list and a set of relevant links is currently being developed. The CWIHP also hosts an online discussion group for which registration is required.

The Cold War Museum

The Cold War Museum seeks to memorialise the people and events of the latter part of the twentieth century and educate future generations about that era. Online you will find links to virtual exhibits, photo galleries, newsletters and many other collections of Cold War related material. There is also a Cold War timeline listing major events in Cold War history classified by the decade in which they occurred – 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s – with concise summaries about significant events, and, where possible, links to additional information.

The National Archives Learning Curve

The National Archives Learning Curve issue looking at the world post–1945 focuses on the Cold War. Tied to National Curriculum history key stages 2–5, the site breaks down the topic into areas such as the Cuban Missile crisis and 'heroes and villains', and provides documents, photographs and film from the The National Archives' collections, with teaching aids and activities to accompany them.

Royal Historical Society bibliography of British and Irish History

You can search for literature relating to British involvement in the Cold War using the Royal Historical Society bibliography. The bibliography is an authoritative guide to what has been written about all aspects of British and Irish history from the Roman period to the present day.

Twenty-five lectures on modern Balkan history

This website, published by Michigan State University Libraries, makes available the full text of 25 lectures concerning modern Balkan history. The lectures cover over 500 years of Eastern European history, in the following categories: geography and ethnic geography of the Balkans, the 'old regimes' in the Balkans pre–1790, the earliest national revolutions 1804–1830, the revolution of 1848, the impact of the wider world: economic, social and political, reform in Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovnia, Balkan nationalisms: Serbia and Greece, the causes and legacies of World War One, the limitations of Western models in the interwar period, Balkan politics during World War Two, the coming of the Cold War, the Balkans during the Cold War, and the revolutions of the 1980s. Also available is a selection of maps covering the Balkans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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Fast Attacks and Boomers: Submarines in the Cold War

This website is the online accompaniment to Fast Attacks and Boomers, one of the permanent exhibitions at the National Museum of American History, which is part of the Smithsonian Institute. The exhibition is concerned with the role submarines played during the Cold War, and provides a wealth of information on American naval developments and activities during the late twentieth century. Featured in the online exhibition is a timeline of the Cold War, a brief history of submarine development, details of weaponry, submarine anatomy, information about life aboard the vessels and on the missions undertaken during the Cold War. In addition, the exhibition focuses on the role of nuclear submarines in the US's 'Strategic Triad' of deterrent nuclear forces, which also included long-range bombers and land-based missiles.

Imperial War Museum Online Exhibitions

This website features online exhibitions published by the Imperial War Museum. Each exhibition deals with an aspect of warfare, and the topics range from the First and Second World Wars to the Greenham Common protests during the Cold War. The 21 exhibitions all deal with twentieth–century wars and campaigns that have had British involvement. Included are exhibitions on war artists Edward Ardizzone, H.S. Williamson and Mervyn Peake, a display about the British home front during the Second World War, Enigma and code-breaking, and Christmas during war years, as well as exhibitions on conflicts such as the Korean War, the Spanish Civil war, the Battle of Jutland, the campaign in Burma 1942–1945, the Falklands and Pearl Harbour. All of the exhibitions incorporate primary source material held at the museum, and make particular use of audio files, photographs and documents.

New Zealand Forces in Asia, 1949–1972

This web site has been published by New Zealand's Ministry of Culture and Heritage, as part of its NZHistory.net.nz project, to commemorate the end of the Korean War in 1953. The site looks at New Zealand's military presence in a number of Asian conflicts, with essays on the Cold War, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Borneo Confrontation and the Vietnam War. All of the essays have been adapted from Ian McGibbon's Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, and concentrate specifically on the logistic elements of the campaigns, providing useful introductions to New Zealand's military involvements in the late twentieth century.

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1962: the Cuban Missile Crisis

1962: the Cuban Missile Crisis is published by the Caen Memorial Museum, and looks at one of the major events of the Cold War conflict. The site can be viewed in French, Spanish and English, and it provides a comprehensive introduction to the international crisis that erupted in October 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union. At the core of the site is a day by day account of the thirteen days of the crisis that combines text with a range of other resources, including photographs, maps, diagrams, cartoons and audio files. Additional material includes biographies of the key individuals, Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro, the history of relations between Cuba and the US, information on Operations Mongoose and Anadyr, and international opinions of events.

Cold War Policies, 1945–1991

This site, concerned with the history of the Cold War, was created by Steven E. Schoenherr, Professor of History at the University of San Diego. Cold War Policies charts the history of the Cold War from the Yalta Conference in 1945, to the aftermath of the Cold War in the late 1990s. The content is arranged in a comprehensive narrative timeline with integrated links to full text documents, images, articles and websites. Also included on the site is a bibliography of recent Cold War scholarship, a collection of maps, a list of relevant films, and a selection of links to other sites that deal with Cold War history. This site is simply designed and is easy to navigate.

The National Security Archive

The National Security Archive is a non-governmental, non-profit making institution, and it holds the largest archive of declassified United States foreign policy documents released under the American Freedom of Information Act. This website provides a great deal of information about the collections the archive holds and publishes, and it also offers the full text of some documents on the web, through its online exhibitions, electronic briefing books and press releases on new documents. A wide range of Cold War primary source material can be accessed, and the range of countries and events covered is impressive, with documents on Central America, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Users can also search the archive indexes for content, and there is information and guidelines for researchers.

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The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: a History in Documents

Part of the National Security Archive website, this website looks at the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and is taken from the National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book series. While this site does not provide the full text of the book, it does give a succinct introduction to the national uprising in Hungary and the Soviet reaction to it, and the role that this conflict played in the deepening Cold War. It also provides access to the full text of twelve of the primary source documents featured in the book, all of which have been selected from the National Security Archive. To view the documents requires Adobe Acrobat Reader as they are in pdf format. There are also links to the other titles in the Electronic Briefing Book series, which include The Prague Spring 1968, and Uprising in East Germany 1953.

The Communist Chronicles

The Communist Chronicles is published by a group of academics, and aims to make available historical documents relating to the history of communism. In particular the resources available on the site deal with the Cold War, and the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP). The first issue contains documents concerned with the relations between the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the NKP for the years 1945–47. Most documents come from the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI),and all have been translated into English. Also available are CPSU documents from 1948 to 1953, many of which refer to Peder Furubotn, and a selection of Furubotn's articles and recollections.

A Concrete Curtain: the Life and Death of the Berlin Wall

A Concrete Curtain: the Life and Death of the Berlin Wall is a website published by the Caen Memorial and the Deutsches Historisches Museum of Berlin for the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The site can be viewed in English, French or German, and provides a good introduction to the circumstances surrounding the wall and its 28-year history. In six chapters, illustrated by photographs and maps, this website covers the history of Berlin during the Cold War, including the immediate post-war period, the Berlin Blockade, the 1958 crisis, the erection of the wall in 1961, the fall of the Iron Curtain with perestroika and glasnost, and the dismantling of the wall in 1989 and the reunification of East and West Germany. There is also a gallery of artwork and murals painted on the Berlin Wall, a timeline of events and a bibliography of further reading.

History of European Integration

The History of European Integration site was developed by R.T. Griffiths from Leiden University History Department. An annotated gateway to a large number of websites relevant to the study of the history of European integration can also be found. The links on the site are divided into the following categories:

  • historical documents (includes primary sources)
  • archives
  • bibliographies
  • Brussels (guides to carrying out research on the EU)
  • Cold War sites
  • discussion groups
  • economic and monetary unions in the past
  • EU institutions
  • Eurospeak (provides information on the terminology and acronyms used by the EU)
  • histories
  • journals
  • non-EU institutions
  • oral histories
  • statistical sources and timelines

The site is set out in a straightforward manner and although a search engine is not available it is easy to browse.

New Zealanders at War

New Zealanders at War is part of the NZHistory.net.nz project. Readers are able to find all of the online exhibitions published by the site, covering all of the wars in which New Zealand has played a role throughout the twentieth century. The conflicts covered are the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Indonesian Confrontation, the Vietnam War and the Cold War. The exhibitions can be browsed by conflict, or the entire collection can be searched by keyword.

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