Science, Technology and Medicine in the Cold War (HIH2019A)

StaffDr Dora Vargha - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

We will draw on ground-breaking research in the fields of history and science and technology studies to understand science, medicine and technology during the Cold War and the ways in which scientists, technologies, and scientific institutions shaped—and were shaped by—the Cold War. We will explore the changing relationships between Cold War geopolitics and science, medicine and technology through key issues and events on both sides of the ideological divide.

The course follows Cold War concerns that entwined the scientific modernism of the postwar era with the dystopic effects of World War II, and the ever-present anxieties of the nuclear threat. Through the study of primary sources and key secondary literature, we will consider the emergence of big science; the role of the military-industrial complex in shaping scientific work; the ethics of nuclear science and medical research; the threat of global epidemics in a divided world; and ideology and political values that framed scientific and healthcare systems.  Throughout the course, you will gain an introduction to broader questions in the history of science, technology and medicine, which in turn will enable them to develop a sophisticated understanding of historical analyses that lie in the intersection of multiple subfields.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Have a detailed knowledge of the main themes in the subject, together with a very close knowledge of the areas selected for essay and presentation work.
  • 2. Trace the changing nature of, and approaches to, science, technology and medicine in the Cold War.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse the key developments in the Cold War history of science, technology and medicine.
  • 4. Handle profoundly different approaches to scientific research, regulation and innovation.
  • 5. Understand and deploy complex historical terminology in a comprehensible manner

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Independently study and also work within a group, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 7. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 8. Present arguments orally, and to work in a group.

Syllabus plan

Topics may include: The ethics of human experiments; The legacy of Hiroshima; Big science: physics and mathematics; The social sciences in the Cold War; The Atomic Age: Radiation treatment; Brainwashing; Science Fiction; Scientists in peace movements; Cybernetics; The Space Race; Spies like us: surveillance technologies; Agriculture and environmental engineering; The Cold War politics of polio vaccine development; Life on ice; Disease eradication campaigns: smallpox and malaria; Scramble for Antarctica; Love and Marriage: Emotional health and families in the Cold War; The International Geophysical Year; Chernobyl

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22Lectures (22 x1hr)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22Seminars (11 x2hr)
Guided Independent Study22Web-based activities located on ELE – preparation for seminars and presentations
Guided Independent Study234Reading and preparation for seminars and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay Plan500 words1-7Verbal and Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay303,000 words1-6Verbal and Feedback
Group Presentation2025 minutes1-7Peer-assessed and moderated by tutor
Exam502 hours1-6Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 3,000 word essay1-6Referral/Deferral period
Group PresentationScript as for individual presentation, equivalent to 10 minutes1-7Referral/Deferral period
Exam2 hours1-7Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 3,000 word essay and 2-hour exam, as in the original assessment, but replaces participation in the group presentation with a written script that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 10 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


Audra J. Wolfe, Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America. Johns Hopkins Introductory Studies in the History of Science. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013

Sarah Bridger, Scientists at War: The Ethics of Cold War Weapons Research. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015

Naomi Oreskes and John Krige, eds. Science and Technology in the Global Cold War. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014

Jon Agar, Science in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012

Young-sun Hong, Cold War Germany, the Third World and the Global Humanitarian Regime.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Rebecca Lemov, “’Hypothetical Machines’: The Science Fiction Dreams of Cold War Social Science,” Isis vol. 101, no. 2 (2010): 401-411

Simone Turchetti and Peder Roberts eds, The Surveillance Imperative: Geosciences during the Cold War and Beyond. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014

David Serlin, The Other Arms Race. In: Replaceable You. Engineering the Body in Postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Adriana Petryna, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Paul Erickson, “Mathematical Models, Rational Choice, and the Search for Cold War Culture,” Isis 101 (2010): 386–392

Erez Manela, "A Pox on Your Narrative: Writing Disease Control into Cold War History." Diplomatic History 34, no. 2 (April 2010): 299-323.

Michael Gordin, Red Cloud at Dawn. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010

Gabrielle Hecht ed. Entangled Geographies: Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,  2011

Marcos Cueto, Cold War, Deadly Fevers : Malaria Eradication in Mexico, 1955-1975.  Washington, D.C.; Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

D.S. Jones, and R.L. Martensen. “Human Radiation Experiments and the Formation of Medical Physics at the University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley, 1937-1962.” In Useful Bodies: Humans in the Service of Medical Science in the Twentieth Century, ed. Jordon Goodman, Anthony McElligott, and Lara Marks. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.


ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources:


Cold War International History Project, Wilson Center


Sputnik and the Space Race, NASA


Atomic Archive

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Cold War; science; technology; medicine