HST 540: Espionage – A 20th Century History


Hidden codes, special devices, fiendish villains, and top secrets. This is the world of James Bond, the CIA, the KGB, and the X-Files. Secret agents and spies have a special place in popular culture, but as alluring as the mythology may be, it does not answer important questions about the role espionage has played, and will continue to play, in international relations. This course examines the evolution of intelligence services throughout the twentieth century, with particular reference to the two world wars, technological changes, and the “Cold War” confrontation after 1945. Special attention in the course will be paid to the role that intelligence played in securing the Allied victory during World War Two, and in crucial Cold War events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. We will also study numerous historical intelligence failures and how they shaped the world in which we live. The course will explore various realities and perceptions of the intelligence world to examine the processes, see how institutions function, and come to terms with how intelligence is disseminated, employed, and understood. Because of the importance of popular culture in helping to form our understanding of espionage, we will also look at the impact of spy fiction and films in shaping our perceptions of intelligence matters. The course will conclude with an examination of the challenges intelligence services face today, and the future of spying in the post Cold War world. In this regard, the events of September 11, 2001, the current “war on terrorism”, and the many facets of contemporary “national security” discourse will be discussed.

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