fullscreen background
Skip to main content

Winter Quarter

Winter Registration Now Open
Most Classes Begin Jan 14
shopping cart icon0


« Back to Liberal Arts & Sciences

HIS 119 — Pivotal Moments That Shaped the Modern World

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Tuesdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 5 weeks
Date(s): Feb 12—Mar 12
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Feb 25
Unit: 1
Grade Restriction: No letter grade
Tuition: $315
Instructor(s): David M. Kennedy, James Sheehan
Status: Open
7:00—8:50 pm
Feb 12—Mar 12
5 weeks
Drop By
Feb 25
1 Unit
Grade Restriction
No letter grade
David M. Kennedy, James Sheehan
To invoke Søren Kierkegaard’s famous remark, life may be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward—that is, by historical analysis. In a series of five evening sessions, David M. Kennedy and James Sheehan will explore a set of decisive historical turning points that deeply shaped the modern world. They will focus especially on episodes with lasting consequences, whether for good or ill. Their analyses will illuminate the origins of our own turbulent moment, and perhaps offer some clues about where the vectors of time are pointing.

Topics to be addressed include: how the grand strategies of the several powers that fought World War II determined the character of the postwar world well into the present century; the fateful decision to force Japanese surrender by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945; how the century-long conflict in Southeast Asia confounded France, ultimately secured Vietnamese independence, and transformed America; the tumultuous events that ended the Cold War, reunited Germany, and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union; and the character, configuration, and use of military force in the age of “fourth-generation warfare.” In discussing each topic, Kennedy and Sheehan will examine the interplay of long-run trends and immediate imperatives, the perspectives of various decision-makers, the contexts in which they worked, the legacies of their actions, and the ironies attending what Samuel Johnson once called “the caprices of voluntary agents,” which have frequently produced consequences that none of the participants wanted or expected.

David M. Kennedy, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford

David M. Kennedy, one of the nation’s most distinguished American historians, is the author or editor of more than ten books on American history, including Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. He has been a frequent contributor to The Atlantic and The New York Times. He received a PhD from Yale.

James Sheehan, Dickason Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Modern European History, Emeritus, Stanford

James Sheehan is an expert on the history of modern Europe, and has written widely on the history of Germany, including four books and many articles. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He has received many grants and awards, including the Officer’s Cross of the German Order of Merit. He is a past president of the American Historical Association. His book, Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? The Transformation of Modern Europe, was published in 2009. Sheehan received a PhD from UC Berkeley.

Textbooks for this course:

(Recommended) Akira Iriye, The Second World War in Asia and the Pacific (1987) (ISBN 9780582493490)
(Recommended) David M. Kennedy , Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War (1999) (ISBN 9780195144031)
(Recommended) Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (1995) (ISBN 9780393316193)
(Recommended) Ron Spector, Eagle against the Sun: The American War with Japan (1985) (ISBN 9780394741017)
(Recommended) Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999) (ISBN 9780141001463)
(Recommended) Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986) (ISBN 9780671657192)
(Recommended) Nicholas Stargardt, The German War (2017) (ISBN 9780465094899)
(Recommended) Max Hastings , Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 (2018) (ISBN 9780008132996)
(Recommended) Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (1983) (ISBN 9780140265477)
(Recommended) Frederik Logevall, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (2012) (ISBN 9780375756474 )
(Recommended) Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn, A Novel of the Vietnam War (2010) (ISBN 9780802145314)
(Recommended) Robert Kagan, Robert Kagan, The World America Made (2013) (ISBN 9780345802712)
(Recommended) Robert Kagan, Robert Kagan, The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World (2018) (ISBN 9780525521655)
(Recommended) Mary Sarotte , The Collapse (2014) (ISBN 9780465049905)
(Recommended) David M. Kennedy, Editor, The Modern American Military (2013) (ISBN 9780190230906)
(Recommended) Phil Klay, Redeployment (2014) (ISBN 9780143126829)
(Recommended) James Sheehan, Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? (2008) (ISBN 9780547086330)