Decolonization of a special type: rethinking Cold War history in Southern Africa

29 May 2013

Introduction: This special issue of Kronos: Southern African Histories speaks to this imbalance, contributing in small measure to a recent turn in Cold War studies that has sought to incorporate regional perspectives found in area studies to readdress the parameters and politics of this extended period. Departing from the influential early work of scholars like John Lewis Gaddis – who helped to define the field of Cold War history in books such as The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (1972) and Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (1982) – scholarship published over the past two decades has reached beyond an exclusive American-Soviet dynamic and a ‘great men’ approach to history – whether Stalin or Eisenhower, among other leaders – to consider the role of social movements and popular trends, the factor of identity politics such as racial solidarity and, perhaps most significant, a broader political geography created through the global wave of decolonization after the Second World War. This change in focus can be attributed to a generational shift, as well as the end of the Cold War itself, which has resulted in the opening of archives and research areas previously unavailable. In fact, the expansion of Cold War history and diplomatic history more generally – at least in the American academy – has generated calls for renaming the field as ‘international history’ in order to move Decolonization of a Special Type: Rethinking Cold War History in Southern Africa 7 attention away from nation-state interactions to examine instead patterns of social and cultural history that transcend the totalizing effect that the ‘Cold War period’ as such has had.