America after the Cold War: The First Thirty Years

Course No. 8164
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 8164
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What Will You Learn?

  • Delve into America after the end of the Cold War.
  • Consider America's role as the world's lone superpower.
  • Understand the context and historical aftermath of 9/11 and the War on Terror.
  • Reflect on changes in our country and the world during the Obama presidency.
  • Consider the election of President Donald Trump and the emerging "new world order."

Course Overview

History is filled with surprises, not the least of which, was the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.

But what about the 30 years following the fall of the Soviet Union? This period of history is still being written. The end of the Cold War is a natural stopping point, but also a natural starting point, an inflection point when one story ends and something new—something unpredictable from what happened before—begins. Nonetheless, events of today have also been profoundly shaped by the past several decades, and we must understand this recent history to understand today’s world. Among other things, our world is a product of:

  • “New world order” that emerged in the 1990s, in which the United States was the sole remaining superpower on the world stage;
  • International conflicts, particularly driven by non-state actors and terrorists;
  • Political polarization that simmered during the Clinton administration and came to a rolling boil in the Obama and Trump administrations;
  • Golden age of science and technology that has profoundly reshaped our understanding of the universe and the way humans interact with each other; and
  • Business cycle extremes, with longer booms and a bigger bust, from the “great moderation” in the 1990s through the 2008 financial crisis and the years of slow recovery.

Contemporary life is changing so rapidly that it can be breathtaking to take a step back and look at the cohesive “story” from 1990 to 2019, but this is precisely what America after the Cold War: The First Thirty Years offers. Taught by esteemed professor and Great Courses favorite Dr. Patrick Allitt of Emory University, these 12 fascinating lectures tie the threads of contemporary life together to give you a rich understanding of the United States of America after the threat of annihilating war with the Soviet Union had miraculously passed.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it seemed the United States was poised for a new era of growth, equality, and peace. America after the Cold War: The First Thirty Years walks you through the promise, achievements, and shortcomings of America at the head of a self-proclaimed “new world order.”

Explore America’s Role on the World Stage

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States was the sole remaining military superpower; yet, a look back to the 1990s shows a nation sometimes uneasy with this new role. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, American political leaders debated isolationism versus being the world’s peacekeeper. President George H. W. Bush (the 41st president) chose a middle ground of sending in troops to defend Kuwait but stopping short of regime change in Iraq. And later in the decade, the United States chose not to get involved in conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda.

Yet after the attack on American soil of 9/11 in 2001, President George W. Bush (the 43rd president) led America in a more active—and at times destructive—role in the world. After reviewing the events, alliances, and sociopolitical background at the time of the attack on September 11th, Professor Allitt walks you through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He takes an objective, historian’s approach to recounting facts, and draws threads together to show how Presidents Obama and Trump either continued or rejected military intervention—and how Syria, for example, remains in tumult. In some ways, the story of America is the story of our leadership, for both good and ill.

Witness an Unprecedented Amount of Change

In parallel to America’s military interventions abroad, our country was experiencing an astonishing amount of change on the domestic front. Professor Allitt takes you beyond the big headline events—O. J. Simpson, Clinton’s impeachment trial, the 2000 election fiasco, the 2008 financial crisis, health care reform, the Mueller investigation—and shows you the significant trends that have shaped our society, such as:

  • Education: How does our public education system stack up against education systems throughout the world? What policies have we implemented and how have they worked? Consider the following programs: “No Child Left Behind,” the “Race to the Top,” charter schools, and more.
  • Science: From the Hubble Telescope to the human genome to emergent technologies, the past 30 years have seen a remarkable flourishing in STEM fields.
  • Technology: The smart phone, social media, navigation apps, disruptive online enterprises, and the emerging surveillance state have transformed how we interact with each other and the world.
  • Energy Independence: The controversial development of shale oil and natural gas has substantially freed the United States from reliance on energy imports from despotic and repressive regimes, while also making fossils fuels harder to resist.
  • Environment: From the Kyoto Protocol to the Fukushima disaster, and from “cap and trade” policy efforts to policies promoting solar and wind power, the relationship between industry, energy, and climate change is one of the most important themes in contemporary history.

Putting the Story of America Together

Perhaps the most profound change over the past 30 years is the massive amount of change within our American culture. For example, we have been experiencing an artistic golden age, with novelists, filmmakers, artists, architects, and musicians finding new ways to express the self and our time.

America has always been something of a paradox—a colony turned superpower, a productivity dynamo with a widening gulf between rich and poor, and a land of the free that has abetted inequality and racial injustice. One further paradox within our culture is the relationship between opportunity and oppression. Since 1990, the United States has seen an amazing leap in productivity and creativity, and most Americans are living the most enriched lives ever. The same country that elected the first black president to office also witnessed protest movements against police brutality and a resurgence of white nationalism. The context and connections you will uncover throughout the 12 lectures of this course can help you to better understand the paradoxes that lie at the heart of modern American history.

History remains full of surprising turns, as America after the Cold War: The First Thirty Years makes clear. The story of the United States is ongoing, but by synthesizing events and illuminating context with insight, Professor Allitt offers a fascinating exploration of the most recent roots of contemporary America.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    1990: America's New World Order
    The end of the Cold War was an inflection point in history. No one expected the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union, but starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall, everything changed. Delve into the American story in the early 1990s, when conflicts in Kuwait and Bosnia tested America's new role in a post-Soviet world. x
  • 2
    The Clintons and the 1990s
    Bill Clinton's presidency dominated the domestic news in the 1990s. From his dramatic showdown with Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress's Contract with America" to the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton's subsequent impeachment trial, this was a presidency of high drama. Survey this tumultuous decade in American history." x
  • 3
    A New Millennium, George W. Bush, and 9/11
    The end of the Cold War may have reshaped the world order, but 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror completely transformed America. Go back to the contested election of 2000 and trace the events leading up to the terrorist attack on American soil on September 11, 2001. Learn why 19 hijackers of three airplanes attacked America, and what happened next. x
  • 4
    The U.S. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
    Historians will long discuss and debate the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As you will learn here, the war in Afghanistan had some justification, given the role of al-Qaeda in 9/11. Professor Allitt also reviews the facts surrounding the war in Iraq-the path to war, the deterioration on the ground, and the war's effect on the United States. x
  • 5
    The U.S. Economy: Long Boom to Big Crash
    The 1990s through the mid-2000s have been called the great moderation," a period of generally low inflation and stable growth. Within that period, the dot-com boom and bust created ripples, but it was the mortgage crisis that struck a seismic blow to the U.S. economy. Witness the booms and busts of this fascinating period in business." x
  • 6
    Obama, Hope, and Polarization
    In 2008, America was tired of war and entering a deep recession. President Obama was seen as a beacon of hope, yet his administration soon ran into intractable foreign and domestic challenges. Examine the major events of his presidency, from the bank bailouts and health care reform to the Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS. x
  • 7
    African American Paradoxes after 1990
    Despite progress from the Civil Rights movement a generation earlier, race is a dominant theme in American history through the 1990s and 2000s. Here, Professor Allitt investigates the paradoxes and racial conflicts of the last 30 years, from the Rodney King riots to the Black Lives Matter movement. He also spotlights positive developments. x
  • 8
    Science and Technology in the Internet Age
    The last 30 years of American history have been a golden age of inventions. The personal computer, social media, the smart phone, and apps have changed everything about how we operate in the world. Meanwhile, scientists of all kinds-astronomers, paleontologists, geneticists-have redefined our understanding of humans and our place in the universe. x
  • 9
    U.S. Energy Independence and Climate Change
    Industrialization requires energy, but energy comes with a host of negative side effects, from local pollution to global climate change. Explore the shifting status of energy in the U.S. through the 1990s and 2000s, from the Kyoto Protocol to the IPCC and from cap and trade" policy efforts to policies promoting solar, wind, and hydroelectric power." x
  • 10
    Putting U.S. Education to the Test after 1990
    Is America a society where no child is left behind? As this analysis of American policies toward education demonstrates, the U.S. education system leaves much to be desired, even as our universities remain among the very best in the world. From standardized tests to charter schools, take a tour of America's school system. x
  • 11
    A New Golden Age of American Culture
    From the old guard of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow to the next generation of novelists-Donna Tartt, Junot Diaz, Viet Thanh Nguyen-American fiction is livelier than ever. But it isn't just books: Television, the visual arts, architecture, and even theater (with productions like Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton) are enjoying an artistic golden age. x
  • 12
    The Trump Upset
    History truly is full of surprises-and is still being written. In this closing lecture, you'll survey one of the most surprising political events in recent decades: the election of President Donald Trump. From his use of social media to controversial policies and more, review the milestones of Trump's presidency (so far). x

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Video DVD
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  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

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Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Charts & graphs
  • Suggested reading

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Your professor

Patrick N. Allitt

About Your Professor

Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching...
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