Introductory Seminar in Post-1700 European History

The Berlin Wall: Spies and Lies in a Cold War City

The Berlin Wall is now a global symbol of division. It is invoked in policy debates about US immigration; its fall has become synonymous with the end of the Cold War; its fragments are preserved as monuments to the human spirit – including right here at UVA. But what was the Berlin Wall, exactly? Why did it go up, and how did it work? What did it divide, and what got through? Why did it collapse when it did – and what legacy did it leave behind?

This course examines the rise, fall, and afterlives of the Berlin Wall, from the end of the Second World War to the present day. We will consider who built the Berlin Wall; how it divided a united city; and how ordinary people learned to live with the barrier in their midst. We will also explore the shadowy world of spies, lies, and border crossings that sprung up around the Wall, on the front lines of the Cold War. Finally, we examine who, or what, brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989, as well as the many ways in which it still lives on today.

This course will double as an introduction to historical method. We will look at a wide range of sources, including films, novels, memoirs, newspaper reports, and case files kept by the Secret Police. We will also pay particular attention to developing writing skills: over the course of the semester, students will prepare their own research paper on some aspect of the Berlin Wall and its history. ​

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
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