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When Texas Saw Red: The Cold War Experience (Post-Secondary)
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Extended Learning

When Texas Saw Red: The Cold War Experience
Social Studies, Post-Secondary

Through the analysis of primary source archival footage from TAMI’s online exhibit, “When Texas Saw Red,” students will demonstrate an understanding of the Cold War period that spanned nearly half a century. Students will explore the politics of the atomic bomb and the policy of containment, propagated paranoia related to the spread of communism, the nuclear arms race and détente, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall and decline of the USSR. The Cold War period remains relevant today; its social, economic, and political impact on the United States and, more locally on Texas, requires critical examination and reflection. Students will create presentations using primary source media to demonstrate their understanding of various Cold War events in this lesson.

The following lesson assumes students are aware of the post-WWII period and the struggle between the new super powers for world domination.

Students should be familiar with the use of the atomic bomb, the countries that used and possessed it, and why it was such a terrifying and devastating weapon.

Students should be familiar with the Cold War era, noting the differences between communism and democracy, the basic political differences between the U.S. and USSR in the mid-to-late twentieth century, and the fear surrounding nuclear arms escalation worldwide. 

The teacher assesses students’ prior knowledge by asking them what they know about end of WWII, the atomic bomb, and the Cold War in general.

Then, the teacher shows the compilation film "When Texas Saw Red." The discussion questions below the video can be used to start a conversation about the Cold War.

To highlight key Cold War terms, students will use the provided Cold War Vocabulary Worksheet to define Cold War terms (see Worksheets). Have students reference their textbooks or other approved sources to define terms individually or in a group. Use the provided Cold War Teacher’s Guide to assist students (see Worksheets).


Before students turn in their vocabulary terms, ask volunteers to define a few terms in class. Check for students’ understanding, clarify definitions, and give examples to enrich their understanding.

Divide the class into five groups based upon their birthday months.

Assign each group an Exhibit Section (see below) from the “When Texas Saw Red” exhibit.

Direct students to work in groups to research their Cold War era and develop a timeline, listing key events, people, and essential terms for their era. (Students may work in or outside of class on this.)

After groups create timelines describing their eras with the correct chronology of Cold War events and terminologies, have them work on a group PowerPoint presentation that will be approximately 30 minutes in length. Each group will teach their section of the Cold War to the class by a specific deadline. (Suggestion: give students about a week to finish and present.)

Make sure students have correct timelines, understand key events, terms, and people by checking on their progress. Have students select clips and images from the exhibit to use in their class presentations. Their presentations should count as a project or test grade of some significance; ensure that everyone contributes to the group presentation. Students should be encouraged to make them engaging and creative, handouts are encouraged, and students must ask questions to assess the classes’ comprehension after their presentation. Ensure students have ample time to research, create, and present their PowerPoints and understand their topics thoroughly.

Require each group to provide you with a list of five quiz-like questions that students will understand if they were paying attention to each presentation. Combine these group questions into a Cold War quiz. Give this quiz to each student in class at the end of the last presentation to assess their understanding.

Exhibit Sections

The Atomic Bomb and Containment

Crisis! Hysteria!

The Nuclear Arms Races Leads to Détente

New Movements and New Fronts

The Fall of a Wall and an Empire


Instruct students to write a 1-2 page op-ed at home, asking them to think about the comparisons between the Cold War and the current political situation in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Ask students to research and examine how the conflicts are similar or different, giving examples connecting the Cold War to today. Require students to use at least five Cold War vocabulary terms in their pieces.

Ask students to select, research, and address three out of the five questions listed below (Responses should be half-page to 1 page in length for each question.)

  • Who was responsible for starting the Cold War? Support your answers.
  • Address the validity of this statement: The Cold War never turned "hot." Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
  • How did the Cold War challenge American values, either at home or abroad? What were some of the consequences of McCarthyism domestically during the mid-to-late twentieth century?
  • How did the Cold War contribute to the current unrest in the Middle East, particularly in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan?
  • Is the Cold War still going on today? Explain and think about current events to support your answer, including recent events in Turkey and Ukraine.
  • What is the significance of the recent push to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and why was the relationship strained for more than fifty years?
  • Brennan, Mary. Wives, Mothers, and the Red Menace: Conservative Women and the Crusade against Communism. University Press of Colorado, 2008.
  • Carleton, Don. Red Scare: Right-Wing Hysteria, Fifties Fanaticism, and Their Legacy in Texas. Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1985.
  • Crile, George. Charlie Wilson's War. New York: Grove Press, 2003.
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: a New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.
  • May, Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. New York: Basic Books, 2008.
  • Tindall, George Brown and David E. Shi. America: A Narrative History, Ninth Edition, New York: Norton, 2012.
  • Texas Archive of the Moving Image "When Texas Saw Red"
  • PBS American Experience"Race for the Superbomb"
  • The Cold War Museum
  • Harry S. Truman Library and Museum
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