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HIST2002 American Foreign Relations from the Birth of the Republic to the Present Day

Module Overview

The first half of this course will provide students with a chronological overview of the history of American foreign relations, from the birth of the Republic through continental expansion, Pacific and Caribbean imperialism, Wilsonian idealism, inter-war isolation, the Second World War and the emergence of America as the pre-eminent world power to the end of the Cold War and into the post 9/11 era. The second half of the course will examine various important themes of American foreign relations, including regional security, idealism, trade and imperialism, immigration, cultural hegemony, gender and foreign policy, political control of external relations and nuclear security.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• broaden and deepen your understanding of the history of American foreign relations. • Make you aware of the key historiographical and theoretical debates surrounding American foreign relations. • Help you to develop the capacity to assess critically the perspectives and arguments enclosed in the secondary literature

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the major developments and underlying themes of American foreign relations
  • the key continuities and changes in America’s relationships with other countries over time
  • the creative interplay of history and theory in the study of American foreign relations
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Sift through evidence in order to support an argument
  • Critically analyse visual and textual sources
  • Present ideas orally to a group
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • speak clearly when reading from prepared notes and to respond intelligently to questions about your presentation on a researched topic
  • formulate apposite questions in response to the presentations of others and to argue a coherent case during informal discussion
  • identify, develop and sustain an argument at length in written form using the available evidence, in coherent prose and with close attention to the presentation of your work
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse and assess a variety of primary sources relating to American history and foreign policy
  • Debate a number of key themes relating to American foreign policy and strategy
  • Demonstrate awareness of the political, social and cultural context of policy decisions


The first five weeks of lectures and seminars are intended to introduce you to the broad narrative of American foreign relations and the historiographical debates that surround the key events and developments. The final five weeks will explore some of the major themes in American foreign relations, drawing upon relevant theoretical debates as well as concrete historical examples. Topics covered may include: 1) Thinking historically and thinking critically about American foreign relations 2) Securing independence: the new republic and the European powers in North America 3) An emerging continentalism: the Monroe Doctrine and ‘Manifest Destiny’ 4) The difference between wealth and power: American foreign policy in the post-Civil War decades 5) Territorial conquest and continental hegemony: the turn towards ‘empire’ 6) An ‘empire of ideas’?: Wilsonian idealism, the Great War and the Treaty of Versailles 7) Isolationism versus interdependence: foreign relations between the wars 8) The war and the Cold War: America assumes leadership of the western world 9) By accident or design?: the American road to the end of the Cold War 10) What to worry about now?: American foreign relations after the end of the Cold War 11) Realism and idealism in American foreign relations 12) The ‘tragedy of American diplomacy’ revisited: economic interpretations of American foreign relations 13) Cultural imperialism or cultural negotiation: the ‘Americanization’ of international culture(s) 14) Ethnic influences upon American foreign relations 15) Domestic politics and the making of American foreign policy 16) Bureaucratic politics and the making of American foreign policy 17) ‘Presidential machismo’: thinking about gender and American foreign relations 18) Security, hegemony and dependency: America and the Americas 19) ‘Weapons of mass destruction’: America and nuclear arms since 1945 20) ‘Homeland security’: responses to the threat and the reality of foreign attack

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include Lectures (2 per week). Small group seminars will be exploring ideas and debates about the history of American foreign relations, using key secondary texts and some primary sources. Most seminars will comprise two or three short (5 minute) student presentations and discussion. Individual essay tutorials Learning activities include Class discussions, which will include both source analysis and discussions of broader themes and questions Individual presentations with one page handouts Practice essay and assessed essay Timed examination

Completion of assessment task100
Preparation for scheduled sessions130
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

George C. Herring (2011). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. 

Frank Costigliola and Michael J. Hogan (2014). American in the World: The Historiography of American Foreign Relations since 1941. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Exam  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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