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HIST3203 The American Empire Part 1

Module Overview

Expanding its global responsibilities to fill the power vacuum left by the decline of the European powers, the United States of America emerged from the end of World War II as one of two global super powers, championing liberal democratic, free market capitalism in an ideological conflict with its rival, the communist Soviet Union. During this time, American policy makers sought to use the United States’ immense economic, political and military power to shape the post-war environment into a global system which ultimately furthered US aims and objectives. The role of global institutions such as the Bretton Woods financial system and the United Nations, the importance of military power in the form of the atom bomb, as well as the creation of intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA, will all be considered when seeking to answer the core question - did the United States of American become an empire, and if so, did it do so out of desire, necessity, or manifest destiny?

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

- develop your understanding of what an empire is, and how they function - undertake an analysis of the concept of a Pax [peace], and its benefits and drawbacks - enhance your understanding of the origins of the current global system - explore the historical debates surrounding the concept of an American empire - introduce you to a diverse range of extremely significant primary sources

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • have developed a sense of the chronology and major events of America’s imperial rise
  • be familiar with the documents which helped shape the current global system
  • have formed an understanding of the debate regarding America’s imperial status
  • have considered the events which forged America into a global superpower
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • work independently and unsupervised for extended periods of time on complex tasks
  • display effective time management
  • interact purposefully, productively and confidently with both your tutor and peers
  • make valuable, critical and valued contributions to discussions and debates
  • write speedily yet fluently for extended periods, clearly articulating your ideas
  • skim, select and précis complex material
  • write in a mature and sophisticated style, with graduate-level prose and presentation
  • apply the skills acquired during the module to problem-solving and policy making
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • gather, assimilate, synthesise and interpret a range of primary and secondary material
  • fluently comment upon complex debates, citing relevant evidence in support
  • demonstrate significant depth of knowledge and insight into important global affairs
  • draw upon your acquired knowledge in debate, essays and under timed conditions


The module is divided into six sections based upon different aspects of imperial power. Each of which will be introduced through a discussion of the historical background of this aspect of imperial rule in relation to other empires throughout history, as well as an exploration of the academic theory behind the concept. This will then be followed by an examination of the concept in relation to the United States, using the key documents associated with this aspect to consider the extent to which a comparison to previous empires is suitable. The aspects which will be covered are:  - Imperial vision and mission  - Political influence and the United Nations  - Economic control, the Marshall Plan and Bretton Woods system  - Imperial frontiers, containment and the Truman Doctrine  - Military power, atomic diplomacy and the National Security Act  - Intelligence/espionage and the CIA and NSA

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Seminars focusing on the detailed reading and analysis of primary sources relating to the global system constructed by the United States during the later years and aftermath of World War II, accompanied by discussion of the implications of these documents and how they connect with the principal historiography and wider perceptions of the period in question - Role play to help illustrate the motivations and objectives of American policy makers - Opportunity for individual essay consultations with seminar tutors and feedback on essay plans Learning activities include: - Analysis of selected key readings in the historiography - Preparatory reading and individual study - Individual participation in seminars and group work on seminar themes - Engagement in role play, debate and group presentations

Independent Study252
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Alejandro Colás (2007). Empire. 

Elizabeth Borgwardt (2005). New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Exercise 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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