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HIST3204 The American Empire Part 2

Module Overview

Part II of this Special Subject explores the way in which the United States has functioned as an imperial power in the post-Cold War years, from George H. W. Bush’s bold declaration of a New World Order, to the extensive employment of covert power which has characterised Barack Obama’s presidency. By exploring the ways in which the United States has sought to preserve its imperial influence – the Pax Americana – in the face of new challenges and rivals, you will explore two competing theories: first, that the United States has, through the use of technological innovation, evolved into a post-territorial empire, or second, that its imperial power and influence in in terminal decline, and that the early twenty-first century is witnessing the end of the Pax Americana.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• develop your understanding of what a twenty-first century empire is, and how this may differ from imperial power in the previous two centuries • assess the extent to which the Pax Americana is still intact • enhance your understanding of the current global balance of power • explore the historical debates surrounding the concept of an American empire • introduce you to a diverse range of primary material acquired from a wide range of sources, including those acquired through government leaks

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 of post-Cold War US foreign policy
  • be familiar with the way in which the United States exercises its global power
  • have formed an understanding of the debate regarding America’s imperial status
  • have considered the events which the Pax Americana is evolving, or in decline
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


This module revisits the six core elements of empire examined in relation to the United States in Part I, and examines the extent to which these have changed in the post-Cold War era. You will have the opportunity to explore large digital archives of documents, such as those leaked by Edward Snowden, to examine the ways in which organisations such as the NSA have evolved, considering whether their increased reach and power constitutes imperial expansion. You will also be asked to compare and contrast the foreign policy doctrines of different administrations in relation to core principles such as democracy promotion and the promotion of free markets. You will explore the following key themes: • Post-Cold War imperial vision and democracy promotion • Political influence though the UN in the post-9/11 world • Economic control and the emergence of great power rivals • Imperial frontiers and America’s post-territorial policies • Military power and ‘dirty wars’ on the new frontiers • Intelligence/espionage and the expanded role of 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 America’s conduct in the post-Cold War world. This will involve the utilization of a range of documents made publically available through leaks, such as those relating to the NSA and American intelligence agencies leaked by Edward Snowden. • Role play to help illustrate the motivations and objectives of American policy makers • Opportunity for individual essay consultations with seminar tutor and feedback on essay plans Learning activities include: • Analysis of selected key readings, and discussion of the implications of working with leaked document sets • Preparatory reading and individual study • Individual participation in seminars and group work on seminar themes • Engagement in role play, debate and group presentations You will have the opportunity to formulate your own essay question, in consultation with me. This may be historiographical in nature, or source-based depending upon your own interests. In the run up to this essay you will complete a number of short weekly activities which will develop their essay writing skills, such as completing executive summaries of key policy positions discussed, essay planning activities and peer-review activities of short written assignments. The second assessment is a timed examination, lasting three hours in which you will be expected to complete three questions from a choice of nine. The exam will cover the full depth and breadth of the double module, and you will be expected to show an awareness of the historiographical debates, as well as the contemporary events which relate to America’s global position. You will be assessed on your ability to construct coherent and well-substantiated arguments, and to draw upon a wide range of evidence from a range of traditional and non-traditional sources in order to support their arguments.

Independent Study252
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Matthew M. Aid (2012). Intel Wars. 

Zbigniew Brzezinski (2006). Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Exam  (2 hours) 40%
Presentation  (10 minutes) 20%
Report  (2000 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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