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The University of Southampton

HIST6123 New Approaches to American History

Module Overview

From its professionalization in the late nineteenth century, the field of American history has experienced many changes. From the frontier thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner through periods of progressive and consensus historiography, the development of perspectives that valorised ‘history from below,’ to more recent gender, cultural, Atlantic, transnational and spatial turns, the field has been constantly replenished by new angles of vision, new methods of analysis and newly accessible source materials. In the era of online archives, Wikileaks and big data, the opportunities for American historians – including those based in the UK – to conduct innovative research continue to grow. At the same time, patient forensic study and a concern for synthesis remain crucial to the task of making sense of the past. This module introduces you to some of the new approaches to American history that are available to scholars in the field, including those at Southampton, whilst also emphasizing that not every skill important to the interpretation of the American past is contained in the interface between historian and screen.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The new methods and source materials made available to American historians by the information age.
  • The way in which the practice and ideas of American history as a field are being shaped by such methods and sources
  • How such methods and source materials can be used to illuminate particular questions and controversies
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Read, summarize and assess complex material
  • Work independently on a substantial piece of research
  • Write in a literate, sophisticated manner
  • Manage your time effectively
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explore and assess the approaches introduced in the module in discussion with your peers and tutors
  • Complete an assignment using some of the methods and source materials explored in the module
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Reflect on the opportunities that the information age offers for new approaches to the study of the American past
  • Assess the value of such approaches in the context of the full range of skills and perspectives required by the American historian


The module will begin with ‘Introduction: New approaches to American history’ The following eight weeks will typically focus on eight from the following themes): a) Natives, non-Natives, and treaty records during the colonial period b) Deteriorating documents, digitised letters, and Native American warfare after the American Revolution c) ‘History from below’: slavery and the recovery of the subaltern voice d) Life after the literary turn: postmodernism and the New Cultural History e) Back to the sources: the decision to drop the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki f) ‘What Do We Now Know?’: the New Cold War History g) Finding God in all the wrong places: the sacred and the secular in American history h) ‘Big history, little history’: towards a social history of scientific cosmology in the United States i) No more secrets? Using leaks as primary sources on U.S. foreign policy j) The power of the past: using active history to address current affairs The module will conclude with ‘The continuing challenge of synthesis in writing the American past’.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: Weekly 2-hr seminars Essay tutorials Learning activities include: Training in paleography (the reading of old handwriting) Training in use of databases such as Papers of the War Department database, the Cold War International History Project, and Wikileaks’ US Library of Public Diplomacy archive.

Wider reading or practice8
Preparation for scheduled sessions80
Completion of assessment task40
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Daniel K. Richter and James H. Merrell (1987). Beyond the Covenant Chain: The Iroquois and their Neighbors in Indian North America, 1600-1800. 

(2006). Bridging the Gap between the Sacred and the Secular in the History of American Foreign Relations. Diplomatic History. .

Daniel K. Richter (2001). Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America.. 

(1987). Behind Quantum Electronics: National Security as Basis for Physical Research in the United States, 1940-1960. Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences. .

Walter Johnson. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. 

Odd Arne Westad (2005). The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times. 

Richard E. Neustadt, Ernest R. May. Thinking In Time: The Uses of History For Decision Makers. 

(1986). Wholes and Parts: The Need for Synthesis in American History. Journal of American History. .

Eugene Genovese. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. 

The Wikileaks Files: The World According to the US Empire. Anonymous

The American Yawp.



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 90%
Individual Presentation  (10 minutes) 10%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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