The United States and the World since 1776

This information is for the 2017/18 session.


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.

Course content

This course explores how the United States has engaged the wider world since 1776. Throughout, the course analyzes state-to-state policy-making alongside a wide array of non-state actors and institutions that have also shaped U.S. global power. It opens with foundational concerns in the field about the nature of American exceptionalism—the belief that the United States is fundamentally different than other nation-states and empires—before exploring themes such as settler colonialism, race, gender, capitalism, imperialism, immigration, and transnationalism. The course arc will begin in the earliest founding of the American Republic. Since independence, the nation looked outward to the vast expanse of territory westward across the continent. It spearheaded expansion through indigenous land dispossession and contests with competing European empires. When the United States met territorial limits to continental expansion at the end of the nineteenth century, it initiated an era of formal overseas imperialism in the Pacific and Caribbean. In and through two World Wars, the United States jockeyed for a lead role in constructing an international global order organized around commitments to self-determination. These commitments rang hollow, however, as the United States intervened across the Third World as part of a Cold War contest with the Soviet Union to win hearts, minds, and allies. With decolonization movements, the international order began to fragment, a process accelerated by a new era of globalization. The course will trace this arc and end by considering such transnational forces, including migration, environmentalism, humanitarianism, financialization, and terrorism, which have underscored the recent emergence of a nationalist brand of anti-globalization in the United States and wider world. Throughout, we will ask, what historical conditions incited and enabled the projection of American power in the world? How have forces of globalization impacted the nation-state?


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6 of MT and LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT and LT.

Two 2,000 word essays due throughout the year. 

A mock exam may be offered as part of exam revision arrangements.

Indicative reading

Walter Hixson, American Foreign Relations: A New Diplomatic History (New York: Routledge, 2016).

Jay Sexton, The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth Century America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2012).

Anthony F.C. Wallace, The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993).

Amy S. Greenberg, A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (New York: Vintage, 2013).

Matthew Karp, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016).

Kristin Hoganson. Consumer’s Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865-1920 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007)

Emily Rosenberg, Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy (Durham: Duke UP, 2003).

Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Elizabeth Borgwardt, A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005).

Nick Cullather, The Hungry World: America’s Battle for Cold War Asia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). 

Daniel J. Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).


Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (25%, 3000 words) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Capped 2016/17: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills