The United States and the World since 1776

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Thomas Ellis SAR M.13


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics 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 by debating 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 concludes by considering such transnational forces, including migration, environmentalism, humanitarianism, financialisation, and terrorism, which have underscored the recent emergence of a nationalist brand of anti-globalisation 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 globalisation impacted the nation-state?


Students will engage with lecture content through recorded lectures and through live Q&A sessions. Students will engage with class content in large and small group meetings.

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

Formative coursework

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

One essay will be thematic and the other will contextualise a primary source.

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).

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)


Daniel Immerwahr, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2019)

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).


James Spiller, Frontiers for the American Century: Outer Space, Antarctica and Cold War Nationalism (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2015)

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


Essay (25%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Take-home assessment (75%) in the ST.

Take-away exam, released via Moodle.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2019/20: 42

Average class size 2019/20: 10

Capped 2019/20: Yes (60)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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