HY245GC      Half Unit
The United States and the World during the American Century (Spring Semester)

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Thomas Ellis SAR M.13


This course is available to General Course ‘Spring Semester’ students.

Course content

In 1941 Henry Luce, the publisher of Time and Life magazines called on his fellow Americans to meet the challenges and responsibilities of global leadership in what he called “The American Century”. This course explores how the United States has engaged the wider world from its contentious decision to intervene in the Great War through to the present day. 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. Rather than focus on a narrow cast of presidents, diplomats and decision-makers, this course examines American interaction with the wider world through themes such as American exceptionalism—the belief that the United States is fundamentally different than other nation-states and empires—,settler colonialism, race, gender, capitalism, imperialism, immigration, and transnationalism. The semester begins with the United States revelling in its growing economic power while struggling to reconcile its new formal imperial territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean with its much-mythologised credentials as a nation forged in anti-imperial rebellion. 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 has the American empire differed from its predecessors? How have forces of globalisation impacted the nation-state?


In the Lent Term 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 LT.

Formative coursework

Spring Semester Students will be expected to produce one formative essay in the LT.

Students will find a primary source and give a brief presentation contextualising it within the relevant literature; they will then draw on peer feedback to write a formative essay.

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).

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)

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).


Take-home assessment (100%) 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: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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