The Anglo-American Special Relationship, 1939-89

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Nigel Ashton SAR M.07


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 and to General Course students.

Primarily for 3rd year BA History, BSc International Relations and History, and BSc Government and History students, but may be taken by 2nd years where regulations permit. May also be taken as an outside option and by General Course students where regulations, timetabling constraints and capacity permit. 

HY327 is available to General Course students starting in the Michaelmas Term ONLY in 2020/21.

Course content

This course will analyse the changing nature of the Anglo-American "special" relationship from its creation against the backdrop of the Second World War through to the end of the 1980s. It will illuminate the foundations of the relationship in terms of culture and ideology, and also the threat posed by common enemies in the Second World War and Cold War. The competitive dimension of the Anglo-American relationship will also be highlighted as a means of explaining instances of discord such as the Suez Crisis of 1956. Topics addressed include: the creation of the Anglo-American alliance, 1939-41; competitive co-operation in war strategy and politics, 1941-45; the American "occupation" of Britain during the Second World War; the emergence of the Cold War in Europe and Asia, 1945-54; the Palestine question; the Suez Crisis; nuclear relations; the Cuban Missile Crisis; European integration; decolonisation; the impact of the Vietnam War; the cultural Cold War; intelligence co-operation; Anglo-American relations in the 1970s; the Falklands War of 1982; and the revival of the special relationship under Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s.


In common with other Level 3 History courses, this course will include the study and discussion of primary sources in each weekly seminar.  Documents will be drawn from published collections, including the Foreign Relations of the United States series and the Documents on British Policy Overseas, the diaries of key politicians or officials, copies of documents from the UK National Archives, the US National Archives and the relevant US Presidential Libraries. 

110-minute live session. Students will engage with seminar content in large and small group meetings.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT and 1 essay and 1 other piece of coursework in the LT.

Formative assessment will be through the submission of one essay in week 7 of the MT, and one essay in week 5 of the LT (each essay must be a maximum of 2000 words long and be drawn from a list supplied at the start of the course).

One 'gobbet' answer, consisting of commentaries on two extracts, must also be submitted in week 9 of the LT.

Indicative reading

K. Burk, Old World, New World: the Story of Britain and America (2007)

D. Reynolds & D. Dimbleby, An Ocean Apart: the Relationship between Britain and America in the Twentieth Century (1988)

J. Dumbrell, ‘A Special Relationship’: Anglo-American Relations from the Cold War to Iraq (2006)

W. R. Louis & H. Bull (Eds), The Special Relationship: Anglo-American Relations since 1945 (1984)

D. C. Watt, Succeeding John Bull: America in Britain's Place, 1900-75 (1984)


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.

The summative assessment will consist of a three-hour final examination, requiring candidates to write two essays selected from a list of questions, and two commentaries on extracts selected from the allocated primary sources.

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: 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