The Anglo-American Special Relationship, 1939-89

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Nigel Ashton SAR M.07


This course is available on the BA in History, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Relations and History, BSc in Politics and History and BSc in Social Anthropology. 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. 


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.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

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. 

There will be a reading week in week 6 of 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.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2021/22: 8

Average class size 2021/22: 8

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

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Personal development skills

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