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Studiegids

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The Rise and Decline of American Empire

Vak
2019-2020

Admission requirements

Admission to the North American Studies MA or the International Studies MA is sufficient.

Note: This course is intended for students from a limited number of programmes. Because of the limited capacity available for each programme, you may be placed on a waiting list. Students in the MA program in North American Studies (NAS)--and if their places are filled, those in International Studies--will have priority. The definite admission (by January 25) will be made according to the position on the waiting list and the number of places that will be available after the NAS students have been placed. In total there is room for a maximum of 20 students in the seminar.

Description

This course will cover the transition of US power through the 20th century, from a rising power challenging European interests through to a position of relative decline in the early 21st century. The course begins with various interpretations of ‘empire’, and is thereafter built around a set of subjects examined every week through secondary literature, primary documents, media reports, and film material. Traditional interpretations of American empire begin with the Spanish-American War of 1898, and this course also takes that as a starting point. But whereas traditional approaches generally reject the notion of American empire from the early 20th century onwards, the subjects covered in this course illustrate how American power has been expressed in a variety of ways that can still be considered ‘imperial’.

The content of the course is loosely organized around three broad ways to interpret the purposes and goals of American power through the 20th century: The Wilsonian Century, which emphasizes the cause of freedom and the promotion of democracy around the world; the Rooseveltian Century, that focuses on the US as a force for progressive social justice and the provision of public goods worldwide; and the American Century, a phrase drawn from an article by media mogul Henry Luce that praised the material and ideological potential of the United States to dominate world affairs, should it choose to do so. These three broad interpretations lead towards the end of the course, that considers the context of US power in the early 21st century. Commentators referred to ‘imperial overstretch’ and economic weakness long before the arrival of President Trump. Are the days of American empire truly over?

Course objectives

This course will critically explore several dimensions of the American empire phenomenon. Firstly, it will examine the concept of empire itself: how different observers use the term, why Americans themselves often have trouble with the term, and to what extent it is justified to talk of ‘American empire’. Secondly, it will trace the ideological and material foundations for the rise of the United States, beginning with the US experience in the late 19th century of European-style imperialism (the Spanish-American War and the control of overseas territories), the transition from British to American hegemony, and the expansion of US political, economic, and cultural influence through the 20th century. Thirdly, it will address the challenges to and (relative) decline of US power in the changing global environment of the 21st century, and how this may be affecting our understanding of the role of the United States in world affairs.

With this format, the course meets several key objectives of the MA North America Studies:

  • participants will gain knowledge and insight into major issues in the history, literature and culture of the United States, as well as the main scholarly and theoretical debates about these issues;

  • participants will develop a critical understanding of theories of U.S. exceptionalism;

  • participants will develop the ability to critically analyze American historical and literary texts and place them in a cultural and historical context;

  • participants will develop the ability to conduct independent multidisciplinary research;

  • participants will develop the ability to identify and collect primary and secondary sources for their own research project;

  • participants will develop the ability to apply knowledge of North American history, literature and culture to contemporary social, political, literary and cultural developments;

  • participants will develop the ability to critically assess and utilize primary and secondary sources to construct an extended argument in their research papers;

  • participants will develop the ability to judge the relative merits of academic opinions and arguments about contemporary developments in North American Studies;

  • participants will improve their ability to orally present and defend the result of individual research in a group context;

  • participants will improve their ability to effectively communicate research results in written English in various formats.

For Research Masters students, the following additional skills will need to be developed and demonstrated:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources;

  • The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates

Timetable

See timetable.

Mode of instruction

Research seminar.

Course load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours.

  • Class Time: 2 hours per week x 10 weeks = 20 hours.

  • Supervision Time: 4 hours per week x 9 weeks = 36 hours.

  • Reading: 8 hours per week x 12 weeks = 96 hours.

  • Research Time: 16 hours per week x 8 weeks =128 hours.

Assessment method

  • Written paper (+/- 5000 words): 50 %

  • Research paper proposal (+/-1000 words): 10%

  • Book review (+/-1500 words): 15%

  • Oral presentation (research plan): 15%

  • In-class participation (inc. weekly assignments): 10%

Independent research and a presentation on a topic related to the course theme of US Empire, demonstrating the following skills:

  • The ability to conduct independent research and give a clear oral report on the results

  • The ability to critically analyze American historical and literary texts and place them in a cultural and historical context

  • The ability to contribute constructive academic commentary on the work of others in the group

For Research Masters students:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources

A presentation of the research plan for the final paper, demonstrating the following skills:

  • The ability to give a clear oral report on the research plan, the goals of the research, and the methods used

  • The ability to contribute constructive academic commentary on the work of others in the group

For Research Masters students:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources;

A final research paper demonstrating the following skills:

  • The ability to independently identify and select literature

  • The ability to develop a research question (or questions) around which to frame the paper

  • The ability to critically assess and utilize primary and secondary sources to construct an extended argument in their research papers

  • The ability to give a clear written report on the research results in English or Dutch

  • The ability to engage with constructive academic feedback

For Research Masters students:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources;

  • The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates

The main objective of the second half of this research seminar is to produce a research paper based on a subject related to the course theme. This requires each student to produce a research proposal (including draft title, description, research question, justification, and bibliography), and present the proposal to the rest of the group in a presentation. Each student is then given the opportunity to submit a draft version of the research paper at least one week before the final deadline, for final comprehensive feedback.

This procedure ensures quality assurance and enables each student to clarify their subject-area and improve their writing as they work towards the final paper.

Weighing

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

Resit

For reasons mentioned above, the course does not include a resit option after the final deadline of the paper.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Blackboard

Blackboard is used to provide reading materials and share sources with the class.

Reading list

Texts will be provided via Blackboard.

Registration

Via uSis.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.

Remarks

Emphasis is placed on in-class participation and the sharing of ideas on the concept of American empire. No idea is stupid, every opinion is valuable.

Contact

Dhr. Prof. dr. G.P. (Giles) Scott-Smith.