nl en

An American Century? US Foreign Relations from 1898 to the Present


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Birth of the Modern World


This course surveys the United States’ interactions with the world across the 20th century—what has sometimes been called the “American century.” Starting with the expansion of the United States’ territorial empire in the 1890s, it traces the evolution of American foreign relations through the First World War, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Cold War to the present day. It considers how the United States came to rise to its present position of power, and how the exercise of American power (military, political, economic, and cultural) transformed the international system and affected other societies. Throughout the course, we will touch upon key themes in American international history, such as empire, isolationism, “liberal internationalism,” the emergence of the Cold War, and subsequent challenges to American power, from Vietnam to Iraq. We will also consider the different ways that historians have evaluated and interpreted the history of American foreign relations.

Course Objectives

The course aims to provide you with the knowledge and critical tools to analyze and contextualize the changing role that the United States has played in world affairs since 1898. In so doing, it combines diplomatic history (analysis of official diplomatic documents) with other perspectives, such as cultural and economic relations, the study of ideas and ideologies, and critical approaches that highlight the racial, gendered, and imperial dimensions of US foreign relations. Through readings and assignments, the course will stimulate students to explore American and international history, making use of archival and other primary sources, and developing these interests and methods into a final analytical essay.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Biweekly seminars and lectures, in-person.

Assessment Method

  • Class Participation (15%)

  • Midterm Assessment (25%)

  • Leading discussion (15%)

  • Final Essay (30%)

  • Final Reflection (15%)

Reading list

  • George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776 (2008).

  • Jeffrey A. Engel, Mark Atwood Lawrence, Andrew Preston (eds), America in the World: a History in Documents from the War with Spain to the War on Terror.

Plus supplementary readings, available via the library


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Sarah Nelson,