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Studiegids

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The Rise and Decline of American Empire

Vak
2014-2015

Admission requirements

Admission to the Political Cultures and National Identities MA, the North American Studies MA, or the International Studies MA is sufficient.

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 series of themes 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 themes covered in this course – finance, philanthropy, islands, military bases, international organisations, and ideology – illustrate how American power has been expressed in a variety of ways that can still be considered ‘imperial’.

A key text to illustrate this theme is the article ‘An American Century’ by media mogul Henry Luce, the owner of Time Inc., published in 1940. Luce praised the material and ideological potential of the United States to dominate world affairs, should it choose to do so. In doing so, Luce gave a useful signpost for considering US power and its imperial qualities through the twentieth century. The course ends by considering the context of US power in the early 21st century, with commentators referring to ‘imperial overstretch’ and economic weakness. 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 fort heir 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.

In terms of specific requirements for the MA Political Cultures and National Identities, the course also meets the following objectives:

  • Knowledge and comprehension of historiography, including political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in relation to the United States during the 20th century, and how this affected the interaction between the United States and the rest of the world

  • Knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation, including the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary sources.

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

Semester II, Blok III, IV
Woensdag 11.15-13.00

Mode of instruction

  • Research seminar.

The first half of the course consists of a mixture of lectures and interactive seminars, combined with primary sources and film material. Each week will involve discussing the texts set, and considering the arguments and interpretations of the authors. Students are asked to come to class having covered the readings, and willing and able to engage in debate on the weekly topics. Each member of the group will also be asked to deliver a short presentation on a theme related to the course subject.

The second half of the course consists mainly of a programme to guide and assist the students through the process of researching for and writing their research paper. The course places an emphasis on encouraging and producing quality individual research that leads towards a final paper, for which archival (or other primary) research is (usually) required. Individual guidance is given to enable the students to develop a practical plan for their papers.

Assessment for this part of the course is based on a reseach paper proposal, a research presentation, and a final research paper.

Course load

Total course load for the course 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 a week x 12 weeks (96 hours)

  • research time: 16 hours a week x 8 weeks (128 hours).

Assessment method

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 thesis 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.

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

Blackboard

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

Reading list

Selected Literature:

  • Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (London: Penguin, 2004);

  • Other texts will be provided via Blackboard

Registration

Via uSis.

Contact

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