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Reading the Twentieth Century: Selling War in America




Admissions requirements

Transnational History or Birth of the Modern World or permission of instructor.


This course follows up temporally on the 100-level course Birth of the Modern World and offers a view into major themes in 20th century history. In it, students will explore how subsequent American administrations have tried to “sell” foreign wars to their own citizens during the long 20th century. We will explore the American government’s domestic legitimization of the First and Second World Wars, move on to Korea and the Cold War, study the Vietnam War and end with the ‘War on Terror’. Along the way, we will explore topics like the importance of popular support for war in a liberal democracy, the arguments used to justify war, the role of enemy images and the domestic ramifications of uniting a country as diverse as the United States against a foreign ‘other’, the tools used to convey the government’s message to its citizens and the role of the media in this process.

In the meantime, we will also remain aware of the way historians have treated the above topics historiographically. To this end, we will start the block by looking at what historiography is and at what it means to think and analyze like a historian. Historiography is not the study of history itself, but of the ways in which historians have written about and interpreted the past. How did and do historians think and argue about the above mentioned themes? How did they build their arguments, what methodologies did they use and what kind of debates developed? These are the kinds of questions we will keep in mind while closely reading about the central themes of this course.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • analyze, understand and explain the employment of American government propaganda in the process of justifying foreign wars to its own citizens during the long 20th century.

  • apply a critical perspective when reading and analyzing how historians have written about the past.

  • identify historiographical debates and reflect upon their own position within these debates.

  • devise and execute a well written historical essay.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

Historical seminar in which students will be expected to participate actively.


Class participation: 10%
Web postings: 20%
Midterm essay: 20%
Presentation: 10%
Final paper: 40%


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Susan A. Brewer, Why America Fights (Oxford University Press: 2009)

Other course readings will be posted on Blackboard.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact