The American Century – the impact of America on Europe and the World, 1890 – 2012

Week 1“What do we mean by the American Century?”

The US was the dominant power in the twentieth century, eclipsing the British Empire as the century began, benefiting from the debilitating effects of the two world wars on the European powers and finally emerging from the Cold War as the most powerful country in the world. But to what extent does this historical story mean we can define the period 1900-2000 as ‘The American Century’ and, even if we can, what does this actually mean?

The focus of this course will be on the effect of the USA on the twentieth century and, in turn, how the USA developed and changed. This will entail looking at a number of aspects of American history, immigration, military entanglements, cultural influence, relations with the Middle East and others but these aspects will also form part of our study of some over-arching questions and principle amongst these is the issue of whether we can call the USA an Empire.

The video above, narrated by the left-wing US historian Howard Zinn is unequivocal in it’s belief that the US is an imperial power and that this is a negative thing, meanwhile the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson argues that the US population has an aversion to being called an Empire in the video below.

The reading this week includes George Washington’s Farewell Address

Resources: Chronology: main phases of the history | Overview of the Presidencies

Reading: Stephen Walt – The Myth of American Exceptionalism
Reading: James W Ceasar – The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism
Reading: George Washington’s Farewell Address

PREP: In Our Time: The American Century

Week 2 – “When and How did the USA go from Nation building to imperialism?” c.1850-1917

Reading: Paul Johnson – The Myth of American Isolationism

Week 3 – “How did the American economy become the biggest on earth by 1914?”

Week 4 – “Why did the USA become involved in World Wars?”

Week 5 – “Is immigration an American success story?

Week 6 – “How did America successfully recover from the Wall Street Crash?”

Week 7 – “Why does the US have such tense relations with the Middle East?”

Week 8 – “Did the Cold War fundamentally change the nature of American Foreign Policy 1945-1990?”

Week 9 – “Can we legitimately look at the concept of Cultural imperialism?”

This advert from 1971, recorded and released during the Vietnam War, shows young people from all over the world united in their desire to enjoy Coca-Cola. There’s more on the advert here

Reading: Julia Galeota – Cultural Imperialism: An American Tradition
Reading: Edward Said – Culture and Imperialism
Reading: David Rothkopf – In Defence of Cultural Imperialism

PREP: In Our Time: Cultural Imperialism

Week 10 – “How has American Foreign Policy evolved in the Post Cold War period?”

Week 11 – “Has the USA changed the nature of Imperialism to be Economic rather than Military?”

Week 12 – Historical Skills


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