JFK (HIH1607)

StaffDr Nicholas Terry - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aim of the module is to introduce students to the rich range of sources available that allows historians to analyse modern and contemporary American and international history, using the Presidency of John F, Kennedy from 1961 to 1963 as a case study. Through analysing contemporary sources such as speeches, debates, television broadcasts, White House tape transcripts of meetings, Presidential directives, films, newspaper articles and songs, students will engage closely with phenomena such as political rhetoric, international diplomacy, modern mass media and popular culture. While the module covers many major events in a critical phase of the Cold War and examines a significant moment in American political history, no prior knowledge of Cold War history or US politics is required or assumed. The course emphasises the role of modern mass media, but also explores topics of great seriousness as well as considerable contemporary relevance, from the Civil Rights movement to the reshaping of the far right. Students will also have the opportunity to conduct their own research into the source material and events of the JFK Presidency, to consider its utility and limitations, and use it to explore topics of interest to them. Above all, the module will help students develop skills in source analysis and concise writing that will provide a foundation for future historical work in years 2 and 3.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Assess and evaluate the image and reality of the Presidency of John F. Kennedy.
  • 2. Work critically with a range of sources relevant to international history and the Cold War, American political history and the history of modern mass media.
  • 3. Assess the sources in relation to the historical debates surrounding the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, US foreign policy during the Cold War and American society in the early 1960s.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. utility, limitations, etc, and compare the validity of different types of sources.
  • 5. Answer a question briefly and concisely.
  • 6. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Conduct independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group.
  • 10. Write to a very tight word-length.

Syllabus plan

Topics will vary but can include: the 1960 Presidential Election; JFK’s Inaugural Address; the Bay of Pigs; the Berlin Crisis; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the John Birch Society and the Reshaping of the American Right; the Kennedys and the Civil Rights movement; JFK and Vietnam; the Assassination of JFK; JFK in American Collective Memory.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled learning and teaching activities2010 x 2 hour seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week.
Guided independent study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing five source commentaries and an essay, and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10-15 minutes1-4, 6-7, 9Oral
Lowest mark from portfolio of 5 source commentaries500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries602000 words (500 per commentary) (15% per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments
Essay on Sources401500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
4 highest marks of a portfolio of 5 source commentaries.4 highest marks of a portfolio of 5 source commentaries.1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period.
1500-word essay1500-word essay1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Benson, Thomas W., Writing JFK: presidential rhetoric and the press in the Bay of Pigs crisis. College Station, TX.: Texas A&M University Press, 2003.

Bryant, Nick, The bystander: John F. Kennedy and the struggle for Black equality. New York: BasicBooks, 2007.

Bugliosi, Vincent, Reclaiming history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.

Casey, Shaun, The making of a Catholic president: Kennedy versus Nixon 1960. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2009.

Dallek, Robert, John F. Kennedy : an unfinished life, 1917-1963. London : Allen Lane, 2003.

Freedman, Lawrence, Kennedy's wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Giglio, James N., Debating the Kennedy presidency. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kaiser, David E., American tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the origins of the Vietnam War. Cambridge, MA.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000

The Kennedy tapes: inside the White House during the Cuban missile crisis. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002

Mulloy, D.J., The World of the John Birch Society: Conspiracy, Conservatism and the Cold War. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2014

Thurston, Clarke, Ask not: the inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the speech that changed America. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2004.

Watson, Mary Ann, The expanding vista: American television in the Kennedy years. Durham, N.C. ; London : Duke University Press, 1994.

Zelizer, Barbie, Covering the body: the Kennedy assassination, the media, and the shaping of collective memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library: http://www.jfklibrary.org/

Cold War International History Project: www.wilsoncenter.org/

National Security Archive: www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/documents/

JFK Assassination Documents: http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/JFK_Assassination_Documents

New York Times (via university electronic library)


13 Days (2000)

Parkland (2013)

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

JFK, Kennedy, America, USA, Cold War, Civil Rights, Politics, Diplomacy, Vietnam War