The American Empire (HIH2179A)

StaffDr Marc Palen - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This course examines the United States’ controversial rise to global status from the late nineteenth century to the present day, focusing upon issues of imperialism, politics, economics, ideology, race, and gender. The purpose of this course is to sustain a balanced and informed discussion about how the United States became a global power, how the United States has interacted with the larger world, and how other peoples have grappled with U.S. power.


This module also aims to help you develop your skills in researching, interpreting, and analysing both primary and secondary material, and in reporting on your work.  These skills are necessary to complete many of your modules and in a job after you graduate.  The module also provides you with an opportunity to explore an area of history in more depth, and helps you to develop the depth of understanding you will require to study more specialised areas of history.  It will also give you an opportunity to work in a team on a group presentation.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Be aware of the various developments in the history of U.S. imperialism.
  • 2. Make a close evaluation of the key developments and debates in American imperialism.
  • 3. Evaluate the main themes in the subject and to collate information upon, and evaluate in greater detail, those aspects of the module discussed in seminar and especially those topics selected by students for their coursework.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Analyse the key developments of the American Empire.
  • 5. Collate data from a range of sources, both primary and secondary.
  • 6. Interpret primary sources.
  • 7. Trace long-term as well as short-term historical developments.
  • 8. Recognise and deploy historical terminology correctly.
  • 9. Assess different approaches to historical writing in areas of controversy.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 10. Work both independently and in a group, including participating in oral seminar discussions
  • 11. Identify a topic, select, comprehend, and organise primary and secondary materials on that topic with little guidance
  • 12. Produce to a deadline and in examination conditions a coherent argument

Syllabus plan

Exact syllabus may vary year to year but the module will examine topics such as:


America’s late-nineteenth-century global dawn

The political economy of turn-of-the-century American imperialism

Empire by imitation (the Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino War)

American ‘Open Door’ imperialism in Asia

American colonialism and its discontents

American financial imperialism

Wilsonianism and the Wilsonian moment

Irresistible empire (interwar years)

The Great Depression and deglobalisation

The Second World War and American militarism

Empire of liberty vs. empire of justice (the origins of the Cold War)

Empire by invitation (rebuilding Europe)

Cold War coups d’etat

The hot wars of the Cold War

Cold War civil rights

Cold War globalisation

The end of the Cold War

The new world order

The new American Empire.

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 hoursLectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22 hoursSeminars; these will be led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar and present on a given topic in groups of 4 on 4 occasions
Guided Independent Study22 hoursWeb-based activities located on ELE – preparation for seminars and presentations
Guided Independent Study 234 hoursReading and preparation for seminars and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan x 1500 words1-12Verbal and written

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
Essay303,000 Words1-12Written and verbal
Group Presentation2025 Minutes1-11Written and verbal
Exam502 Questions in 2 Hours1-12Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay3,000 Words1-12Referral/deferral period
Group Presentation1,500 script as for individual presentation, equivalent to 10 minutes1-11Referral/deferral period
Exam2 Questions in 2 Hours1-12Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment of the essay and exam are exactly the same, a 3,000 words essay (worth 30%) and a 2 hours exam (worth 50%). The group presentation will be replaced by a written script equivalent to 10 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Andrew Bacevich, American Empire (Cambridge, 2002)

Warren I. Cohen, The New Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations. Volume 4. Challenges to American Primacy, 1945 to the Present (Cambridge, 2013)

Victoria De Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge, 2006)

Alfred Eckes and Thomas Zeiler, Globalization and the American Century (Cambridge, 2003)

Akira Iriye, The New Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations. Volume 3. The Globalizing of America, 1913-1945 (Cambridge, 2013)

Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York, 2006)

Walter LaFeber, The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad (New York, 1994)

Walter LaFeber, The New Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations. Volume 2. The American Search for Opportunity, 1865-1913 (Cambridge, 2013)

Geir Lundestad, The United States and Western Europe since 1945: From ‘Empire’ by Invitation to Transatlantic Drift (Oxford, 2005)

Emily Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945 (New York, 1982)

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Empire, USA, Imperialism, Cold War, Second World War, America, Colonialism, Depression, Globalisation, Civil Rights, Modern History