History 403E (101) Seminar in International Relations: Falling Apart: American Power in a Failing Global Order, 1919 to 1939




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How did American intellectuals, writers, and policymakers understand the state of global affairs in the interwar period, and what did it mean to contemplate a world order that was coming apart at the seams in the 1930s? Contrary to the misperception of the interwar years as a time of American isolationism, the U.S. policy establishment undertook extensive efforts to stabilize international relations in the 1920s, even as the United States declined to join the League of Nations. Nonetheless, none of the diverse and creative economic, diplomatic, and cultural initiatives of the post-World War I decade managed to head off the catastrophic descent into global economic depression and a new world war.

This seminar will explore American perspectives on the unraveling of world order between 1919 and 1939 and what they tell us about the political imagination and possibilities of the time period. In today’s era of resurgent nationalisms and resistance to liberal (or neoliberal) order in a multipolar world, the interwar years offer a critical opportunity for sober reflection on the state of the international system and what it means to live in troubled times.