Over a span of less than two hundred years, the United States transformed itself from a barely liberated former British colony to a global superpower. How and why did the American rise to power happen, and what kind of nation did the United States become as a result? We will consider these questions by examining American conceptions of power and purpose, along with the changing status of the United States within the international system, from the early national period to World War II. Topics include the intertwined relationships between U.S. foreign relations, warfare, and American identity, the role of expansionism in the making of the U.S. nation, imperialism and American power amid the competing empires on the North American continent, the centrality of race to both the “empire of settlement” and America’s overseas empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the place of nationalism and internationalism in U.S. foreign policy, and the broader economic and cultural dimensions of U.S. international history.
The main focus of this course is on war as an engine of historical change from the late medieval age to modern times. It examines collective identities of social and cultural groups, nations, empires, and modern states in the context of war. We will analyze the concepts of limited vs. total war, and “conventional” vs. asymmetrical warfare. Our interdisciplinary approach to the subject involves exploring contemporary and historical debates about the nature of war, its causes, morality, and social, political, economic, and cultural functions.