Topics in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations

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History 4JJ6 Dr. Stephen M. Streeter
McMaster University 623 Chester New Hall
2001-2002 Office Hours: Monday 2:30 - 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday 9:30 - 11:20 p.m. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24147
Chester New Hall 614


McMaster History Dept. homepage

Course Description Readings Grading
Class Participation Discussion Papers Research Essay
Writing Tips Class Schedule Deadlines

Course Description

This seminar explores major topics in the history of U.S. foreign relations since the late nineteenth century. The goal is to familiarize students with key analytical approaches and methods so that they can research subjects that interest them. In the fall term we will read and discuss works that illustrate the major paradigms and debates in the field. The winter term will be devoted to the research, writing, and revision of a major research essay. The seminar format requires students to carry the bulk of the discussion on their own. The instructor's role will be limited to facilitating discussions and providing technical assistance. Grades will be based on written and oral performance, with a strong emphasis on critical thinking and writing skills.

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All readings listed below are required.

Available for purchase at the McMaster Bookstore:

Internet (available through Mills Library electronic resources):

Kennedy, Ross A., "Woodrow Wilson, World War I, and American National Security," Diplomatic History 25 (Winter 2001): 1-32

Reserve (one copy in CNH 607 and one copy on 3-hour reserve at Mills):

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class participation both terms 20%
3 discussion papers fall term 30%
first draft of research paper winter term 30%
final draft of research paper winter term 20%


Assignments and class participation will be graded numerically using the 100 point system described in the McMaster Undergraduate Calendar. The Senate's Statement on Academic Ethics forbids plagiarism. Read Appendix A carefully.

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Class Participation (20%)

The grade for class participation has three components of roughly equal value:

1. individual oral contributions to discussions
Your active participation is vital to the success of this seminar, so attendance is mandatory. More than one unexcused absence will lower significantly your grade for class participation. Any excuses for absences beyond one must be provided to the instructor in writing with the appropriate documentation. You are strongly encouraged to bring to class your notes on the assigned readings as well as the readings themselves. Even if you are not writing a paper you should be prepared to offer contributions to the discussion.

2. discussion facilitation
The purpose of writing discussion papers is to encourage an informed class discussion. Because several students will sign up for any given question, they will have to plan together in advance how to present their material and direct the discussion. Note that leading discussions does not mean giving a monologue and then standing back. You have to be prepared to listen to responses, raise questions, and offer summaries. See A User's Manual for Student-Led Discussion.

3. a brief (2 pages maximum) evaluation of the first draft of each of your peers' research papers
Each evaluation should offer a balanced assessment of the research paper, stressing constructive comments that can help the writer improve the final draft. The evaluations should be typed and are due on the day a paper is to be discussed. These critiques should address the following questions:

1. organization: Is the essay easy to follow?
2. clarity of thesis: Does the author state the thesis clearly in the introduction and return to it in the conclusion?
3. persuasiveness: Is the argument logically presented and well supported?
4. comprehensiveness: Does the author leave out any important issues? Are the sources adequate?

Everyone should offer at least one comment from their written critiques, which will be collected and held by the instructor at the end of class. Authors should listen carefully to all criticisms and suggestions. You are expected to respond to most comments, but avoid getting overly defensive. Takes notes if a good suggestion comes up, but you don't have to follow every recommendation. Deciding what advice to accept or reject is part of the learning process.

To assist the instructor in assigning grades for class participation, everyone must fill out a self-assessment form at the end of each term. Reviewing the criteria well beforehand will help you to identify your weaknesses and strengths.

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Discussion Papers (30%)

In the first term you are responsible for writing three short discussion papers (750 words, about 3 pages) on the assigned readings. The essay should answer one of the discussion questions. To facilitate even coverage of all questions a sign-up sheet will be circulated in the first class. Because these short essays are based on books and articles known to us all, documentation should be placed in the body of the essay whenever possible. For example, when you want to refer to an author's opinion, it is sufficient to say, "As author x comments, . . . " Paraphrase as much as possible and if you do quote a phrase or sentence, follow Rampolla's citation rules. The essay will be graded for form as well as content, so pay attention to writing style and grammar. Essays are due in class on the day of discussion. Because the purpose of this assignment is to stimulate class discussion, no late papers will be accepted for any reason.

Research Essay (50%)

The challenge here is to find a topic for which there are adequate primary sources. Although declassified sources comprise the richest and most important research base, foreign relations historians are continually expanding their range to include materials once considered to fall solely within the terrain of social historians. You are strongly encouraged to choose a topic that makes best use of the materials from the Mills Library and the Internet. A good place to start is the new McMaster U.S. History Website, which has an entire section devoted to U.S. foreign relations. Following the trend in this field, the best research papers will acknowledge the role of foreign actors. Try to avoid reporting, as one critic has complained, "the world according to Washington." An example of an "A" research essay from start to finish is available in CNH 601 (History Research Room).

Rules for the research essay are as follows:

1. The essay should deal with some major historiographical issue in U.S. foreign relations since the late 19th century.

2. You must submit to the instructor by 21 November 2001 a 1-2 page description of your topic that includes a tentative thesis statement. Attached to the proposal should be an annotated bibliography that lists separately all the primary and secondary sources you intend to use. A sentence or two following each source should indicate its content and value to your subject. The following week you will be asked to describe your research proposal to the class informally for critical feedback. Students who fail to meet this deadline will lose 5% off their final grade for the course.

3. The research essay should begin with a brief (1-2 pages) historiographical section that sets up the problem, defines terms, and states the thesis. The remainder of the paper should develop a thesis based on your research in primary sources.

4. The research essay should be about 15-20 pages in length. You must document your essay in accordance with the guidelines described in A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. Although there is no universal format for the citation of primary sources, in this course we will use the conventions found in the journal Diplomatic History. The research essay should conclude with a bibliography that lists separately only those primary and secondary sources cited in the endnotes. Aim for 2-3 citations per page.

5. The first draft of the research essay is due on 13 February 2002 during our regular class period. You must supply copies of your paper to everyone in the seminar by this date so that they have time to read and comment on it. No late papers will be accepted. Students who fail to meet this deadline forfeit critical feedback from the class and the instructor, and their final draft will count for 50% of the final grade.

6. The final draft is due on 10 April 2002. Attach to the essay the research proposal and the first draft. Three points off for each day the paper is late.

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Writing Tips

As advertisers have long known, packaging can be nearly as important as content. A Pocket Guide to Writing in History by Mary Lynn Rampolla provides sound advice for general historical writing. Because our focus is on American foreign relations history, so you will also need to become familiar with the particular writing style and conventions commonly found in this subfield of U.S. history. The following pointers identify common errors and suggest ways to correct them.

  1. Keep quotations to a minimum.
    Beginning researchers often make the mistake of quoting excessively from primary source material. The tendency is understandable because we often want the reader to know how the historical actors themselves perceived events firsthand. But as any editor knows, too many block quotes interrupt the flow of the narrative and distract the reader. To correct this problem try to summarize the passage in your own words, inserting key phrases to highlight the important points. (See Rampolla, pp. 41-42)

  2. Punctuation goes inside quotation marks.
    In American writing, punctuation marks–periods, commas, question marks, etc.–are placed inside quotation marks even if they are not in the original.

  3. Avoid discursive endnotes or footnotes.
    In a discursive endnote or footnote the author offers extended commentary on a point too technical to be included in the main text. Until you become a more experienced writer you are advised to use your notes primarily for documenting claims made in the main body of the essay. The problem with discursive notes is that, like block quotes, they go mostly unread. A good guideline here is: If the information is important then place it up in the main body where the reader can see it; otherwise omit it.

  4. Use Diplomatic History as a model for citing primary sources.
    The Society for Historians of Foreign Relations (SHAFR) publishes Diplomatic History, the premier journal in the field of U.S. foreign relations. Browse some of the latest issues (available through the Mills Library electronic resources) to see how primary sources are properly cited. For example, the series Foreign Relations of the United States is usually abbreviated and listed by year and volume number; e.g. memorandum of discussion at the 229th meeting of the National Security Council, December 21, 1954, FRUS, 1952-1954 2:838.

  5. Present your narrative in a straightforward fashion.
    Present your own ideas calmly and directly; let readers draw their own conclusions about how you differ from other scholars. Try to represent your opponents fairly; avoid the "straw dog" approach, i.e. knocking down bogus viewpoints. Develop your narrative mostly from primary sources. By sticking to the facts you are less likely to wander into a historiographical quagmire.

  6. Define important concepts and terms early in the essay.
    Anyone should be able to read your essay without being a specialist in the field. By defining key concepts and terms early in the essay you avoid semantic confusion and help the reader follow your argument more easily.

  7. Spell out the United States when used as a noun; abbreviate it as an adjective.
    While this convention is not a hard and fast rule (some journals do not observe it), it does save space and reduces tiresome repetition. Hence, one would write "U.S. foreign policy," or "the foreign policy of the United States" but NOT "United States foreign policy." Avoid referring to any country by a female pronoun.

  8. Identify all individuals and institutions that appear in your essay for the first time.
    It is customary to write an official's title before the name with no punctuation separating the two. Notice how much cleaner and simpler "Secretary of State John Foster Dulles" is than "John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state." After an individual is identified, use a shortened version of his or her name. Hence, "Secretary of State John Foster Dulles" could be followed by "Secretary Dulles," or simply, "Dulles." (Note here, however, that confusion can arise with last names because John's brother, Allen Dulles, headed the CIA.) If many pages of text have passed between the first and subsequent reference to a name it helps to cite the full name or acronym again to remind the reader. When you refer to scholars, indicate if possible if they are historians, political scientists, anthropologists, etc. For example, "According to the historian Thomas G. Paterson, . . . " is much better than "According to Paterson, . . ."

  9. Use the active voice.
    Review pp. 38-40 in A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. With practice the active voice will become your natural writing style.

  10. Distinguish between policymakers and countries.
    Diplomatic historians often fall into the sloppy habit of referring to entire countries instead of the individuals who make and carry out the nation's foreign policy. A statement such as "the United States wanted to stop Germany," is misleading because the reader is left to assume that nearly everyone in the United States opposed nearly every German. You can avoid this error by identifying precisely the agency or individual responsible for a given action. "The Roosevelt administration wanted to stop Hitler," or "the State Department wanted to stop Hitler," is preferable because it allows for the possibility of dissidents in both countries. The one exception to this rule is that historians often refer to the capitals of countries as shorthand for the official bodies that govern foreign relations. For example, "Washington informed London" would mean that U.S. officials from the State Department contacted English officials in the Foreign Office.

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Class Schedule

Fall Term 2001

Bring the texts to class so we can refer to key passages during discussions. We will stick as closely as possible to the schedule below, though slight adjustments in assignments may be necessary. Critically examine sources, raise questions, and try to come to class with something to contribute. As explained above, students who are submitting papers for a given question are responsible for facilitating the discussion.

MAD = Modern American Diplomacy
MP = Major Problems in American Foreign Relations
Explaining = Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations

September 12



Explaining, chs. 1, 2, 4
, pp. vii-xiv
MP, ch. 1

September 19 Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino War (Historiography) [Lisa, Heather, Tara]

MAD, pp. 1-24
Pérez, War of 1898

1. How have American scholars, journalists, and politicians explained U.S. intervention in the War of 1898? (Pay attention to chronology.) Why?

2. What was the role of Cubans in the War of 1898 and why have most studies of the war ignored them?

September 26 World War I (National Security) [Jessie, Andrew, Mandy, Zarin]

Explaining, ch. 14
, pp. 25-60
MP, ch. 2
Kennedy, "Woodrow Wilson, World War I, and American National Security" (available through Mills)

1. Why did the United States enter the First World War? Was national security the main concern, or were there other more important influences?

2. Why did Wilson lose his fight for the League of Nations?

October 3 Between the Wars (Culture) [Mike, Heather, Jessie, Aidan, Brad]

Explaining, ch. 15
MAD, pp. 61-80
MP, ch. 3, pp. 7-13

1. How did the United States influence the world politically, economically and culturally during the 1920s?

2. How should we describe U.S. foreign relations during the interwar period? Isolationist? Interventionist? Independent Internationalism?

October 10 World War II (World Systems) [Patrick, Ryan, Lisa, Magda, Dave, Brad]

Explaining, ch. 6
MAD, 101-116
MP, ch. 4

1. How well does world systems explain the origins of the Second World War? Was the clash between the United States and Japan inevitable?

2. What was FDR's role in leading the United States into the Second World War? Was he a decisive informed president in command of his foreign policy? Or did his blundering result in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?

October 17 Origins of the Cold War (Ideology) [Andrew, Bill, Aidan, Mike, Dave]

Explaining, ch. 13
MAD, 137-160
MP, ch. 6, pp. 19-24

1. How did U.S. leaders define American interests and the threats to those interests after 1945? Did they exaggerate? If so, why?

2. When assessing all the factors that led to the Cold War, where does ideology fit in?

October 24 Nuclear Arms Race (Balance of Power) [Dave, Patrick, Mike, Ryan]

Explaining, ch. 8
MAD, 187-204
MP, ch. 9

1. Assess the roles of Eisenhower and Krushchev in the nuclear arms race. How important were these leaders in the context of an expanding military-industrial complex?

2. How well does the balance of power theory help explain the dynamics of the nuclear arms race?

October 31 Cuba and the Missile Crisis (Bureacratic Politics) [Ryan, Andrew, Mandy, Heather, Patrick, Tara, Zarin]

Explaining, ch. 9
MP, ch. 10
Allison, "Conceptual Models" (reserve)

1. How should we judge President Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis? Was it brilliant diplomatic maneuvering, or are we fortunate that Kennedy's Cold War machismo did not result in a nuclear holocaust?

2. How well does bureaucratic politics enrich our understanding of the Cuban missile crisis?

November 7 Instructor will meet individually with students to discuss their research proposals. To make the most of these conferences, students should have already done a preliminary search into selected materials pertaining to their proposed topic.
November 14 Vietnam War (Public Opinion) [Jessie, Aidan, Magda, Mandy, Bill, Brad]

Explaining, ch. 11
, pp. 205-22
MP, ch. 11
Small, "Antiwar Movement" (reserve)

1. Why did the United States intervene in Vietnam and why did it stay for so long in what ultimately became an unwinnable war?

2. How important was dissent to the American conduct of the Vietnam War? Consider elite policymaking circles, public opinion, and the antiwar movement.

November 21

Middle East (Gender) [Research Proposals Due] [Bill, Lisa, Tara, Magda, Zarin]


Explaining, ch. 3
, pp. 243-65
MP, ch. 13, pp. 14-19

1. What drove U.S. policy toward the Middle East following the Second World War? Oil? Anticommunism? The fear of radical nationalism?

2. How has gender influenced American attitudes towards the Arab-Israeli conflict?

November 28 Research Proposals Returned and Discussed

Winter Term 2002

January 9 Review Writing Guidelines
February 13 First Draft of Research Essay Due - Bring Copies for Everyone!
February 27

Critiques of Research Essays

Mandy Socket
Jessie Zsiros
Bill Charney
Andrew Legge
March 6

Critiques of Research Essays

Ryan Jacobson
Mike Lawlor
Aidan Kirby
Lisa Cunha

March 13

Critiques of Research Essays

Magda Oslizlok
Heather Barlow
Zarin Baig
Dave Crechiola

March 20

Critiques of Research Essays

Bradley Hankinson
Patrick Manzon
Tara McClean

April 10 Final Draft of Research Essay Due
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Discussion Papers day of class discussion
Research Proposals 21 November 2001
Discussion of Research Proposals 27 November 2001
First Draft of Research Essay 13 February 2002
Critiques of First Drafts 27 February - 20 March 2002
Final Draft of Research Essay 10 April 2002

Course Description Readings Grading
Class Participation Discussion Papers Research Essay
Writing Tips Class Schedule Deadlines