Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2008-2009 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Module Cap
Tied to


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To achieve an understanding of the making of American foreign policy. Following an introduction to the relevant theoretical and historical literature, the main institutions of, and influences on, the US foreign policy-making process will be considered. Case-studies will include both Cold War and post-Cold War eras. The course will culminate in an assessment of the nature, extent and likely development of American global power.


  • 1. Traditions of US foreign policy
  • 2. The Presidency and the executive branch
  • 3. Congress and foreign policy
  • 4. Other actors - interest groups, public opinion and allies
  • 5. Decision-making
  • 6. Case-study: the Vietnam War
  • 7. Case-study: Clinton’s post-Cold War Foreign Policy
  • 8. The Foreign Policy of President George W. Bush
  • 9. American power: an assessment

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students should have the ability to master the complex and specialised area of knowledge and skills concerning:
  • arguments for and against Presidential domination of the foreign policy-making process.
  • political operation of Congressional foreign policy.
  • influence of interest groups (especially ethnic groups), public opinions and allies (especially the UK) on US foreign policy.
  • individual psychology of decision-makers to the international dynamics of American power.
  • competing interpretations of the Vietnam War.
  • Clinton's post-Cold War foreign policy leadership.
  • the impact of the 9/11 terror attacks.
  • the nature and extent of contemporary American global power.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module, students should be able to:
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the major theoretical and historical approaches to the study of US foreign policy.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the roles played by the leading political institutions and forces in making US foreign policy.
  • Discuss and explain the procedural variations in different policy areas.
  • Assess the extent and likely trajectories of American global power.
Key Skills:
  • Independent learning within a defined framework of study at an advanced level.
  • Independent thought in analysing and critiquing existing scholarship on the subject area and in evaluating its contribution.
  • The ability to work to a deadline and complete written work within word limits.
  • Advanced essay-writing skills.
  • The ability to seek out and use relevant data sources, including electronic and bibliographic sources.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The opening seminar will introduce the course, and the schedule of student seminar presentations will be agreed. Further seminars will be based on a student presentation, followed by a discussion involving all participants.
  • Student presentations should be about 15 minutes in length and be prepared for oral delivery. It would be useful if the paper-giver could bring a one A4 page handout for each member of the seminar. The handout should summarise points.
  • One 3,000 word assessed essay is compulsory for this module.
  • The course tutor will be available to discuss essay plans on an individual basis.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 weekly 2 18
Preparation & Reading 132
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

1 seminar presentation.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University