HIS 77. The American Century

Course content

Historical Subject 3: Oral Presentation and Discussion
The American Century
The term, “the American Century,” was coined by Henry Luce, the publisher of popular American magazines such as Time, to describe what he thought the role of the United States would and should be during the 20th century. Luce envisaged that the United States would achieve world hegemony and he wrote in a famous article, first published in Life magazine in 1941, that, “American jazz, Hollywood movies, American slang, American machines and patented products, are in fact the only things that every community in the world, from Zanzibar to Hamburg, recognized in common. Blindly, unintentionally, accidentally and really in spite of ourselves, we are already a world power in all the trivial ways – in very human ways. But there is a great deal more than that. America is already the intellectual, scientific and artistic capital of the world.”

In this course, we will look at twentieth century America and the various ways in which the United States dominated in political, legal, and cultural terms. The United States' influence grew throughout the 20th century, but became especially dominant after the end of World War II, when only two superpowers remained, the United States and the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States remained the world's only superpower, and became the hegemon or, as some have called it, a hyperpower.

How and in what ways did the American Century come about? How did it manifest itself? How was it discussed by American intellectuals, and how was it represented by American artists and writers? Has the American Century now ended, and are other superpowers, especially China, about to take over as hegemonic power(s) in the twenty-first century? These are among the main questions to be asked and debated throughout the course.

We will meet for four hours every week. Associate Professor Inge-Birgitte Siegumfeldt will offer a parallel course for students of English at ENGEROM. One of our weekly meetings will take the shape of lectures by various KU faculty members, and these lectures will also be attended by the ENGEROM students. Our second weekly meeting will be a seminar meeting for History students only during which we will discuss assigned texts. Students will do oral presentations of these texts as well as of historically important events that come up during the period and texts covered.

Course objectives (clarification of some of the objectives stipulated in the curriculum): 
 After the course students will be able to:
• apply theories, methods and tools of relevance to the study of American twentieth-century history
• discuss opposing interpretations of events and debates concerning American twentieth-century history and culture
• choose a relevant topic within American twentieth-century history on which to focus their written and oral contribution at the conference following the course
• help organize and plan this conference
• disseminate the knowledge they have acquired during the course to their peers, including students in another area of study than their own
• identify, analyze and understand the major issues of importance to the study of American twentieth-century history


Historical Subject 3: Oral Presentation and Discussion (HHIK03771E)
[Curriculum for Master´s Programme in History, 2015-Curriculum]

Historical Subject 3: Oral Presentation and Discussion (HHIK03771E)
[Curriculum for the Master’s Minor in History, 2015-Curriculum]

History (ONLY BA-elective for BA students of History)
Module T4: Historical Theme (HHIB10501E)
[BA-elective studies, 2013-Curriculum]

Group instruction / Seminar

Lawrence M. Friedman: American Law in the Twentieth Century. Yale University Press, 2004 (paperback).

In addition, a couple of cultural texts and the original Henry Luce article on the American Century will also be assigned.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 203
  • Exam Preparation
  • 129,5
  • English
  • 388,5