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10 cp from 100-level units in History or Politics and International Relations

Unit rationale, description and aim

International history and diplomatic history have their own methodologies and types of sources used in research and writing. Studying the history of US foreign policy since 1945 is an opportunity to learn those methodologies while also gaining an introduction to the dominant forces that have shaped the international order since the Second World War.

This unit traces the development of the foreign policy of the United States of America from the end of World War II through the Cold War and into the post September 11 2001 era. The unit will examine external factors shaping US foreign policy, as well as the impact and consequences of US foreign policy on a variety of regions around the globe.

The aim of this unit it to engage students with the main approaches that historians use to research and write about diplomatic and international history, and to provide them with an understanding of the ways the United States has shaped (and been shaped by) the contemporary global order.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Discuss theoretical and factual knowledge of US foreign policy since 1945 and an awareness of historical debates surrounding it (GA5-7) 

LO2 - Communicate clearly in written and/or oral form, in a style appropriate to a specified audience (GA9) 

LO3 - Locate, use and appropriately reference a variety of primary and secondary materials relevant to US foreign policy since 1945 o develop an evidence-based historical narrative or argument (GA3, GA8, G10)

LO4 - Apply critical reading skills to your understanding of US foreign policy and the methods that historians have used to research it. (GA4, GA5) 

LO5 - Interpret and reflect on key historical debates relating to real-world situations/case studies in US foreign policy over time (GA3-6)

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics will include:  

  • Ideological approaches to foreign policy 
  • The rise of the US as a superpower 
  • The US and the Cold War 
  • The Vietnam War 
  • Detente 
  • US interventions abroad 
  • The War on Terror 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This 10 credit-point unit is delivered as a face to face class in order to immerse students in active learning, including collaborative learning, through activities which facilitate the development of skills fundamental to the discipline of history and deep understanding of course content. This unit engages students in active learning activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, role play and problem-solving to promote analysis, synthesis and evaluation of class content. The different topics are structured around case studies so that students can learn the causal factors, decision-making processes, effects of and changes to American foreign policy over time. 

Students in this unit will be encouraged to develop specific skills in: reading and understanding primary and secondary sources; comprehending historical and historiographical debates; and incorporating secondary and primary material – especially official government records – into their own research and analysis. This unit teaches students to analyse government documents and presidential records as key sources in diplomatic and international history. 

This unit has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as lectures, tutorials, reading, reflection, discussion, film screenings, skills workshops, private study and assignments etc. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

In the History discipline, second year units are designed to include a selection of the following assessment tasks: 

  • Active research tasks that require students to find and use primary and secondary sources 
  • Digital search techniques for online archives and/or digital newspaper databases 
  • ‘Hands on’ historical methods such as oral history, using material objects/archaeological evidence, textual and visual analysis, etc. 
  • Research essay/challenge  
  • Book review 
  • In-class debates or team challenges 
  • Forums/blogs/online discussion 
  • Short answer responses 
  • Short quizzes/in-class tests 
  • Tutorial-based assignments/presentations  

The Group Project engages students in collaborative learning to develop specific skills in locating, reading and analysing sources in order to demonstrate an understanding of a set topic and to express their findings in written and/or oral form. Collaborative work is central to the work of the professional historian, and also to the development of GA7. In the Research Task students will apply active research techniques developed in class to their own research and analysis to produce an evidence-based narrative or argument. The Content Analysis Task requires students to consider different approaches to the past and the dynamics of historical and historiographical debate and to critically engage with unit content to show that they understand the key ideas and can interpret it thematically. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Group Project: This assessment is an opportunity for students to apply their theoretical and factual knowledge of a particular aspect of US foreign policy in a written and/or oral group project as designated by the lecturer. 


LO1, LO2 

GA5, GA6, GA7, GA9 

Research Task: This task is designed for students to locate and reference primary and secondary sources, applying them to construct and prove an evidence-based written argument on a particular research topic. 


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4 

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10 

Content Analysis Task: The purpose of this task is for students to develop critical reading and listening comprehension skills, and to apply knowledge from readings and lectures to a series of questions across the semester. 


LO4, LO5 

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6 

Representative texts and references

Bernell, David A. (ed). Readings in American Foreign Policy: Historical and Contemporary Problems. New York: Pearson, 2008. 

Eckes, Jr., Alfred E. and Thomas W. Zeiler. Globalization and the American Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 

Ferguson, Niall. Colossus: The Price of American Empire. New York: Penguin Press, 2004. 

Office of the Historian, United States Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States. Online. Available from  

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin, 2005. 

Jentleson, Bruce W. American Foreign Policy. 4th ed. New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 

Keys, Barbara. Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. 

Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster,1994. 

Montoya, Maria, Laura A. Belmonte, Carl J. Guarneri, Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor, Steven Hackel and Lon Kurashige. Global Americans: A History of the United States. Cengage, 2018. 

Suri, Jeremi. Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. 

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