Course Syllabus


History 382:  US Diplomatic History
Matthew Pinsker
Dickinson College
Fall 2011   Denny 110
Tue / Thu 130-245pm


Required Books (Available at The Whistlestop or on Library Reserve)

Gaddis, John Lewis.  The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin, 2006 ed.

McDougall, Walter. Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter With the World Since 1776.  New York: Mariner, 1998 ed.

Schiff, Stacy.  A Great Improvisation:  Franklin, France, and the Birth of America.  New York: Henry Holt, 2006 ed.

Journal Articles

Carnahan, Burrus M. “Lincoln, Lieber, and the Laws of War:  The Origins and Limits of the Principle of Military Necessity.”  American Journal of International Law 92 (April 1998): 213-231. [JSTOR]

Ferrell, Robert H. “Woodrow Wilson: Man and Statesman.” Review of Politics 18 (April 1956): 131-145. [JSTOR]

Field, James A., Jr.  “American Imperialism:  The Worst Chapter in Almost Any Book.”  American Historical Review  83 (June 1978): 644-668. [JSTOR]

LaFeber, Walter. “The Constitution and United States Foreign Policy: An Interpretation.” Journal of American History 74 (Dec. 1987): 695-717. [JSTOR]

Mead, Walter Russell.  “The American Foreign Policy Legacy.”  Foreign Affairs 81 (Jan.-Feb. 2002): 163-176. [JSTOR]

Pessen, Edward.  “George Washington’s Farewell Address, the Cold War, and the Timeless National Interest.”  Journal of the Early Republic 7 (Spring 1987): 1-25. [JSTOR]

Pinsker, Matthew.  “Abraham Lincoln and the Limits of Presidential War Powers.” Insights on Law & Society (Winter 2009): 12-15. [URL]

Featured Websites

Avalon Project                

Constitutional Convention

Digital History text   

FRUS (historical)             

FRUS (modern)               

HIST382 bookmarks        

House Divided Project (HD)

Osborne Center               




Attendance and Participation

Under ordinary circumstances, more than two unexcused absences will result in a serious (and escalating) grade reduction.  Students are also evaluated for participation.  Good participation means contributing either well-argued answers that reflect close reading of assigned texts or thoughtful questions that help promote discussion and analysis.


Event Posts

Students are required to attend four lectures or films outside of class this semester.  Within one week following each event, students will be required to post a 250 – 750 word blog post to the course website about the event, providing a concise summary with relevant links to additional information and offering their own thoughtful commentary about the meaning of the lecture or film.   Students who are officially excused from attending any of the events can substitute posts about selected classes / readings. Students will receive model posts and instructions in using WordPress. Late posts will be penalized 5 points per day.



Google Map Project

Students are required to create a custom Google Map documenting an episode in US Diplomatic History between 1840 and 1880 using excerpts from secondary sources.  Students will create custom placemarks that include quoted text from secondary sources, relevant public domain images, and links to additional primary sources.  Students must post their maps with an extended analytical description (about 1,000 words) at the course website by Thursday, October 13 at 5pm. Late maps will be penalized 5 points per day.


Historiography Essay

Students are required to submit a single historiography essay of no more than 5-7 pages about a topic of interpretive debate from EITHER Stacy Schiff’s A Great Improvisation (2005) or John Lewis Gaddis’s The Cold War (2005).  The essays should introduce the specific topic that has caused debate among historians and explain how Schiff’s or Gaddis’s interpretation compares and contrasts with at least two other recent scholarly accounts.  Students should consult footnotes from each author, reviews of the books in question and general histories of the period to determine the best combination of rival interpretations to consider.  All essays should include a descriptive title and Chicago-style footnotes.  No bibliography is required.  Students may consult the Osborne Center for Historical Methods for instructions on formatting footnotes. Late essays will be penalized 5 points per day.


Narrative Paper

On Thursday, December 15, students are required to submit a 15-17 page narrative paper concerning an episode from US Diplomatic History between the period from 1776-2001.  The paper should introduce a broad “cast of characters” that includes Americans from more than one branch of government and also influential figures from outside of government.  Papers must also employ different types of primary sources, including (but not limited to), newspapers, government documents (such as diplomatic correspondence), and recollections.  All papers must explain how the episode either illustrates or challenges the interpretive framework offered by historian Walter McDougall in his book, Promised Land, Crusader State (1997). Proposals (3-5 pages) detailing how each paper will meet these requirements must be submitted via email by 5pm on Monday, December 5. All final papers must include a descriptive title, Chicago-style footnotes, bibliography and a timeline attached as an appendix.  Late proposals and late papers will be penalized 5 points per day.


Grade Distribution and Learning Objectives

Class Participation                  20 percent

Event posts                             10 percent

Google Map                            20 percent

Historiography essay              20 percent

Narrative paper                       30 percent


In this class, students will learn to: 1) Develop historical perspectives; 2) Express themselves clearly; 3) Locate relevant information; 4) Identify key historical issues and debates; and 5) Support plausible historical arguments.  Students will also examine the commonalities and differences in American society through the lens of race/ethnicity, gender, class, religion, or sexual orientation.


Day Date Discussion Topic Reading Assignment
Tuesday 8/30 Methods & Expectations
Thursday 9/1 Establishing Rules Federalist Papers, No. 2, No. 8, No. 10
Tuesday 9/6 Constitution and Foreign Policy LaFeber article
Thursday 9/8 American Foreign Policy Mead article
Tuesday 9/13 The American Bible McDougall, 1-38
Tuesday 9/13 Lecture by Philip Zelikow (Post-9/11) ATS, 7-9pm
Thursday 9/15 NO CLASS
Tuesday 9/20 Washington’s Farewell Address McDougall, 39-56Pessen article
Thursday 9/22 Monroe’s Doctrine McDougall, 57-75
Tuesday 9/27 Manifest Destiny McDougall, 76-98
Thursday 9/29 NO CLASS
Tuesday 10/4 Civil War and International Law Carnahan article
Thursday 10/6 Chronology of Powers Pinsker article
Thursday 10/6 Lecture by James Mann (Parties & Policy) Stern, 7-9pm
Tuesday 10/11 Age of Imperialism McDougall, 101-121Field article
Thursday 10/13 NO CLASS 
Tuesday 10/18 FALL PAUSE
Thursday 10/20 Woodrow Wilson McDougall, 122-146Ferrell article
 Friday  10/21  Google Map due via WordPress  By 5pm
Tuesday 10/25 Introducing Benjamin Franklin Schiff, 1-64
Thursday 10/27 The Alliance Schiff, 65-164
Tuesday 11/1 Wartime Diplomacy Schiff, 165-290
Thursday 11/3 NO CLASS
Tuesday 11/8 Treaty of Paris Schiff, 291-412
Thursday 11/10 Cold War as Case Study McDougall, 147-171
Monday 11/14 Historiography essays due via email By 5pm
Tuesday 11/15 Fear and the Cold War Gaddis, 5-47
Wednesday 11/16 Movie:  Heir to an Execution (Rosenbergs) Denny 212, 430-7pm
Thursday 11/17 Leadership in Crisis Gaddis, 48-82
Tuesday 11/22 NO CLASS
Tuesday 11/29 Communism and Decolonization Gaddis, 83-155
Thursday 12/1 Honors presentation (US-Indian relations) Denny 317, noon to 115pm
Thursday 12/1 Secrecy and Diplomacy Gaddis, 156-194
Monday 12/5 Paper proposals due by email By 5pm
Tuesday 12/6 Triumph Gaddis, 195-266
Thursday 12/8 Lessons & Legacies McDougall, 172-222
Thursday 12/15 Final Paper due by email By 5pm