HST6078: The United States and the Global 1970s

HST6078 Image - Nixon Resignation

15 credits (Semester 2018-19: Autumn | Semester 2019-20: Spring)

Module Leader: Dr Simon Toner

Module Summary

'I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy... The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.' Jimmy Carter, 15 July 1979.

"It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times", joked the editors of one lifestyle magazine as they marked the close of the 1970s. Sometimes caricatured as simply a decade of stagnation and dodgy fashion trends, the 1970s was a time of political and economic crisis and ideological ferment for the United States. At home, as the postwar economic boom ended, demands for women’s, black and gay equality coincided with social conservatism, opposition to the welfare state, and free market ideologies. Abroad, in the wake of the Vietnam debacle, Watergate, and the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, the United States faced new challenges to its global supremacy from a seemingly resurgent Soviet Union, rising powers like Japan, and "Third World" actors demanding a "New International Economic Order". And yet the 1980s was the decade of American triumphalism, witnessing victory in the Cold War and the spread of free market principles. Was the 1970s a transformative decade and, if so, why? Why did this sense of crisis pervade? Why did the 1970s witness increased demands for egalitarianism but a paradoxical rise in inequality? How did domestic and global events interact? In this module, we will address such questions and examine events which have shaped the contemporary United States and its relationship with the world.

Module aims

This module aims to:

  1. Introduce you to the history of "the United States in the World" in the 1970s, focusing on key themes such as changing ideas and practices in political economy, civil and human rights, and new geopolitical challenges. In addition, we will examine the interaction of domestic and trasnational/international events in American history;
  2. Critically examine historiographical debates and primary sources on the United States and its role in the world in the 1970s;
  3. Familiarise you with events and ideas in the 1970s which have shaped the United States and its relationship with the world.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Identify and analyse the main political, economic, and geopolitical events which shaped and were shaped by the United States in the 1970s (Aims 1, 2, 3);
  2. Situate the contemporary United States and its relationship with the world in broader historical context (A1, 2, 3);
  3. Identify and critically assess historiographical debates in the field, as well as analyse primary sources and relate them to these historiographical debates (A2);
  4. Use their analysis of primary and secondary sources to support clear, evidence-based and persuasive oral and written arguments (A1, 2, 3).


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two hour classes. The first class will introduce students to broad themes (Learning Outcome 1) and historiographical debates (LO3) in 1970s "US in the World" history. Subsequent classes will focus on a specific theme such as changing ideas and practices in political economy, civil and human rights, and geopolitical challenges (LO1, 2, 3). You will engage in individual and group work including critical discussion of secondary literature and primary source analysis (LO1, 2, 3, 4). You will discuss your chosen essay topic in class and will receive formative feedback (LO4). You will, in addition, have individual tutorial contact with the module leader to discuss your written work for this module.



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

Students will prepare a 3,000-word paper on a topic agreed with the tutor. The essay will be expected to include discussion of the key historiographical debates surrounding the topic and the use and critical analysis of appropriate secondary literature and primary sources.


Selected reading

  • Thomas Borstelmann, The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality, (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011)
  • Daniel J. Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)
  • Niall Ferguson et al, The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010)
  • Fredrik Logevall and Andrew Preston eds., Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005)
  • Beth Bailey and David Farber eds., America in the Seventies, (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004)
  • Daniel Rodgers, Age of Fracture, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)
  • Robert O. Self, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2012)
  • Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012).
  • Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, (New York: Free Press, 2010)
  • Meg Jacobs, Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2016)
  • Samuel Moyn, Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010)
  • Barbara Keys, Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014)



*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.